Photoshop Basics: Managing Colors

Any image can be altered, enhanced, tinted or optimized for printing in Photoshop using just a few basic color management tools.

Adobe Photoshop is a program with millions upon millions of color combinations at its disposal. Using the RGB mode (Red Green Blue, the most common color mode used for graphics), each color is identified by its own "code" and can be mapped out according to shade, hue, and several other characteristics. The code is usually composed of six letters and/or numbers (0-9 and A through F), each one signifying a characteristic of the color it is assigned to. The first two digits indicate red, the second two are blue, and the third are green. From these codes, any color can be created, as well as black and white.

The codes are best explained keeping the two extremes of black and white in mind. Black is constructed with the code 000000--red, green and blue are all set to minimum levels. When inputting colors in the HTML code of websites, black would be indicated with #000000. White, on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum as #FFFFFF.

At the bottom of the tool bar, there is a Foreground/Background Color indicator. The first square is the foreground color, which applies to the pen, paintbrush and other drawing tools. The second square denotes the background color. This comes into effect when using tools such as the eraser. Clicking the arrow symbol allows them to be switched to the opposite setting.

Click on either of the color boxes to bring up the Color Picker. By moving the pointer over the desired color in the field and choosing that area, the color will be selected for your foreground or background, depending on which square you initially indicated. As mentioned above, it can also be selected by entering the color's numerical codes in the fields on the right. The slider in the middle of the Color Picker box can be moved to adjust the exact shade.

There are other ways to select a color other than the Picker or manual coding. Use the Eyedropper tool on an existing image to "capture" a single color. Or, you can access more palettes by using the Swatches option (change to Swatches by selecting it in the Window menu of your tool bar). You will then have at your disposal squares of color pre-set by the program. Proceed by choosing the desired color with the eyedropper tool.

Color channels can be used to modify the overall look of an image. These channels contain the information regarding color elements, and each can be manipulated or removed--for example, deactivating all but a red color channel creates a purely red effect within the image. The channels can be viewed all together, or in other various combinations. Blending more color channels will improve the image's quality. After selecting Show Channels (again, in your tool bar under Window) you can use the Channel Mixer command to mix the channels. This will create more colors and combinations, making the image more dynamic. Fewer channels will result a more plain appearance. Clicking the arrow in the upper right corner of the Palette will allow you to access a menu to edit, duplicate, delete or otherwise modify color channels.

One should also learn to use CMYK mode, as most images that are destined for printing will be altered if they are not converted from RGB to CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This mode uses four channels and contains 256 levels of brightness. Printing inks, such as those used to create photographs, cannot fully capture everything in RGB mode, which is why CMYK is needed. (Even though it is not as visually diverse as RGB, there is more capacity for various colors in CMYK mode.) Fortunately, Photoshop allows you to preview and convert RGB images into CMYK color mode so that they can be printed efficiently.

Using these tools, modifying hue, saturation, or channels within an image is simple. The best method of learning is to experiment with various color settings and palettes, adjusting the levels or any image you desire. Once color management is learned, it can be applied to enhance almost any graphic.

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