Color Lookup Adjustment Layers in Photoshop CS6

Adobe Photoshop

The new Color Lookup Adjustment Layer in Photoshop CS 6 has several options (3DLUT File, Abstract, and Device Link) that are used to load different “looks”. These looks are achieved by remapping every color in the image to a different one using a lookup table (LUT). I think that many photographers and designers will find their resulting color shifts quite interesting.

Note: historically, LUTs have been used primarily by the film industry as they’re an excellent way to apply  color adjustments from one application in another application that may not share the same math. For instance, a film workflow may involve 6 different compositing and rendering applications — some with good color adjustments and some without. If they create one 3DLUT that contains all of their adjustments, then they can use that LUT in all the applications to get their desired look. In the film and video industry, they may have LUTs for source normalization, scene color correction, creative color appearance and output simulation.

Here are some examples of the LUTs that Chris Cox included in Photoshop CS6. You can think of these tables as a sort of meta-adjustment, a way to apply pre-packaged adjustments (sometimes lots of adjustments together) in one step.

Of course Chris provided more “looks” than appear in the illustration above, so I created a downoadable file (LUTimage_replace.psd) that you can use to quickly see your own image with each look applied:LUTimage_replace.psd

To replace the Venice image with your own:

• Open YOUR image and crop it to 1500 x 1000 pixels at 150 ppi (it can be either horizontal or vertical).

• Choose File > Save As to save your cropped version of the file with a new name (please don’t save over your original).

• Open the “LUTimage_replace.psd” file and in the Layers panel, select the “JKOST_original” layer.

• Choose Layer > Smart Objects > Replace Contents, navigate to your cropped image, and choose Place.

• Voila! All copies of the original image are updated and are displayed with the appropriate LUT (through the magic of Smart Objects).

Note: The Mac operating system includes 6 Abstract profiles  (Black & White, Blue Tone, Gray Tone, Lightness Decrease, Lightness Increase, and Sepia).  The last row of images in the “LUTimage_replace.psd” image (Abstract Mac) show these  profiles. Windows users will be able to see the LUT in this file, and the profiles will display in the Abstract list for this file, but the 6 profiles will not be available in the Abstract list to apply to other images.

If you have your own LUTs, you can copy them here to have them appear in Photoshop’s Color Lookup adjustment layer’s options:

• Abstract and Device Link profiles are stored in Library > Application Support > Adobe > Color Profiles.

• The 3DLUTs are stored in Applications > Photoshop CS6 > Presets > 3DLUTs.

Because this feature was designed for the film and video industry that have their own LUT files, there currently is no way to create LUT files in Photoshop. You can currently, create LUTs in products such as Adobe SpeedGrade CS6. If you would be interested in such a feature within Photoshop, then we could consider it in a future release. I would suggest posting your comments/requests to one of these locations:

Adobe Photoshop

Posted on 05-11-2012


  • By Adrian M - 7:57 AM on May 11, 2012  

    I’ve stumbled upon this while exploring CS6.

    I was working with a pseudo Granger Chart, looking to do exactly what the new Color Lookup feature does, but manually, using a dozen masks to control the colour.

    I got really excited about this, but it looks like I may still need to do this as Adobe SpeedGrade is entirely out of the realm of possibility in terms of affordability. Maybe there’s something free out there?

    Obviously I would be overjoyed if you guys included something to make these directly in Photoshop.

    Looking at what should be contained in the LUT files (just a 1D or 3D mapping) maybe I can write something to make these. Ideally one should be able to take a test color image, manipulate it directly, then translate it into a mapping…

    • By Julieanne Kost - 9:38 PM on May 11, 2012  

      Adrian, Honestly, it sounds like you probably know more about LUTs that I do! I know that there is another program called LUT Buddy that is a plugin to After Effects, but there are probably more that I’m not aware of. I also know that creating LUTs isn’t quite as straightforward as it appear to be. As far as I know, you’re correct, if you have the original image, and make changes to it, then you can create a LUT based on the changes. However if you’re doing this in PS there are certain things that you can and can’t do (for example, if you use an adjustment layer to make changes to the original file, you can’t add a mask to make those changes only effect part of the image). Beyond this, I will quickly get in over my head. If you have additional questions, probably the best place to ask them would be either the forum or the feedback page. Sorry! -j

  • By Carlos - 11:08 AM on May 11, 2012  

    Thanks a lot for your time and effort, your posts are always a great source of accurate information and creative inspiration, two great qualities that aren’t found together that often. And, incidentally, while playing with this file I found out the answer to a problem with smart objects I’ve been suffering for the past few months – I hadn’t realised until right now that replacing a smart object’s content with a jpg file causes the “save as dialog” to appear everytime I try to update+save the contents of such smart object. This thread at lead me to the solution, but the reason I looked for it was that while playing with your file, I encountered this problem for the n-th time and I thought it was about time to google for it and look for an answer. So… thanks again!!

    • By Julieanne Kost - 9:44 PM on May 11, 2012  

      Thanks for pointing me to this thread Carlos as I haven’t personally experienced the issue.

  • By Daniel - 10:08 AM on August 9, 2012  

    It will be nice to be able to load a flat tga texture (ex: 256wx16h) that we use a lot in gaming industry as you can see in this UDK documentation it will be way easier to use. Please an update to support that ;o)

    • By Chris Cox - 5:54 PM on October 16, 2012  

      We have a minor conflict there, since TGA is also used for the Targa image format.
      Also, there appear to be no standards on how to interpret 3DLUTs stored in TGA files — every application/toolkit seems to treat them differently.

      But I’ll see what I can do.

  • By Vivian Bedoya - 10:28 AM on September 17, 2012  

    Photoshop never ceases to amaze me! I had noticed “Color Lookup” while working in CS6 and wondered what it was – thank you for the tutorial – I love the feature. Are there more formulas available to expand the filters?

  • By joseph - 8:34 PM on September 17, 2012  

    Still in the dark, in CS6, is there a sepia filter or do I need to create it from scratch ? thank you.

    • By Pete Green - 2:36 PM on September 18, 2012  

      There isn’t a default color LUT for sepia (although candlelight is a decent option!), but there is a default action you can use.
      Window > Actions
      Default Actions > Sepia Toning (Layer)

    • By Chris Cox - 5:52 PM on October 16, 2012  

      There are several default sepia adjustments in Photoshop – it’s a simple appearance that doesn’t need 3DLUTs.

      The highest quality sepia toning presets are probably in the gradient map adjustment, in the photographic toning gradient presets.

  • By Matt - 10:56 PM on October 30, 2012  

    Julieanne, you never cease to amaze me at how many things I learn from your tutorials! Thank You!

    • By Julieanne Kost - 4:43 PM on November 1, 2012  

      I’m glad that the tutorials are helpful!

  • By Kenneth Moller - 5:14 AM on November 23, 2012  

    I recently stumbled upon Color Lookups, and have used them on most of my photos ever since!
    I’d love to be able to take an image with at certain look/color tone and extract the LUT on other images. Say, an old sixties photo with flat orange skin tones etc. Or is there some other feature that already does this?
    Thank you for your great tutorials.

    • By Julieanne Kost - 1:04 PM on November 25, 2012  

      You can not create Color Lookup tables Photoshop, however you can in Speed Grade
      If you have a Creative Cloud membership, then you already have access to Speed Grade, if not, you might want to check it out using the 30 day trial.

  • By Alison Walker - 2:50 PM on August 13, 2013  

    I have been interested in using the LUT adjustment layers on CMYK images to do isolated profile to profile conversions using layer masks. Are there other resources or websites that are dealing with their generation and use in CMYK files? Thanks very much for all you do.

    • By Julieanne Kost - 2:30 PM on August 14, 2013  

      You will need abstract or CMYK->CMYK devicelink profiles and you can use use tools like ColorThink to create CMYK->CMYK profiles, or some of the high-end profiling packages.But I can’t find many references other than the ICC spec. -j

  • By Alison Walker - 7:44 AM on August 15, 2013  

    Thanks for the reply. That was what I had encountered as well. I had all ready made a device link with ColorThink but had not found really any conversation out there on the web about this specific use.

    With regards to the color management behavior of the image and the DLP, I presume that the color settings or tagged profile on the images takes precedence over the source profile in the DLP? In other words, file is tagged GRACoL but DLP is SWOP3>SWOP3(long black). Does it then become a conversion from GRACoL>SWOP3(long black) or is the area in the layer mask retagged with the source of the DLP and the area is converted to SWOP3>SWOP3(long black)? And once its applied, does the files tagged profile then take precedence for display?

    Thanks for the help…..Alison