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Lesson 6: Working With Color

Advanced Adobe Photoshop Tutorials

Table of Contents

The Info Palette

Lesson 5 explained Photoshop's creative gear with projects employing cast shadows, bevels, contour glosses, and painting tools. Also in the last lesson, we reviewed some type treatments that you can use to spice up clip art for a logo or plain type. You also learned how to turn a page and to colorize line art. And although that is definitely the more fun side of this program, it's really less than half of it.

On top of being a wonderful image-editing tool, Photoshop is renowned for its color management and production capabilities. That is what we will be discussing in this lesson. I will take you step-by-step through the different options available in your management of color and how to use color successfully. The advantages that Photoshop has in its use of color don't normally get a lot of "air time" because they are a bit dryer and less exciting. However, Photoshop User Magazine recently finished a three-part series titled Color Correction Crash Course . This is very helpful material if any of you are interested in the more in-depth features in this side of Photoshop.

So lets get on with our lesson and take a look at the Info palette and its tool, the Eyedropper (Figure 6-1).

Figure 6-1: The Eyedropper and an option shown in the Options bar.

Figure 6-1: The Eyedropper and an option shown in the Options bar.

You can use the Eyedropper tool to sample color from an image to load as the Foreground or Background colors or to read its CMYK values in the Info palette. If you want to select a color from one pixel, choose Point Sample from the Options bar (Figure 6-2).

Figure 6-2: With Point Sample selected, only the color of the pixel clicked will be the color chosen.

Figure 6-2: With Point Sample selected, only the color of the pixel clicked will be the color chosen.

If you choose 3 by 3 Average or 5 by 5 Average , you get an average of a 3 by 3 pixel or 5 by 5 pixel area (Figure 6-3).

Figure 6-3: 3x3 Average and 5x5 Average Sample Size options.

Figure 6-3: 3x3 Average and 5x5 Average Sample Size options.

For color correction purposes, you should use a 3x3 Average when sampling the color in an image. This way you see what the color in a certain area is doing instead of the color of one pixel. If you are selecting a color for any other purpose, any of the options would be fine and the color would be loaded into the Foreground Color portion of the toolbar.

The Info palette (Figure 6-4) is associated with the Eyedropper because it shows you the numeric combinations that make up each color.

Figure 6-4: The Info palette.

Figure 6-4: The Info palette.

Let's take a look at each quadrant of the palette, clockwise from upper left.

  • RGB: Red, Green, and Blue are the three colors that compose images on every monitor, scanner, digital camera, and TV. Some printers, such as ink jet, can print in RGB mode.
  • CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black are the four process printing colors. They are used in offset printing (a high-end production process).
  • XY: These are the coordinates of your mouse at any time.
  • WH: The width and height of any selection you draw.

You can change the type of color in the palette at any time by clicking the Eyedropper icon in the Info palette (Figure 6-5). Color correction is important because all input devices such as digital cameras and scanners (even the high-end ones) create some colorcast that needs to be removed.

Figure 6-5: Change the color reading by clicking on this icon.

Figure 6-5: Change the color reading by clicking on this icon.

When I used do color correction, I used the Total Ink and CMYK readings in my Info palette. This showed the total amount of ink that would be laid down on the page and the average (if 3x3 average is selected) of CMYK inks in the sampled area.

Reading the Numbers

Color is probably one of the most confusing aspects in print and Web production. This is due to the fact that color on one monitor rarely looks the same on another and will almost always print differently than what you see. Knowing how to interpret RGB and CMYK numbers can help produce more accurate color.

Earlier I mentioned that RGB is the Color mode for monitors, scanners, and other similar devices. CMYK is the mode for print. In order for an image to be printed in CMYK, it must be converted from RGB (which is the way you view an image on your monitor). The conversion almost always results in a color's vibrancy deteriorating. This deterioration is due to the differences between the RGB and the CMYK Color modes' ranges of color that they can reproduce, also called a gamut. RGB has a larger gamut than CMYK, which is why RGB can reproduce more colors than CMYK. Photoshop supplies you with gamut warnings (Figure 6-6) to let you know if a color in your image won't print correctly.

Figure 6-6: Gamut warnings appear in the Color picker.

Figure 6-6: Gamut warnings appear in the Color picker.

If you click on the Foreground or Background colors in the toolbar, the Color picker will appear. Let's go through each of the following items from the Color picker:

  1. This box shows the color you've clicked on in the Color picker.
  2. The exclamation point/triangle is a CMYK gamut warning. The box below it shows how your color will reproduce when printed.
  3. The cube is a Web gamut warning. The box below it shows how your color will reproduce on the Web.

When choosing a color to use in your image, be wary of these symbols.

Reading articles and books on color correction will help you recognize problems and give you the forethought to look for certain things, but no amount of research will take the place of basic trial and error.

I suggest that you print out an image, one that has a vast array of color, and then study its onscreen counterpart. I think you will see eye-opening differences. Look at the shadows in the printed image. Do they have any detail? What about the highlights? Is there an overall pink or green cast?

A cool component of the Info palette is the ability to click and mark portions of the image that you want to keep an eye on colorwise. To do this, choose the Eyedropper tool and Shift + Click anywhere in the image (Figure 6-7).

Figure 6-7: Four target color samples and their numbers in the info palette.

Figure 6-7: Four target color samples and their numbers in the info palette.

Take a look at target number 2. It is in a bluish shadow area. Now take a look at its numbers in the Info palette:

  • Cyan: 74%
  • Magenta: 41%
  • Yellow: 28%
  • Black: 3%

Now think of basic color theory you learned in elementary school. Blue and red make purple. Blue and yellow make green. Cyan is essentially a teal-blue. Magenta is basically a fuchsia-like red.

Now try to imagine what that blue area would really look like. Did it lean toward green or purple in the original printout you made? If so, you'll want to take out some of the Magenta or Yellow, and then print out a new copy and see if your corrections helped.

Are you catching my drift? It's going to take time and patience to get the exact colors you want for a particular image, but after a while you'll get the hang of it. This is one area of Photoshop that you will really want to practice, and you will see the fruits of your labor as you improve your ability to work with color.

Setting Up for Color Management

Calibrating my monitor is a scary proposition that always gives me the heebie-jeebies. Why? I really can't tell you. I guess I'm afraid I'm going to mess something up. But Adobe has included a guide to walk you through this task called Adobe Gamma (Figure 6-8), which is installed in the Control Panels folder on your computer.

Figure 6-8: The Adobe Gamma assistant.

Figure 6-8: The Adobe Gamma assistant.

Note to 5.5 users: Adobe Gamma can be found under Help > Color Management.

Running this assistant will create something called an ICC profile. ICC stands for the International Color Consortium. The International Color Consortium got together to try to find a way to create a more stable color environment from machine to machine. What they came up with are these color profiles, which are saved or tagged to your document. These profiles tell your computer what's going on with the color in that particular file so that you may view color more consistently from one device to another.

Keep in mind though that ICC profiles do not color correct, they only help to visually produce consistent color. If your image has any colorcasts, ICC profiles will not eliminate them.

I'm going to leave you with a few guidelines for setting up your ICC profile using Adobe Gamma (from the Adobe Photoshop Help menu Figure 6-9):

Figure 6-9: The Adobe Photoshop 6.0 Help Menu can be a great place to find helpful information.

Figure 6-9: The Adobe Photoshop 6.0 Help Menu can be a great place to find helpful information.

  • Adobe Gamma works only with CRT monitors (standard monitors) not flat-panel (LCD) monitors.
  • Let your monitor warm-up for half an hour before beginning calibration.
  • Set your desktop color to a neutral gray.
  • Make sure there aren't any bright lights or glares on your monitor. Working in a dim environment enhances your ability to see colors more accurately.

OK, I think you're ready to start experimenting on your own. Keep in mind that color-correction is not hard, it's just time-consuming. Do not expect to be an expert overnight. That is putting way too much pressure on yourself. Just keep your eyes open to subtle variances in color and try to match them with the numbers.

We covered a lot of material in this lesson. You learned that RGB can reproduce more colors than CMYK due to a larger gamut. You learned how to watch for warnings from Photoshop on the differences between your onscreen image and your printed image. We discussed the color profiles from the ICC and also how to calibrate your monitor to get a stable color working environment. A lot of information, but just take your time and practice working with color. It will get easier and more rewarding as you learn to manage color.

In our next lesson, we are going to talk about what makes a really advanced user: efficiency. Photoshop is full of keyboard shortcuts, actions, and batch processing that can save time and effort. To be an advanced user, you have to use the processes available in Photoshop efficiently and know how to shortcut many different elements to allow you to produce more in less time and with less effort.

Be sure to take the quiz and do the assignment before heading off to the message board!

Other Resources

Try Real World Photoshop 6: Industrial Strength Production Techniques by David Blatner and Bruce Fraser.

If you're looking for something a little less advanced, try Photoshop 6 for Windows and Macintosh: Visual QuickStart Guide, by Elaine Weinmann and Peter Lourekas.

Also, check out these sites:

www.photoshopuser.com -- Become a member!
www.planetphotoshop.com -- Contains resources and tutorials
www.designsbymark.com -- Tutorials and tips gurus.onlinedesignschool.com -- Tutorials and tips

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