May 03, 2010

Color-picking improvements in Photoshop CS5

In Photoshop CS4, we added the ability to click & drag in order to resize one’s brush, and to change brush hardness in a similar manner (using a separate keyboard shortcut). Artists told us they wanted to perform these operations in quick succession, without having to use separate commands.

Therefore in CS5 you can change both brush size and brush hardness via a single shortcut: on Mac, Control+Option click, and on Windows, Alt+right click, then drag left/right to change brush size and up/down to change hardness. We built in little “dead zones” between up/down and left/right to reduce the chance that you’d inadvertently change both parameters when you’re trying to change just one.

Moving to a single shortcut had the side benefit of freeing up the shortcuts that were previously used to control brush hardness. Now you can invoke the new HUD (Heads-Up Display) color picker* by holding Command Control Option (Mac)/Alt Shift Right Click (Windows) when clicking.

We also gave the eyedropper tool a color selection ring that shows one’s previous foreground color as well as the one being clicked. Because human color perception is notoriously susceptible to influence by surrounding colors (see this little demo if you need convincing), we included a gray ring around the previous/sampled colors. If for whatever reason you don’t like the ring, you can select the eyedropper tool, then uncheck the “Show Sampling Ring” on the Options Bar.

One other tweak: You can now launch the color picker using a keyboard shortcut. To set this up, start by choosing Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts. Under the Shortcuts for “Tools,” scroll the to the bottom to locate “Foreground Color Picker,” and then type the letter you prefer.

[Screenshot of the ring courtesy of digital painter John Derry’s blog.]

*Detail: If you want to switch Hue without changing the Saturation/Value, you can hold down the space bar to stop the color sampler from moving. (I call up the HUD, then release the shortcut keys, which frees up my hand to select the space bar.) Once you move over the Hue strip or ring you can release the space bar and adjust the hue. It’s complicated to describe but rather simple to use.

Posted by John Nack at 3:07 PM on May 03, 2010


  • Tim Baigent — 5:16 PM on May 03, 2010

    All of the features of the new HUD colour picker, including these more subtle ones you point out here are the sort of thing that make life very much easier for those, like me, who have weak colour vision. My problem is bog-standard red-green deficiency. Good, flexible tools, that allow colour to be “seen” in many different ways, can make an enormous difference in a given case, and also (surprisingly enough) over time. The longer I use Photoshop, the better my colour vision becomes. Photoshop can sharpen the wiring of the brain.
    Anyway, I’m grateful for these great new additions to the toolset.

  • Sue — 4:22 AM on May 04, 2010

    Sometimes great news is in the tiny details, as with these simple brush changes. Think you should mention the easy brush changes in the title of this post. Thx. Sue

  • Andy M. — 6:05 AM on May 04, 2010

    I had the ability to change my brush like this in CS4? How did i miss that? oh well, this looks great in cs5

  • Jan Kabili — 2:01 PM on May 04, 2010

    Love being able to control brush hardness & size with one keyboard shortcut. But for some reason the controls for the HUD color picker seem awkward to me. For example, I usually want to start with the hue selector, but HUD seems to default to shade selector. And it just doesn’t seem intuitive to do what must be done to get to the hue selector without moving the shade selector: release the 3 shortcut keys that invoke HUD picker, but keep the mouse down and leave it down while clicking on spacebar and moving to Hue selector on color ring before releasing spacebar.
    But maybe it’s just the way my brain is wired.

  • Naomi — 5:14 AM on May 06, 2010

    I can’t use this tool? ( color picker)
    If i want to click on see sampling ring it’s just gray and i can’t click what’s the problem here? i want to use this so badly

  • thorsten wulff — 3:04 AM on May 08, 2010

    haha, awesome, thanks Jack! Couldn’t find the hardness ;))

  • Nick — 3:22 PM on May 08, 2010

    Bugged for me: can’t invoke the HUD until I invoke the Eyedropper or Alt-drag to change the brush size using the regular Brush tool — can’t do it at all till then using the Mixer Brush. The keyboard shortcut I made for the color picker doesn’t work at all for me. Reported it using the bug submission, so into the blackhole it goes.
    When it works though, nice.

  • Nick — 3:35 PM on May 08, 2010

    Correction: keyboard shortcut works fine — it didn’t warn me that I had chosen an invalid shortcut (`) as it warns when assigning that same key to, say, the Sharpen tool. The HUD color picker is still bugged, though.

  • Ann — 10:07 AM on June 11, 2010

    The problem I have is that it changes the background colour not the forground colour – have I gaot something set up wrong?

  • Chris Cox — 11:28 AM on June 11, 2010

    Go to the color palette and click on the foreground icon. You have clicked on the background icon, so color picking via the HUD, the color palette, or the eyedropper will default to the background.

  • Chris Converse — 6:33 AM on June 20, 2010

    i’m having the same problem as ann… no matter what i do, the eyedropper defaults to changing the background color. i have to hold option to change the foreground color. this is the opposite for previous versions of photoshop.

  • Darcy Bertolo — 12:16 PM on July 20, 2010

    I had the same issue with the eyedropper changing the background color, selecting the foreground icon in the palette didn’t fix anything until I swapped the colors at the bottom of the tool bar too, then it worked properly

  • Howard Rudnick — 11:24 AM on August 04, 2010

    You know what would be nice? is to be able to turn off the color ring. I find it really annoying!

    [Do you mean the one that appears in conjunction with the eyedropper? Just select the eyedropper, then uncheck “Show Sampling Ring” on the toolbar. –J.]

  • Christina — 9:46 AM on October 21, 2010

    My brush is smaller than the circle guide. How can I get it back to fill the full size of the circle guide? I have no idea where my color or erasing is going to occur with it like this and I have no idea how I got my brush like this.
    Please help, I’m going mad, lol THANKS!

  • Andy — 1:41 AM on November 08, 2010

    Thats strange – The HUD didn’t work at my computer either. I use a german keyboard. After changing the key “I” to the foreground-color-picker the HUD and the ink-tool (alt) worked properly.

  • Anne Horn — 3:24 PM on December 09, 2010

    I have somehow wrecked the background color setting when I try to write text on an image. As soon as I click to write, my image is suffused with red so that I can just see the picture through a red haze. I am a total newby with cs5 and clearly have done something stupid. I need to solve the problem quickly so that I can make my Christmas cards. I hope someone can help me.

  • Henry — 2:21 AM on May 18, 2011

    Is possbile to pick a color from with picker, (not from colorwheel) when I edit a text, without using palettes?

  • Andre — 8:11 PM on August 23, 2011

    Can I change Mac brush size and hardness shortcut?
    Make it like in Windows, Alt+right click.

    [Sorry, no, this shortcut can’t be modified. –J.]

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