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How to Key Out a Color in Photoshop

Published: 24/05/2021

While editing images in Photoshop, we often want to remove a color entirely from the image. The purpose of this action may be to remove a solid color background or replace that color to enhance the appeal. If you want to learn how to key out a color in Photoshop, we will walk you through an efficient and quick way to do it.

How to Key Out a Color in Photoshop in a Quick Way

The need to key out a specific color in your image may arise depending upon how you plan to manipulate it. For beginners who don’t know much about Photoshop tools and features, the task can seem quite difficult. They might believe that the only way to do that is by carefully selecting the colored area with accuracy, and then deleting it.

Like everything else in Photoshop, there are more than one ways to single out a color. Among all the methods, we are stating the most effective method which will quickly allow you to select the unwanted color and remove it, and in a non-destructive way.

Although the procedure described below is non-destructive, we highly recommend that you make a duplicate of an image before removing a color from it. You can easily duplicate an image by going to the Image menu and selecting Duplicate.

Key Out a Color Using the Color Range Feature

In its recent versions, Photoshop CC has introduced the Color Range feature which is immensely useful for keying out a color. The Color Range panel has a set of options that let you make the selection as per your desire.

Another big benefit of this option is that you can set up a Photoshop action for a particular selection and later apply it to multiple images to accelerate your workflow. Whenever you need to sample a color and turn it into a selection on a similar image, you can quickly apply this action.

Import the Image

The first step is to open your image in Photoshop. Choose an image in which you need to key out a particular color.

Choose the Color Range Tool

Go to the Select menu, and choose the Color Range option. It will open up a dialog box through which you can select the color in the image that is to be removed.

Keying out a color using the Color Range tool in Photoshop

The settings in your Color Range option should be as follows:

  • From the Select drop-down menu, choose Sampled Colors.
  • Keep the fuzziness level up to 40. 
  • Check the Selection option.
  • Check the Invert option.
  • In the selection preview, select Grayscale.

Sample the Color

With the eyedropper tool of Color Range, select the color from your image or the preview in the dialog box. You will see that the sampled color turns white, which means that it is selected. 

Everything else on your preview will be black, signaling complete transparency. 

If any areas appear grey, it means that it has varying levels of transparency. Grey sections will be partly visible and partly invisible. You need to make sure that your image has clear white and black selections and no part should be gray.

Sampling the color using the eyedropper tool of Color Range in Photoshop

Add or Subtract to the Selection 

If you hold down the Shift key and click on grey areas of the preview, you will notice that this action adds to the selection. The white area will appear whiter. 

If you hold the ALT key on Windows or Opt Key on Mac, and then click on the areas, it will subtract from the selection. Use this option if you accidentally select the wrong area. 

Adjusting the fuzziness would ensure that your subject is not selected while the color range tool does its job. Once you are done with the color range selection, click on OK.

Inverse Selection

You will notice that in the document area, all the sampled sections that have a particular color are selected. Now inverse the selection by choosing the layer that you are working upon. Go to the Select menu, and click on Inverse.

The alternative option to inverse the selection is to press CTRL + SHIFT + I on Windows, and CMD + SHIFT + I on Mac OS.

Create a Layer Mask

After inverting the selection, you can simply hit delete to remove the color. But that would permanently remove the color from the image, editing it destructively. 

What you can do instead, is to click on the 'Create a Mask' icon on the bottom of the layer panel. This will create a mask of the image without the color. You can disable or delete the layer mask whenever you want, which means you have edited the image non-destructively.

Image after keying out a color in Photoshop

You can see that the blue color of the sky is effectively keyed out in our image. The selection is quite refined, revealing the background even in between the small leaves of the tree. This level of precision cannot be achieved through other tools where manual selection is required.

Other Methods for Keying Out a Color

Although the Color Range feature does its job quite well, you can use the eraser tool to further remove any residual effect of the color on the image. 

Besides the effective Color range tool, you can use the selection tools, especially the Magic Wand tool, and the Magic Erase tool which selects the areas of the image based on color range. 

However, none of them will be as effective in keying out the color as the Color Range tool. It allows you to quickly pick the color with increased precision. 

Conclusion

The Color Range feature for selecting and removing a particular color in an image is tremendously valuable. It is a straightforward solution for this purpose, saving lots of time and effort for Photographers. Also, it is very easy to use and you don’t need to learn advanced skills to use this tool.

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