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saturation painting tutorial


While it takes quite a few words to describe saturation painting, when doing it live in Photoshop, it tends to go much faster. Just keep the table in mind when doing it:

Desired outcome: Decrease saturation of over-saturated colors Increase saturation of under-saturated colors
Mask to paint through: Saturation mask Vibrance mask
Color to paint with: Gray Red

There are a few additional points to keep in mind when using this technique:

  1. Compared to luminosity painting, it's necessary to be a little more careful with brush placement when saturation painting. Saturation painting has just two masks, Saturation and Vibrance, and both have a fairly wide range of saturation values. Painting significantly outside the areas where the saturation change is supposed to occur can cause some unintended saturation changes. Generally it's easy to get the paint where it belongs, just don't get too careless with the brushstrokes.
  2. Saturation increase and saturation decrease can both be accomplished on the same saturation-painting layer. In fact, the same areas can be painted red and gray through the different masks to both increase and decrease saturation in adjacent pixels. The masks will accurately get the paint to the correct pixels and the amount of paint applied through each mask will determine the final saturation values of the pixels under the paint.
  3. Be sure to use low-opacity brushes when saturation painting. Part of this stems from the fact that color saturation actually has a much broader range than we normally see in our images. The spectrum of saturation that looks good to our eyes in photographs is actually quite narrow. Photoshop colors, however, encompass the full range of saturation. Using a high-opacity brush will frequently take colors way beyond what is intended. One alternative to low-opacity brushes is to decrease the opacity of the saturation-painting layer to 50 or even 25 percent. Higher opacity brushes could then be used, though a 100%-opacity brush would still likely be to much in most circumstances.
  4. There are a couple of ways to undo saturation painting. If the effect has gone too far, paint the opposite color through the same mask selection. For example, if the red paint has increased saturation too much, paint the area with gray paint to reverse the effect. It helps to cut the brush opacity approximately in half when doing this so as to not completely undo the effect all at once and perhaps even creating the opposite effect than that intended. As an alternative, switching to the Eraser tool to erase excess color that has been deposited on the saturation-painting layer also works. It has the advantage of never going so far as to actually reverse the intended effect. The worst that erasing can do is to erase all the color added to the saturation-painting layer thereby returning the image to its pre-painting state.
  5. Don't be afraid to experiment. Saturation painting is completely nondestructive to the image since it's done on a separate layer. It's very easy to throw the experiments in the trash and simply create a new saturation-painting layer to try again. The concepts presented here involve using the basic Saturation and Vibrance masks. Like with luminosity masks, it would be very easy to intersect these masks with themselves to create a super-Saturation or super-Vibrance mask. It would also be possible to create a saturation "mid-tones" mask. While I've not explored these possibilities, it's nice to know that they exist.

I hope you'll give saturation painting a try the next time you're looking to adjust saturation in an image. It offers a lot of control over saturation and in certain images can make a real difference.

A PDF version of this tutorial along with the Photoshop action to create the saturation-painting layer and set the painting colors is included in the  Special Offer .