Adobe Photoshop – How to do Colour Replace

One relatively simple operation that you can do in Photoshop is to replace one colour with another. By using some of the selection tools, along with the Hue/Saturation controls, we can change the colour of individual objects in our photos, such as replacing the colour of the aircraft fuselage in the shot below.


Step 1 –  Selecting large areas of the same colour is one of those few occasions where the Magic Wand tool is actually useful, so we’ll use it as a starting point here. With a tolerance setting of 60 it should be able to pick out the red fuselage without too much trouble.

Step 2 – With the Magic Wand, it’s best to add a bit at a time. Click on an area that’s a mid-tone for the total area you want to select, and you’ll find that the wand tool will select an area around it. The size of the selection will depend on the tolerance setting.

By holding down the Shift key and carefully clicking on areas around your starting selection, you can add more areas. If the wand selects part of the background, use Cmd+Z to undo that step, and try again more carefully, possibly adjusting the tolerance downwards if it keeps happening.

colour replacement guide

Step 3 – When you’ve reached the limit of what you can usefully select using the Magic Wand tool, you can finish your selection using the Polygonal Lasso tool. By setting the Feather to zero you can produce a sharp-edges selection. Alternatively, use the Selection Brush tool.

Step 4 – Again hold down the Shift key to add more areas to your selection. If you need to remove any areas from the selection, such as the undercarriage, you can subtract by holding down the Alt key and going around it with the Lasso.

Step 5 – When you’ve selected all the bits you want to repaint, you can save the selection for later use, to save you doing all that work again if you change your mind.

Step 6 – Although there are several filters we could use at this point, the most versatile way to change the colour of the selected area is the Hue/Saturation/Lightness option. This is common to most editing programs. In Elements you’ll find it in the Enhance menu.

Step 7 – You have three options under the Hue/Saturation setting. Leave the Lightness slider in the middle position to preserve the overall brightness of the object, but you can experiment by moving the Saturation and Hue sliders around. As you move the Hue slider, the colour will start to shift through the spectrum of colours, or you can produce subtle colour changes with lower saturation settings, or say to hell with subtlety and go for broke with full saturation.

colour replacement-after

Step 8 – When you’re happy with the result, or when your eyes start bleeding, you can clear the selection by using the keyboard shortcut Cmd+D, and then save the result. When you save the final image as a .PSD file in Photoshop or Elements, the selections are saved as well, embedded in the file.

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Mark Frost

Mark started work as a commercial artist during the good old days of Letraset, spray mount and having to process your photos at a local chemist. Having discovered his passion for photography, Photoshop and the wonders of digital image manipulation, he has not looked back. He is well on his way to owning more cameras than he’s had hot dinners.

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