Nov 12, 2014

The Best Way to Use Color in Photoshop

Color Theory

Join us in today’s episode as we discuss color theory, give you some inside tips and tricks, and put them to use in Photoshop!

The idea behind Color Theory is to use complementary colors because they work so well with each other visually. You will find them on opposite sides of the color wheel from each other. If you want to use more than three colors, it is called a color triad. is the resource we use, but there are plenty of other places to find great color wheels as well.

Applying Color Theory to Images

We used the screenshot from Adobe and added it to the actual image. This allows us to sample colors straight form the color wheel!

Create a new layer and go to select -> color range. We start with clicking on the magenta color in the image. Then, use the eyedropper or brush tool to sample the red from the screenshot and fill in the selection. Change the blending mode from normal to color so that the shading comes through.

We do the same for the blue in the girl’s jean jacket, and add yellow to the background. This gives us the complete triad of colors with the red, blue, and yellow.

Don’t be afraid to lower the opacity of the colors, because they will likely come out extremely bright and over the top.


user image You
(will not be published)

  • user image

    Awesome tutorial. I hadn’t thought of just adding a layer with the colour palette to sample from. Great tip to help streamline the process. Thanks Aaron.

  • user image

    It would seem that “If you want to use more than three colors, it is called a color triad.” ought to be
    “If you want to use three colors, it is called a color triad.”? In the color triad, though, there may be additional color values displayed based upon saturation value of each.

  • user image

    Thanks for the tutorial. Perfect timing for me as I am not at all an artist and struggle with colors but have been wanting to learn the theory. I bought a color wheel as I believe you described in an earlier episode but watching you apply the information to the image was very helpful. The Adobe Color resource will come in handy.

    Now all I need to be fully satisfied is to understand the physics and maybe the neurophysiology of why these complementary combos are so pleasing to the eye. (Please feel free to elaborate in a future tutorial.)

  • user image

    Nice for us that don’t know which colors go with each other. Played with last night but didn’t want to have to do the screen shot every time so I tried copying the HEX value from the Adobe website for the colors and pasting them into Photoshop, worked great!

  • user image

    “Straight out of camera” maybe for the color work, but i doubt that the bricks near the right girl’s belly were wavy on the wall 😉 anyway, great tool online from adobe and a very good tip for us, thank you phlearn !!

  • user image

    Just great tut as ever Aaron. I Would be interested in watching how you Would build a composite with thé colors and lights “underwater”. As if somebody’s just dived in the ocean. Thanks for this.

  • user image
    Natasha H

    Love it! Great, useful info. I’ve been using gradient maps and curves layers to do my image colouring. This method is going to be great for being more specific and having a bit more control. Thanks!

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    Michael W

    OK Aaron, I have a suggestion for Christmas.
    Show us how to take text, and make the shape a sphere? I want to create a Christmas Ornament made of words (lyrics of a carol, a family holiday wishes, etc) and make the shape a sphere, as though the words WERE the ornament. I’d put an “ornament top” on it and a “string” to hang it in an image… My tinkerings are pretty lame. Sure could use your expertise on this one!

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    Joakim E

    This tutorial was really good but I couldn’t help to notice.. The brick near the chick to the right seems disformed.. were someone using Liquify tool?

  • user image

    Hi Aaron: How can i change black to a more happy color? lets say my subject in the pic is wearring black and i want to changed to more pletsend color to work better with the blue sky , vegetation and pink flamingos…Thanks! 😉

  • user image

    Really enjoyed this little session – inspired me to do more tweaks and edits.

    Thanks for Phlearning me!

    • user image

      Exactly! And no need to printscreen, it loads the color direct to your swatches. Great tutorial, though, as always.

  • user image

    thank you so much for photoshop learning.
    i’m following your tutorials and i hope going to be better.
    where can i find FREE proper photos for photoshop practicing?

  • user image

    This technique has amazing potential. Here is an example of one of my favorite shots, that I gave a color upgrade using the triads technique: I picked a nice pure shade of red (#FF3800), found its compliment Blue (#143CCC) using the triad, then overlaid those colors via new layers onto the vehicle and sky respectively, and used Color as the Blend mode, and subtly reduced the effect by reducing the opacity of those new bright & pure color layers. The effect added new life to the image.

  • user image

    love this one!! I actually tried it and it super works! thanks! love it so much!!!, what do you think?

  • user image
    muhammad zoqaib

    Thank you so so so so much for Clear my concept i hope now i can use that color`s combination again thank you so much for this Video and your website is to much awesome