Get More From Your Art Using Photoshop Adjustment Layers

Hi everyone! My name is Doris and I’m a self taught illustrator from Vancouver, Canada. I’ve tried all kinds creative pursuits over the years but when it came to illustration, I knew I’d found my thing. I love to draw critters, characters, florals and maybe a little pop-culture from time to time and I love to tell stories through my work.

I’ve collected a lot of digital clip art over the years, either from purchasing it or creating it myself. In spite of having such a large library of graphics, I still look for new ways I can extend the use of my collection. Adjustment layers are an incredibly useful Photoshop feature and they give me so many options to create multiple versions of a single graphic in a variety of colours. I’m going to talk about three adjustment layer types in particular. It would be good to have a basic working knowledge of Photoshop to follow along while working through this article. A little colour theory might help demystify the magic but is not really necessary. I’ve included the original pink flower at the end of this post if you want to download it, bring it into Photoshop and follow along as we go.

flower options.jpg

There are three specific adjustment layer types you can use that will shift the colour of your image. Hue/saturation, colour balance and selective colour.

You’ll be able to use these techniques to stretch the versatility of your artwork to do things like: 

  • increase colour ways in your clip art sets or digital products providing more value to your customers,

  • create more colour options for patterns and surface design projects,

  • modify the colour of your artwork to match or go with colour schemes, seasons, trends or room colour

Ready? Let’s get started!

Hue/Saturation

The first layer type I want to show you is hue/saturation. This layer type effectively remaps one colour to another according the hue slider in the properties panel for this layer type.

Here’s an example, a pink flower that I illustrated. You can see in the properties panel, I’ve made no adjustments so far. All the settings are still set to default.

 
pink flower HSL no adjustments.png
 

By moving the sliders back and forth, you change how the colours remap. For example, in the image below left, I moved the hue slider to the left to -70 and the flower becomes purple. If I move the hue slider to the right, as in the image below right, the flower becomes a yellow green.

pink flower HSL purple.png
pink flower HSL green.png

I’m going to show you exactly how I created an orange flower from a pink flower.

 
pink to orange.jpg
 

To get the orange colour, I moved the hue slider to +31 remapping the pink colour to orange.

 
pink to orange hue (step 1).png
 

While this has shifted the colour towards orange, it’s looking dull so I boosted the saturation by moving the slider to +43. Now I’m really getting a nice orange but it’s a little bright. I can tweak one more thing.

 
 

I can reduce the brightness by moving the Lightness slider to +17. This lightens the image without losing saturation and I get the orange I want.

 
 

Color Balance

Next, let’s look at the second adjustment layer type, colour balance.

With colour balance, you’re adding more of a specific colour to either the highlights, mid-tones or shadows of your image. 

Here’s my pink flower again showing the properties panel for colour balance with no colour adjustments. All settings are default.

 
pink flower no adjustments CB layer.png
 

By moving the sliders left and right in the properties panel, you shift the colour from cyan to red, magenta to green or yellow to blue for either highlights, midtones or shadows in the image, depending on what you choose in the drop down list. For example, in the image below left, the colour balance is shifted all the way to the left which adds cyan to the midtones. The pink becomes duller, like a dusty rose. In the image below right, the slider is moved all the way to the right which adds red. It’s shifted the colour to a much more saturated deep pink. 

 
pink flower CB most cyan.png
pink flower CB most red.png
 

After a little playing around, I’m able to approximate the same orange I got from the hue/saturation adjustment layer but using the colour balance adjustment layer.

 
 

Here are the settings I used.

 
CB properties highlights.png
CB properited midtones.png
CB properties shadows.png
 

Selective Colour

The third adjustment layer type is selective colour. It’s a way of using colour channels along with tint, tone and shade.

Here’s my pink flower again along with the properties panel for the selective colour adjustment layer. As you can see, all settings are still default.

 
pink flower no adj SC adjustment layer.png
 

I’ve got the ability to shift any of these colours as well as white, neutral and black by adjusting the percentage of cyan, magenta, yellow or black. As with the other two adjustment layer types, this allows me endless possibilities for recolouring my artwork.

 
SC properties panel.png
 

Selecting a colour channel and moving sliders will add or subtract that particular colour from that particular channel. For example, in the image below left, I added 100% cyan to the red channel. In the image below right, I subtracted 100% cyan from the red channel.

 
pink flower SC most cyan.png
 

I’m able to approximate the same orange flower as above and this time I’m using the selective colour adjustment layer.

 
 

Here are the settings I used.

 
SC properties red.png
SC properties magenta.png
SC properties neutrals.png
 

I only needed to make changes to the red, magenta and neutral channels only. There is no green or blue in this graphic and I didn’t want to change the yellow so I didn’t need to change any other settings.

So you’ve seen how you can use three different adjustment layers to alter the colour of a flower from pink to orange. Understanding colour theory and how colours mix together can certainly help you figure things out if you’re after a specific colour, but honestly, isn’t it more fun to be surprised from just playing around?

Thanks for reading my article. I hope you find it helpful. If you’ve tried using any of these techniques in your art or your projects, I’d love to see it so tag me when you do! My favourite place to hang out is on Instagram under the handle @inkanddolly where I often share projects of my own.

I’ve included the original pink flower below. Feel free to download it and try these adjustment layers for yourself using the settings I included in this post. I encourage you to play around with all the settings and see for yourself what you can do with these techniques.