How to Use Color Range Selection & Masking Together in Photoshop


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The Color Range selection tool and masking go hand in hand inside of Adobe Photoshop. I actually just wrote a post on this topic yesterday, so if you think you'd be interested in making a selection based on the color of something and then refining that selection by way of a layer mask, please click through to read the post. I think you'll learn a lot from it. Today, I'd like to recap what I wrote in that post, so please continue on below.

Basically, I used an example image of a hot air balloon that was made up of a bunch of very colorful patches (the balloon). My goal was to separate out the pink, red and orange colors so only they showed saturation, while desaturating all of the remaining colors in the photo. Those colors happened to be yellow, green and blue. Again, please click through to that post to see the photo I'm referring to and to see all the screenshots thereafter.

Anyway, separating out colors like this can be a real hassle and it would most likely take hours if you were to use a mask in conjunction with the Brush Tool or some sort of desaturation tool. Tracing detailed lines like this isn't fun at all. This is where the Color Range selection tool comes into play. This selection tool allows you to click your mouse pointer around on a specific color and as you do that, that particular color is selected. If there are different shades of that color, they'll be marginally selected. If you'd like to switch from the "one use" eyedropper to the "continuous select" eyedropper, that's very simple. You can do that too and that allows you to continuously click to accumulate colors, one after the other. Basically, if you click everywhere, you can select all of the colors in an image as opposed to clicking once, selecting something and then clicking again someplace else and having that new selection replace the first one. You'll need to experiment with this tool to see exactly what I'm referring to.

Okay, so you're probably wondering how you can go about using the Color Range selection tool as I did. To start off, open up your image in Adobe Photoshop. Then, click on the Hue/Saturation icon in the Adjustments panel. Then, once the related Properties panel opens up, click on the small Masks icon at the top of that panel. This icon looks like a rectangle with a circle inside of it. Then, click on the Color Range button. When you do all this, the result is that the Color Range dialog will appear and your mouse pointer will turn into an eyedropper tool. Inside of this dialog are three eyedropper choices. Click on the middle one to use that. This is the one with a plus sign next to it. It will allow you to choose more than one color.

Once you're all set up, you can begin clicking on your colors. You'll see that when you do this, they turn white inside of the sample window in the Color Range dialog. Use the Fuzziness slider to accentuate the edges of your selection. Also, if you find that the colors you're choosing are elsewhere in the image and are being selected, and you don't want those far away colors involved at all, you can check the Localized Color Clusters box to limit your selection to only the nearby area you're working in. After you've finished your clicking, you can click on the OK button to return to the Properties panel.

What you just did was to hide everything other than the areas you selected earlier. So, if you were to now return to the traditional Hue/Saturation portion of the Properties panel and then push one of the sliders around, you'd see that specific selected area change in relation to where you pushed the slider. If you meant to affect everything but the area you selected, you can simply push the Invert button in the Masks portion of the Properties panel. That would make the area opposite of what you selected active.

At this point, you'll need to clean up your selection. You can close out of the Properties panel for this part. Look inside of the Layers panel and take a look at the mask thumbnail there. Then, hold down your Alt (for Windows) or Option (for Mac) key on your keyboard and then click once on the thumbnail. You should see a much larger version of the mask on top of the image itself. Use your Brush Tool and the colors of black and white to refine the edges of your selection. You can keep jumping back and forth from the large version of the mask to the regular photo if you wish. I did that and it helped me see what I was masking out.

That's pretty much all there is to it. The Color Range selection feature inside of the Hue/Saturation adjustment is a great way to make a selection based on color in Adobe Photoshop. After the selection is made, use the accompanying mask to refine all the edges and to make things perfect. Then, make your adjustments as you see fit. Please let me know if you have any questions below. Thanks!

PS - Please make sure you read my previous post so you can see all my fancy screenshots.