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Lesson 6: In Living Color

Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics

The Color Models

In this lesson, you'll learn all about color. Whether you're interested in restoring original colors to faded or blemished photos, altering an image's colors for artistic effect, or even creating original color artwork from scratch, Photoshop has the tools you need. So open up Photoshop and be prepared to get a little color.

At the beginning of Lesson 2, we talked briefly about the RGB color spectrum used on computer monitors and TV screens. Now we'll talk more in-depth about the two primary color spectrums:

  • RGB (Red Green Blue)
  • CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow Black)

And their black-and-white counterparts:

  • Bitmap
  • Grayscale

But first, let's take a look at the two tools you'll use to choose colors: the Color Picker (Figure 6-1) and the Color palette (Figure 6-2). Don't get confused by all those numbers in the Color Picker. It is easier to understand than you think. And in the Color palette, you can see how you can set the color values using the slides next to each color.

To reach the color Picker, click either of the large squares near the bottom of the Toolbox.

Figure 6-1: The Color Picker.

Figure 6-2: The Color palette.

RGB (Red Green Blue)

The RGB spectrum allows you to enter values for each of these primary colors on a scale of 0 to 255. If you wanted to use a pure red, for example, you would simply enter 255 in the R (for red) box on the Color Picker, or slide the palette arrow all the way to the right.

It's a good idea to spend some time playing with the values in the Color Picker. When you consider the possibilities between 0 and 255 for all three primary colors, you'll realize your choices are in the millions!

Remember that RGB is the best choice if your images are destined for the Web, a computer presentation or a video. Remember computer monitors and television screens generate primary colors of light by bombarding the surface of the screen with electrons. The human eye sees the mix of RGB colors generated as many different colors.

CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow Black)

If you need to print images on paper, use the CMYK. Why? Because those four colors are the colors of the printing inks used in all printers great and small.

There are two ways to create a CMYK image:

  • Choose a CMYK Color mode when you create a new Photoshop file (Figure 6-3).

    Figure 6-3: Choose CMYK Color from the Mode pop-up menu.

  • Choose Image > Mode > CMYK at any point in your work to convert an image from RGB before you print, or import the image from Photoshop to a desktop publishing program. You can choose CMYK options in the CMYK Setup dialog box shown in Figure 6-4. To get there, choose File > Color Settings > CMYK Setup.

It is important to remember that once you've chosen to convert from RGB to CMYK, you can't change the color mode back to RGB. You're going to have to use the History palette to step back through the changes you made to your image, or choose File > Revert.

Figure 6-4: CMYK Setup is used to convert images from RGB to CMYK.

If you intend to print your image, it is a good idea to use CMYK as the default color choice from the outset. This will prevent infuriating last-minute color shifts during the conversion. The reason for these shifts is that the CMYK mode contains a gamutof printing colors constituting the total selection that it uses to print correctly. The range of colors in RGB is greater than that in CMYK. Unfortunately, some vivid colors in the orange and green families fall outside the CMYK gamut, and printing them with CMYK will yield unsatisfactory results. If you convert to CMYK and see a warning dialog box telling you that some colors in an image are "out of gamut," you know you'll have to go back and do some work to rectify the slip.

Working in CMYK from the beginning will keep your colors within the print gamut.

The Black, the White, and the Grays In Between

There are two black and white image modes: Bitmap and Grayscale.

Bitmap Mode

Bitmap mode uses only two colors: black and white. One bit of color is used to display each pixel. The bit is recognized as being either on or off, and generates a gamut of only two colors. The bitmap mode is often overlooked because of the availability of its more versatile cousin, Grayscale. Bitmaps (Figure 6-5) can, however, be useful for printing photos with low resolution and can produce some highly interesting graphic effects.

Figure 6-5: The Bitmap mode can make you a little dotty at times!


Grayscale mode supports 256 shades of gray (actually black and white and 254 grays), making it a lot more versatile than the bitmap mode (Figure 6-6).

Figure 6-6: The Grayscale version of this image looks smoother than the Bitmap version above.

Can you see the difference between these two images (Figure 6-5 and Figure 6-6)? Most black-and-white print work is done using grayscale images. You can convert any color image to grayscale by choosing Image > Mode > Grayscale. When you're asked to discard color information, click OK. Notice the changes in the color image in Figure 6-7 and then its Grayscale equivalent in Figure 6-8. If you don't want to keep the changes you made and want to go back to the color image you had, you can either use Undo or go into the History palette and put the conversion in the trash.

Figure 6-7: Here's a color picture of a deer. We'll use the process we mentioned above to transfer it to a Grayscale black-and-white image.

Figure 6-8: Taking the color out of an image isn't always a dull affair.

Indexed Color: Working for the Web

Anyone who has ever designed a Web site will tell you how frustrating it is to create an image on one computer and see that same image look totally different on the Web once it has been uploaded. The answer to this dilemma is Indexed color. While RGB, CMYK and the rest are color modes, indexed color is a collection of palettes. When you adhere to the colors on a given palette, you can be sure that your image will look right on the Web, or in any other environment where color is a variable. Although Macs and PCs never totally agree on anything, when it comes to color they have 216 points of agreement. Web designers know they must stick to these colors to ensure that their work looks kosher when viewed in a browser on either system (Figure 6-9).

Figure 6-9: The Indexed Color dialog box.

In the top half of this box is the Palette pop-up menu. Although there are a dozen choices depending on what you want to do with your image and how you plan to use it, the four most often-used choices are:

  • Exact: This option will use a palette of only the colors that are present in the RGB version of the image, provided, of course, there are less than 256 colors.
  • System (Mac OS): Uses the Macintosh OS 256-color palette.
  • System (Windows): Uses Microsoft Windows 256-color palette.
  • Web: Use this option if your image will appear on the Web. It uses a palette of the 216 colors that is supported by browsers on both platforms.

Moving On

Don't forget the quiz and the assignment. It'll sharpen your brain and help you get some of the terminology straight. The message board is available any time during this course. Your classmates will be visiting too, asking questions and giving advice. Your instructor, too, is never far away.

In the next lesson, we'll take what we learned about color and some of the other Photoshop tools and put that knowledge into practice. We will also learn in detail about painting in Photoshop and the many effects available to use. See you on the message board.

Next Lesson: Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics Lesson 7: Playing With Paint

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