How To Make Colors Pop in Photoshop






In this Photoshop tutorial you’re going to learn how to make colors pop in Photoshop along with some really easy tricks on managing any Photoshop document.

If you want the files used in this tutorial to follow along, click below.

You can also watch the video by clicking here or just follow the steps outlined below.

Now let me show you how to make colors pop in Photoshop. In order to see what we are going for take a look at the before image on the left and the after image on the right.

How To Make Colors Pop in Photoshop - image of girl before and after

Let’s get started on How To Make Colors Pop

First, download the source file we will be working with today, once downloaded and unzipped you can navigate to the “Episode-027-Source-Files” folder and open the “Woman.jpg” file in Photoshop.


I am working in the Essentials Workspace, so if you want your screen to look the same as mine, you can select Essentials from the Workspace icon in the upper right corner.

essential Photoshop workspace

How to Make Hair Pop in Photoshop

The first thing we’re going to do is make a selection of the woman’s hair. I have a separate in-depth tutorial on how to select hair properly that can be found here, which I recommend watching for a detailed explanation. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll just give a quick overview so that we can start making our colors pop in Photoshop sooner.

To select the hair, we can use the Quick Selection Tool.

Photoshop quick selection tool

With this tool selected, you click and drag over the hair. If any unwanted areas are added to the selection, like the background or the woman’s face or neck, you can hold the Alt key and click and drag over the areas you want to subtract from the selection. In the end, your selection should look something like this.

selecting womans face

Next, click the Select and Mask button at the top of the screen.

select and mask button in Photoshop

Select the Refine Edge Brush Tool (R).

Refine Edge Brush tool in Photoshop

Set the brush size so that it’s a little wider than the edge you are trying to refine (in this case, the hairline), and brush over the border area where you want it to perform the edge detection. It should automatically refine the edges of your selection so that the hair is selected and the skin is not. In cases where the edge is a little bigger—such as at the ends of the hair where the background and the hair have a lot of overlap—you can make the brush a little bigger and follow the same process.

Using brush tool in Photoshop

If there are any rough details that still need some cleaning up at this point, you can select the Brush Tool and use it to add or subtract areas and finalize the selection.

brush tool in Photoshop

It’s okay if the edges still aren’t completely perfect. Remember, we’re only doing basic color correction on this image, so having a clean selection is great, but any discrepancies won’t be as visible as if we were making a more dramatic change like switching the background.

Now we have our selection, and the first thing I do when I have a selection is create a group.

creating a group in photoshop

Then we can turn the selection into a mask of this group.

mask button in photoshop

Let’s rename the “Group 1” that is created to “Hair” so we can keep our layers organized.

Now, in this group we’re going to add a curves adjustment layer.

Curves menu in Photoshop

Using Photoshop curves to change the color and pop

We can modify the curve to increase the contrast by creating an S-curve, which will make the darks darker and the lights lighter.

curve panel in photoshop

Note: my curves are inverted from the default setting, so they may be reversed from what you have. This is because of how I have my Curves Display Options set.

curves display options in Photoshop

I come from a print background, so I have my Curves Display Options set to “Pigment and Ink” instead of the default “Light (0-255)”.

curves display options panel

So if your whites are in the upper right corner and your darks are in the lower left, that’s normal. You will still create an S-curve to increase the contrast. To keep the image from getting too dark, I want to brighten up my highlights and mid-tones more than I darken the darks. In the end, a curve like this is what looks best to me.

S-curve in Photoshop

Adding a saturation adjustment layer

Let’s go ahead and add some saturation now with a hue/saturation adjustment layer.

Hue Saturation menu

We can increase our saturation to around +14, which makes it considerably stronger. We can make more changes later on if we want, but I like how this is looking, so for now, let’s say this is our hair color correction.

hair color popping in Photoshop

How to Make the Skin Tone Pop in Photoshop

The next thing we’re going to work on is the skin tone. Let’s go back to the Background layer and use the Quick Selection Tool to select the skin tones, just like we did with the hair. My skin tone selection looks like this.

selecting skin to make it pop in Photoshop

Once again, we click Select and Mask.

select and mask panel

Select the Refine Edge Brush Tool.

clicking on Refine Edge Tool

Now let’s go ahead and set the Global Refinements so that the edge is smoothed and feathered a little bit. In my case I’ve set Smooth to 5 and Feather to 1.4 px.

global refinements panel

Set the brush size so that it covers the border area of the selection, and brush over the edge to perform the edge detection and find the edges of the skin.

Once you’re done, click OK and then create a group.

Create Group button in Photoshop

Turn the selection into a mask of this group.

create mask button in Photoshop

Create a new layer in this new group.

Create group button

Select the eyedropper tool.

eye dropper tool

Now, I want to pick a part of her skin tone. Something not too dark and not too saturated, so that the color is representative of her overall skin color. Something like this should work great.

sampling skin color

Then I’m going to fill the layer with this color. You can do that by either using Shift + F5 or by going to the Edit menu in the toolbar and selecting Fill.

Adding a color fill

Make sure the settings in the pop-up Fill menu have the Contents set to Foreground Color and the Mode set to Normal, and then select OK. You should see the layer flattened to just this color everywhere, like this.

adding layer with fill color

Take this layer and turn it into a color adjustment layer.

adding color layer

So now all the color has been completely taken out and this one color has been applied, which is not exactly what we want to do, but it’s a good start. There’re a few too many color aberrations in the original skin tone in my opinion, including the blue from the environment and some blotchiness in her skin, so that’s what we’re hoping to address with this fill layer.

We can turn the opacity down on this layer to 70%.

applying color layer

Now that the opacity is down to 70%, I’m going to hold down the Alt key and select the Mask button. This adds a concealing mask that’s totally black over this flat skin tone layer we created.

add a concealing mask

This means I can now basically brush whites on the mask and partially reveal the skin tone layer. I’ll select the Brush Tool, make sure it’s at 100% opacity, and brush the neck area to bring the skin tone back in and warm the color in that section up. Then I’ll set the brush opacity to 50% and correct some of the areas in the face where I see a little blotchiness. The 50% opacity allows us to partially bring in the skin tone layer we created without fully covering the original image, which lets us even out the skin a bit while still preserving some of the color variation.

brushing onto mask

We can also add a little bit of contrast now to the skin tone the same way we did before to the hair color. We’ll add a curves adjustment layer and then make the darks darker and the lights lighter by a bit.

Finally, we’ll bring this contrast layer below the color layer so that the color will be in the highlights.

adjusting color curve

Let’s make sure to name this whole group “Skin” so that we can keep track of it.

How to Make Eyes Pop in Photoshop

Next up, we’re going to do the eyes. I will process the eyes a little differently from what we’ve done so far. Let’s create a group and call it “Eyes”. In this group, I’m going to create a curves adjustment layer.

adding color curve to eyes

I’m going to adjust the contrast curve to make everything lighter, and I’m just going to pay attention to the eyes. Since I want the eyes considerably brighter than where we started, this will be a dramatic curve. My end result looks like this.

adjusting color curves for eyes

Now let’s create a vibrance adjustment layer to add some vibrance and saturation.

adding a vibrance layer

I’ve set the vibrance to +41 and the saturation to +14.

boosting vibrance

Then I’ll click the Mask button.

adding masks on eyes

This adds a black concealing mask to the eyes layer, just like we did for the skin layer. I can now zoom in close on the eyes, take the brush tool, and set it to 20% opacity and a very small size.

I’ll use this brush to paint in her eye to lighten the pupil so we can see that area better. I try to replicate every brush stroke for both eyes so that the changes are being made evenly and they still match. We can also brighten the whites of her eyes a bit, but I recommend not brightening them too much because this has a tendency to make the eyes look fake. If you brighten the eyes too much, you can hit X to invert so that you’re adding blacks back to the concealing mask, and then you can use the brush to dial the whites back down.

painting in the highlights

If we feel the change is too dramatic, we can also turn down the opacity on the whole Eyes layer. I’ve turned mine down to 78%.

Adding an eyes layer mask

I think this is a cool way to get some detail in the eyes, and we’re actually going to do the same thing for the mouth.

How to Make Lips Pop in Photoshop

Create a new group, and then we can start by creating a mask. In this case, I’ll click on quick mask; you can also just hit Q to enter quick mask mode.

quick mask mode button

Make sure the opacity is set to 100% and then click on the lips, which is what we will be working on. When the brush options pop up, I suggest defaulting to a 45 px size and a hardness of 85, which is my go-to for selections. Then let’s hit Enter and zoom in close on the mouth to something like 300%.

selecting brush panel

In this mode, whatever I draw is going to be masked. After drawing with this brush with my default settings, I’ve decided that the hardness is too high for this purpose, so I’ve changed the hardness to 40. We can then draw in the mask for the lips using Shift + click, which connects the last point we put down with the next one we draw in.

drawing mask for lips

Once we have the whole mouth covered, hit Q again to leave quick mask mode and you have a selection of the mask.

Now, click on the Mask button.

adding a mask layer

Adding a Curves adjustment Layer

Now in this mask, let’s add a curves adjustment layer again.

Adding a curves layer

Once again, let’s add some contrast by darkening the darks and lightening the lights.

darkening using a curve

If we wanted the lips to look really shiny, then we would need a lot of contrast. This kind of gives the effect that the woman is wearing lipstick.

bright lips result

I don’t really like that look too much here, so I’m going to keep the change more subtle. We also have the ability to color the lips a different color if we’d like. To do this, we create a hue/saturation layer.

add hue/saturation layer

Using Colorize in Photoshop

Check the “Colorize” box.

colorize tool

Bring the saturation up a lot and change the hue slider to pick a color that you like. Here we’ve selected a pink color. Then we can turn the opacity of the layer down if the change is too strong. We’ll set it to 64%.

adjusting the opacity of the layer

Create a new layer in this new group.

If we change the hue to a more orange color, we get something like this.

woman after tweaking the color on lips

How to accentuate colors

She definitely has a little more color in the lips now. We can go to the curves again and accentuate that a bit, making sure we don’t let the very dark areas get too dark because that will add a lot of shadows.

adjusting curve to accentuate color

We can go back to the hue/saturation layer and see if we can improve this at all. After a little trial and error, it looks like a color more in the reds is nice, so let’s go with that.

woman after hue saturation layer is applied

Like I mentioned, if the change is too strong, turn down the opacity on the whole group. We’ll change the opacity on the hue/saturation layer to around 50% and the opacity of the whole group to around 60%.

Hue/Saturation layer

Make sure to rename the group called “Group 1” to “Lips”.

creating group called links

Using the Quick Selection tool for the Sweater

Now, let’s do a similar thing for her sweater. Select the Quick Selection Tool.

Quick Selection tool for sweater

Select her sweater by brushing over it.

brushing over sweater to create selection

Using Select and Mask in Photoshop

Once we have the sweater selected, click the Select and Mask button.

Select and Mask Button

If any areas of the sweater are missing from the mask, brush over them to add them in. Turn up the smooth and feather settings; I’ve set the smooth setting to 1 and the feather setting to 6.3 px.

Now let’s create a new group with this selection and name it “Sweater”, turn the selection into a mask of this group, and create a curves adjustment layer once again.

adding a curve for the sweater in Photoshop

Increase the contrast as we’ve been doing. As I mentioned, usually in the S-curve I have a tendency to keep the three quarter tones as they were and lower the quarter tones, so that’s a tip to keep in mind.

adjusting the curve in Photoshop

Now let’s go to the blue curve and see if any other changes would make an improvement.

adjusting the blue curve in Photoshop

We don’t want the color to be too vibrant since it is actually a dark blue sweater, but brightening the mid-tones a little will really make the colors pop.

adjusting the mid-tones

Then go back to the RGB curve and bring the lights down a little more, and we should be good to go.

adjusting the RGB curve


Finally, we have the background. Select the background layer, select the Quick Selection Tool, and brush over the whole background to select it.

using the Quick Selection Tool

Once the background is selected, click Select and Mask. You may find it hard to tell which parts of the background are masked. To remedy this, we can change the View Mode under properties in the upper right corner. We’ll set the View Mode to Overlay.

selecting the background in Photoshop

Pick the Refine Edges Tool and trace the border area of the selection. One thing to always keep in mind is that the better the selection is, the better the effect will be. In this case, the technique is not so much about selection but more about the color, so we won’t focus on getting it perfect, but if you put in a little more care in the selection process, the result is even better.

tweaking the background selection in photoshop

Set the feather setting to 1.0 px and click OK. Now we’ll create a new group, rename it to “Background”, and create a mask. Then add a curves adjustment layer. In this case, we’re going to darken it considerably. We want to get a lot of that color back. 

adding a curve in photoshop

The lighter background does make the woman stand out more, but I would prefer the background to have more color.

adjusting a curves layer in Photoshop

Adding a Vibrance Adjustment layer

Let’s add a vibrance adjustment layer. We can add some saturation and some vibrance. 

vibrance layer in photoshop

I’ve set vibrance to +36 and saturation to +17.

saturation slider in Photoshop

Another cool little trick is, if I want the border to be a little fuzzier after my selection has already been done, you can click on the Background mask and just increase the feather setting.

If you increase it too much it can create a halo effect around the subject, which I don’t want, but we can choose something in between.

make colors pop in photoshop intermediate result

Great, the background looks to be in good shape.

Fixing Problem Areas

The only part here that I’m not very happy with is her skin tone. It’s a little flattened, and that’s because I basically applied a single color to it. I feel like the effect is a little too strong, so I’m going to turn the opacity of the skin’s color adjustment layer down to, say, 30%.

working on skin layer

Adding another curves layer to add highlights

Also taking a look at the curves, I feel I can lighten my skin tones a touch. To do this we can add another curves layer and then lighten the lights slightly to brighten the skin tones up.

adding a curves layer

So what’s nice about this method of color correction is that, since I now have all these selections, I can edit each element individually very easily. For example, let’s say I wanted her hair to be even redder. We can go into the Hair group and create a new color layer there.

creating a color layer in Photoshop

Then let’s select the eyedropper tool and select a really bright red from the woman’s hair, such as this.

using eyedropper on hair

With the color selected and the color layer created, we can easily switch to the Brush Tool and brush brighter reds onto the darker side of the hair to make it more even.

how to make colors pop in photoshop result

This is an exaggerated version of the change, but we can see that all of the darker areas have had color added back in. To lessen the intensity of the effect, we can lower the opacity to 40% or lower.

hair layer in Photoshop

Then we can add a mask to this specific layer.

Finally we can switch to the Brush Tool and mask out areas that feel a little strong, such as areas close to her skin. This same type of process can be used for any adjustment you want to make.


If you’ve been following along, you should now have a finished product where we’ve color corrected the original image using all the tools at our disposal to really make the colors pop. Toggle the layers on and off to see the effect that each one has on the finished piece, and the difference should speak for itself.

More importantly, we’ve covered the process we used to achieve this result. To recap the basic process:

  1. Make a selection of the element we want to edit
  2. Select and Mask
  3. Refine the edges of the selection
  4. Create a group for our selection
  5. Turn the selection into a mask of the group
  6. Add adjustment layers (primarily curves, hue/saturation, and color) as desired
  7. Change opacity to increase or decrease the intensity of the adjustments

We also went over modified versions for skin and eyes, which involved filling layers with solid colors and/or using masks. However, the basic procedure alone should work for lots of different projects. I hope you learned How to make colors pop in Photoshop, if you did and want to learn more, you can find it on my YouTube channel, please subscribe and share with your friends.

Take a look at this article How to Use Overlays in Photoshop


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