Sep 13, 2016

How to Use Complementary Colors in Photoshop

How to Create & Use Complementary Colors in Photoshop

Certain Color combinations will always look good together, the most simple Color combination being complementary Colors. Learn how to identify and create complementary colors, then change the background of a photo to compliment the subject!

How to Use Adobe Color Themes

Complementary Colors are opposites on the Color wheel. In case you don’t have a Color Wheel lying around, Adobe has one built-in to Photoshop.

To access the Color Wheel called “Adobe Color Themes” go to ‘Window – Extensions – Adobe Color Themes’. In this dialog, you can create different color themes including complementary colors, analogous colors, triad colors and more!

To create a complementary color of an existing color in your image, first use the Eyedropper Tool to sample a color. Then click on the icon below the color wheel in the Adobe Color Theme Dialog labeled ’Set selected color from active color’. This will load the color you just chose using the Eyedropper Tool into the Adobe Color Theme Dialog. For best results, be sure to have the center color box chosen in the Adobe Color Theme Dialog.

Once the appropriate color is chosen, click on the drop-down menu on the top of the Adobe Color Theme Dialog and navigate to ‘Complementary’. The Colors below will now represent a collection of complementary colors.

To retrieve more information on any color, choose it from the 5 available color boxes and note the numbers below. Each Color can be identified based on different values. You will see values for CMYK, RGB, HSB, and HEX codes.

These values can be plugged into any color window to accurately Match Colors.

How to Change Colors in an Image

Now that the appropriate color has been sampled, loaded into the Adobe Color Theme Dialog and a Complimentary Color has been chosen, it is time to color objects in the photo to represent the complementary colors.

Changing colors in an image can be done in many ways, in this example, we cover 2 methods for Coloring an image.

The easiest method is to create a ‘Hue/Saturation’ Adjustment Layer by going to ‘Layer – New Adjustment LayerHue/Saturation’. Click on the ‘Colorize’ button in the Hue/Saturation Dialog, then enter the Hue number from the HSB values on the Adobe Color Theme Dialog.

In this example, we chose a Hue of 159, making the Background a nice green to compliment the red/brown in the hat.

The last step is to use a Layer Mask to make the green layer visible over the Background and nowhere else. Because the background of the image is one color, we use ‘Select – Color Range’ to select out the Background and load the selection into the Layer Mask.

There are many ways to make selections and masks, feel free to use the method that is most comfortable to you!


user image You
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  • user image

    Aaron, You do far more than teach me about tools and technique. You open my eyes and mind to possibilities. Thanks for that.

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Use Complementary Colors in Photoshop

  • user image

    Is it possible to select a complimentary color in CS6 (not CC)? I do not have Adobe Color Themes extension.

    • user image

      Yes, Darik, it is, but Aaron didn’t mention that in CS6, the extension is a bit less and has a different name.
      Go to Window > Extensions > Kuler. When the panel opens, click the Create tab. Much of what Aaron presented is in Kuler.

  • user image

    If I change the color of the wall in a shot like this wouldn’t I want to add some of that color as a reflection into the shadow areas? And is there a good technique for doing that you could suggest? Thanks

  • user image
    Pablo Miguel

    Great turtorial!!! as usual.. thanks Aaron.
    Lately I’ve been working with the vanishing point tool and I realize that it can be a very powerful tool and that I have no idea where to start with it. Can you show us how does it work?
    Thanks Aaron and thanks to the Phamily

  • user image

    I love all of your short tutorials and learn so much from them. . Would you consider doing something with Image calculations

  • user image

    Thanks, Aaron!! Every week something new and if you once know how to do it, its soo easy.
    Which software(s) are you using to create your tutorials?

    • Seth

      Simply use QuickTime to record the screen and Adobe Premiere Pro to edit the video.

  • user image
    Michael Newby

    I’m running Photoshop 2015. I tried the color theme ,but it wont load up. Does it work with 2015? I go to ” window” and click on “Extensions” then click on “Adobe Color Themes” The window pops up but never loads. 4 little squares just keep rotating. Am I missing something?

  • user image
    mike newby

    Hi Aaron:
    I am running 2015.5 and when I try to load the color wheel a window pops up and 4 little squares pop up and do nothing but has the look of rotating . It never loads. Any Ideas????

  • user image

    The tutorial was very informative. Just wondering if you can speak more slowly when explaining each step on the process (so beginners like me can catch on, lol).
    Thank you, much appreciated.

  • user image

    Hello Aaron, I do understand that you teach me through step-by-step tutorials. But where can I download the picture like your ones to practice sir?

  • user image

    Love the re-cap in the videos. As an engineer I lack the gene for color selection, this really helps. Maybe I can use this tip to fix my wardrobe? 😉

  • James Musaali

    Aaron now am going to consider you my big brother for these top of the range videos. and believe me I HAVE SEEN QUITE A FEW. Long live PHLEARN

  • asaxton01

    Yet again, I find the solution to the EXACT problem buzzing around in my head here at Phlearn. Aaron is articulate and concise in his free tutorials.

    I suck with color theming. Now I suck less.