Color Picker Versatility

The vast majority of the time, the vast majority of us use Photoshop’s Color Picker in the default configuration. Perhaps we use Custom Colors to select a spot color, but when using the Color Picker itself, we ignore the eight optional modes. (What? You didn’t know that the Color Picker has different modes?)
By default, Photoshop’s Color Picker opens in Hue mode. The color field, the square area to the left, shows variations in saturation from left to right and variations in brightness from top to bottom. The hue is selected in the color slider, running vertically to the right of the color field. However, you can change the operation of the color field and the color slider by selecting a different mode button.

When the button to the left of S is selected, saturation is displayed in the color slider and the color field is used to determine hue (left-right) and brightness (top-bottom). Using the Saturation mode makes it easy to change the current foreground color’s saturation with the color slider.

Click on the button to the left of B to switch to Brightness mode. The color slider is used to select brightness, while the color field determines hue (left-right) and saturation (top-bottom). Brightness mode is an excellent choice when creating a gradient from two tints of the same color.

You can also use red, green, or blue as the basis for selection in the Color Picker. In these modes, the selected color appears in the color slider, while the other two component colors are determined in the color field.

Using the Red mode as an example, you can best see the relationship between the color slider and the color field when the selected color is set to zero (the bottom of the color slider). Black is located in the lower-left of the color field, where all three component colors are zero. White is in the upper-right of the color field (when the color slider is also dragged to the top).

When the color slider is positioned higher, the component color value is higher than zero. The relationship among the colors in the color field is less clear.

You can use the R, G, and B modes of the Color Picker to maintain one or more component color values when defining a new foreground color. To retain one color value, use that mode, ignore the color slider, and make changes in the color field. To maintain two color values, use the mode of the component color that needs to be changed and adjust the color slider only.

In the upper-right of the Color Picker are buttons that enable you to use the Lab values as modes. In L (luminance) mode, the color slider determines the luminance value and the hue is selected in the color field. L mode is best used to change the luminance of an existing foreground color.

The Color Picker’s a and b modes use the color slider to adjust that component, determining the other color value and the luminance in the color field. [The Lab color model defines color according to luminance (L), a red-green component (a), and a blue-yellow component (b).] You may find no use for the a and b modes of the Color Picker.

Note that you there are no buttons to the left of the CMYK fields.



  1. James 11 April, 2008 at 09:45 Reply

    I don’t seem to have the color picker option on my photoshop, it just uses the circle colour picker and doesn’t have the fields on the right. How do I get this color picker!?

  2. Christopher 18 June, 2008 at 14:28 Reply

    I am just looking for how to change existing colors on a page to different colors in very few moves… I am designing t-shirts and want to take a shirt with a certain design and change the main colors without having to do much work….

  3. David 13 November, 2008 at 19:19 Reply

    Wow….now this is interesting. Something I NEVER knew about. Never seen in any other tutorials and wasn’t taught about this in class.
    (how to use the color picker in this powerful manner that is, not what the different modes are). I usually entered the color in the hex or r,g,b or tried to pick it out from the color field. Never knew by choosing a different circle, I’d be manipulating the Color Picker in a different, and more useful way.

  4. Guy 28 April, 2009 at 15:30 Reply

    just hit Ctrl+U and it will open you hues panel from there change the colors. Just make sure to have the thing you want to change selected.

  5. Amy 1 May, 2009 at 12:05 Reply

    Wow, this is a great tutorial! I had no idea this existed and was stuck on the “red” selection somehow. It was very frustrating to manipulate colors this way when it was unintended, but this new discovery will be very helpful to me now. Thanks so much!

  6. maria de palma 19 May, 2009 at 12:01 Reply

    Please help me! I cant pick color in my color field or in saturation field (arrows) and i really really need to fix this because i am an illustrator and i need to do a lot of work!
    Thank you .
    Maria de Palma

  7. Daimin 19 June, 2009 at 19:32 Reply

    This is so interesting and I wish they had taught this in class or shown it in a tutuorial. I had acciedently, randomly changed my color picker to a different mode and had a mini-freak out…. ah I love help forums.

  8. sara 14 July, 2009 at 23:17 Reply

    ah ha – thank you Tom. Somehow I had changed mine from various online classes and could not figure out how to get it back!

  9. Crystal 29 July, 2009 at 13:34 Reply

    How do you pick a 60% black? I used ‘S’ to bring up hues of black, but what is 60%? Or any percent for that matter.

  10. Jill 3 August, 2009 at 22:53 Reply

    Thank you for this tutorial. I had somehow changed the way the colors displayed and have been trying for a week to find a way to change it back. Your tutorial has put an end to hours of frustration.

  11. Dennis Crosby 5 August, 2009 at 08:14 Reply

    I have been looking for these options for a long time and owe many thanks to a coworker who found this answer. I feel like Hellen Keller at the pump–oh! that’s how it works!


  12. Ryan 25 September, 2009 at 09:45 Reply

    Wow, this is excellent! I was trying to design a website today and my color picker changed by itself. Apparently, Photoshop lost my settings and reverted back to default (for some lunatic reason). Anyway, thanks for showing me what to do!


  13. Mr.JOSE 6 November, 2009 at 03:05 Reply

    I knew that there is an option to choose modes.. But recently my color picker changed.. I dont know what settings I changed.. It was worst! I got a color picker with some default colors showing in the left (Windows Color Picker)…

    I just got the wrong settings I chose with the help of Tom! Thank you buddy… I chose “Windows” under color picker option in my preferences!!…… Thank you all!

  14. Paul 15 November, 2010 at 11:53 Reply

    I have been trying to figure out why my color picker changes for MONTHS. This has been a huge relief to get it back to Hue mode. Thank you!!!!!!!!!

  15. Sherry 28 December, 2010 at 14:08 Reply

    Bless you Planet Photoshop!! This was a great page explaining something so simple yet so mysterious when you don’t know how it works! Sweet!!!!! I, like Paul, really missed my Hue mode!

  16. Tammy 14 April, 2011 at 15:04 Reply

    Thanks so much! Great tutorial! Somehow I changed my color picker mode to Hue by accident. I did not know that the color picker had different modes. I have been googling off and on for a couple of months trying to figure out how to get back to the default color picker settings! Now, I learned that there is more to the color picker than the default mode. Thanks again!

  17. Lori 21 May, 2011 at 08:10 Reply

    Oh my lord! I managed to get stuck in a mode I did NOT want and could not figure out how to escape. Thank you SO very much!!!! Woohoo!!! You fixed me!!! PLUS! There are those other features that I sneak around to find in other Adobe apps that I did not know were options in the Adobe Color Picker. AWESOME lesson!

  18. Nadine 20 June, 2011 at 15:15 Reply

    THANK YOU! My color picker was in the “R” mode and I had no idea what happened. Sooooo frustrating and such a simple fix. Thanks for the info! No longer frustrated!!!!

  19. Debra King 10 August, 2011 at 21:45 Reply

    thanks, I didnt know about the different modes and was unble to continue working till I get my “hue” back. Somehow I clicked L (luminance) and couldnt find a single color I needed!

  20. Debra King 10 August, 2011 at 21:49 Reply

    I should add, that I am VERY excited about the other color modes, now that I know they are there and can get back to my beloved “hue”.

  21. Ade 9 September, 2011 at 03:52 Reply

    Hi Corey,

    Great tutorials, i am an avid follower!!!….and you are the best on the planet!!!
    enough of that, quick one, i noticed you didnt give any tutorials on how to colour comic
    strips…hmmm…i know you’re focusing on the big pictuire but comic artists like me and
    who atimes work with blends ( real life pictures ) run into issues…nuff said.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *