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Digital Painting: Choosing Colors in Photoshop

Digital Painting: Choosing Colors in Photoshop

Dani Jones | Dani Draws

When you paint digitally, one of the most intimidating tasks can be choosing colors. On a traditional palette, you might have 6-12 tubes of paint to work with, but on the computer there are millions of colors available. How do you work with options like that?

Here is how I have tackled this problem.


When you install and load Photoshop for the first time, the first tool you see for controlling your color is the Color window, which features a series of sliders showing either RGB or CMYK settings.


Personally, this thing confuses the heck out of me.

There is also the Swatches palette (which can be opened via Window > Swatches). This window can be quite handy, and you can customize it to feature whatever variety of colors you want.


In the end however, this can be as limiting as picking crayons out of a box.

One could also click on the foreground/background swatches. Doing so brings up the Color Picker, which allows you to choose from a whole spectrum of colors in a way that is organized and makes sense. I know lots of artists pick colors this way.

However, I personally think this interface is a bit overwhelming, and also a bit frustrating if you want to recreate the same colors over and over again. Plus I don’t like the extra step of clicking on the foreground swatch just to adjust the color by a little bit.


How I Pick My Colors:

In the default Photoshop interface, the Swatch palette is usually buried underneath the Color palette, or vice versa. The first thing I do when I rearrange my workspace is open both these windows and place them next to each other. While I’m painting, I use both of these tools constantly and need to be able to access them easily.


You’ll notice that the Swatches I use are just the Photoshop defaults. On rare occasions, I will play with other palettes and color schemes, but this is the state I leave it in for the majority of the time. The only difference is just a few colors I added on the end because I use them a lot in my personal style of painting.

In the Color palette, I will always change the settings of the sliders. If you click the flyout menu in the corner, there is an option to change them to HSB. This stands for Hue, Saturation, and Brightness. These settings are a lot easier for me to use than RGB or CMYK settings because as a painter, I always think of my color in terms of its hue, saturation, and brightness. So, picking and adjusting colors this way is the more natural way to go.

Now, with these two windows open and adjusted, I am ready to paint! I pick a color from the swatches, adjust it slightly with the HSB sliders, and start painting. I like how the swatches give me a set number of colors to work from, while the HSB sliders allow for endless variation. Pick, adjust, paint. It’s a very logical process for me that transitions well from the traditional methods of choosing and mixing colors on a palette.

Of course, these are just my personal preferences. You may find a better way that works for you. The point is, be sure to find a way to organize all those millions of colors on your computer so that you can paint more easily and efficiently.

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