Graphic Design

The Mysterious Changing Color Palette

Today I ran across an old problem I had experienced with the Photoshop color palette once before, a year or two ago. This was the kind of problem that lingered for days, maybe even weeks, and in spite all of my digging and research, it seemed I could do nothing to make it go away. After an eon of agonizing and just having to live with the problem, the solution finally happened upon my lap, and it was all over. It was such a frustrating experience that I barely noted what the solution was, and today, when the problem crossed my path again, it had been so long since our last encounter that I had forgotten the solution altogether. When I realized I had encountered this problem before, all the frustrations began to flood back to my memory, and I feared that I was about to go through it all over again. Fortunately, this time the problem managed to stick around for only a few hours, and I finally took an educated guess as to the problems cause, and it happened to be right. I’d like to share this solution with you, in case you happen to run across it yourself.

Photoshop's default color palette

This is the standard Photoshop color palette. I’m no color expert, but I’ve used this palette for years, and I can tell you from experience that there is just something about it that works, and I think that something goes beyond the fact that I’m just used to it. Notice that in the lower right corner of the large color area you have the darkest black, and in the upper left corner you have the brightest white. Notice that anywhere in this palette, whether up high or down low (with the exception of the bottom-most area, which is black all the way across), if you move your mouse to the left, your color is going to get grayer and lose vibrance, and if you move it to the right your color will grow richer and gain vibrance. Moving your mouse up and down, anywhere in this palette, will cause your color to be brighter or darker, respectively. You can shift the color’s hue using the narrow vertical spectrum on the right, but no matter what hue you shift it to, these principles of darker/lighter, duller/richer, will always hold true in the main adjustment area.

For those of you who haven’t met them, let me introduce you to some of Photoshop’s alternate color palettes.

One of the alternate color palettesAnother crazy color palette variation


One day, I did something, I had no idea what, and out of nowhere my color palette looked like one of these. Achieving black is bad enough, but try to get a true white in one of these palettes, and you may end up typing it in manually (if you even know how), just to save yourself from a significant bout of aggravation. I thought I had hit a hot key by accident somewhere along the way, and maybe changed some preference somewhere. But I found nothing in the preferences, and nothing underneath any of the menus, in spite of thorough and exhaustive searching.

After putting up with this annoying problem for a couple of hours, another idea finally occurred to me. I checked it out, and sure enough, my problems were solved.

So enough with the mystery. The appearance of the color palette changes depending upon the color mode you have selected in the color palette. I realize that is may be obvious to some of you, and believe me, once it finally hit my thick skull, it was obvious to me, too.

The controlsOn the right side of the color palette, you will see several radio button sets, with a letter by each radio button. Each set represents a color mode. The letters by each button correlate with channels in the relevant color mode’s method of describing color. One set has three letters, H, S, and B, by each of three buttons (HSB stands for hue, saturation, and brightness, I believe). Another set has R, G, and B (red, green, and blue). Still another has L, a, and b (this one is a bit trickier; briefly, it’s something to do with lightness and two positions – a and b – between the colors magenta and green, and yellow and blue, respectively). You can select any of these radio buttons, and when you do, you will get the color palette that corresponds with that channel in that color mode.

The color palette that is displayed by default in Photoshop is from the first button in the first set, which is the H in the HSB set. This is the one I’m used to, and the one I’ve found most useful. If you’re experienced with working with color on a computer, you’re likely to recognize some of the other palettes as you click between them. Everyone has a different way of working, so choose the one you’re most comfortable with. I just didn’t want you to end up like me, stuck with one that you hated, with no understanding of why, nor how to change it.

In moments like that, it’s hard to keep from crying, you know?


No comments for “The Mysterious Changing Color Palette”

Post a comment