How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Made from Adobe’s ever-expanding knowledge base gleaned from basically every creative industry, Creative Cloud contains many, many, useful features you may not have heard of or tried yet. One little gem that has eluded many is Color (formerly Kuler.) Color lets you create color palettes in a few different ways. If your color theory is shaky, Color will provide the knowledge for you by letting you select a color rule and a hue, then creating a palette of five colors for you based on the color rule you select.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

You can also upload photos to Color and generate palettes, called ‘themes’, based on a mood you choose from a drop-down menu. All the ways to create themes are customizable whether you’d just like to make a slight adjustment from what Adobe chose or make something that’s completely of your own creation.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

For making themes out of things you find as you live your life, there’s the AdobeCapture CC app, which has integrated a few Adobe asset-creation apps, including the old Color app, into one. Just use your phone’s camera to take a photograph and AdobeCapture will show the colors it will add to the theme in real time, which of course can be adjusted as needed. You can also do this with photos you already have on your phone.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

These themes can be used for various purposes across Adobe programs, but we’ll touch on Photoshop integration here. Color themes can be found in the Photoshop CC under Window > Extensions > Adobe Color Themes. From there, anything that you’d use a color for in Photoshop now has an option to work with one of your themes or one of many pre-existing themes that are available.

Possibly one of the best use of color themes in Photoshop is color-grading images. You can load the colors in your theme into your swatches from the extension window and sample them to assign to a gradient map which can then be played with until the best blend mode and opacity combination is discovered.

A quick example using the color theme created in AdobeCapture CC pictured below:

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Open the Adobe Color Theme extension, and if you want to use one of your own themes, choose the “My Themes” tab. If you want to use a pre-made theme, you want the “Explore” tab. Click the three dots under the theme and choose “add to swatches.” I’ve already done this, and you can see the theme colors at the bottom of the swatches.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Make a gradient map adjustment layer and double click it. Click the gradient that comes up by default to navigate to the gradient editor seen above. Click under the gradient bar to add boxes for colors. There are only two when you open it with one at each end. Then click the box on the far left underneath the bar, use the eyedropper on the darkest shade in your swatches from the theme, and make your way to the right doing the same and moving through the swatches until you get to the end. Hit “OK” and reveal your masterpiece.

Ok – this is where you play with it until you get something you like. I went with “soft light” for the blend mode at 16% opacity.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

[RELATED: Intro To Color Theory & Practical Tips | A True Divisor Between The Pro & Amateur]

Top is “before,” bottom is “after” with the gradient lent from a summer sunset adding some warmth. Give it a try, it’s pretty fun stuff.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Did you ever try to make a color palette from a photograph, but it came out looking too dark or very different to what you wanted? It happens when you try to pick colors with the Eyedropper Tool from a moodboard or image you like. This is because the colors you see are often composed of pixels that have different hues. Don’t worry, there’s a little trick you can use to make sure those pixels go away.

It will also be easier to find a great color scheme. I often have a hard time finding colors that go well together so I used to rely on a lot of sites and apps that use a mathematical algorithm to match them. I recently found a great way to make a color palette from a photograph and I will share it with you.

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Choose an image

Use an image that inspires you and reflects the tone and style of your current project. Open it in Photoshop and edit it if necessary. If you are using adjustment layers, merge them with your image when you are done editing or flatten the image.

How to work with color swatches

You can find the color swatches in the upper right corner of your workspace. If the window is not open, you can open it from Window/Swatches.

Even though Photoshop is 25 years old, we still don’t have a button to clear the existing colors, but emptying it is not that hard. Move your mouse over the colors and hold the Alt key. The arrow icon will turn into scissors and you can delete all those colors by clicking on them. You can leave the last color and save the swatch so you don’t have to do it every time you want to make a new palette.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

In the right side of the swatches window, you have a menu button. If you click on it, you can see the preexisting swatches, and you can save, load, reset, and replace the palettes.

At the bottom of the window, you have two buttons: the first one adds the selected (foreground) color to you new palette, the second button deletes the selected color swatch if you drag it to the trashcan icon.

How to create a color palette

You can obviously pick random colors using the Eyedropper Tool, but things will be much easier if you use a filter on your image. Go to Filter/Pixelate/Crystallize.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

The crystallizing effect will merge similar pixels and make it easier for you to pick the colors you want.

Enter the cell size you want. The bigger the cells, the fewer color options you’ll have. I usually use 45 because I like to have more options.

Now pick a color you like with the Eyedropper Tool and press the Create New Swatch button to add it to the swatches window.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

When you are done, press the menu button in the right corner and save your new color palette. You can also add swatches to the library for easier access.

Sometimes when creating a design (fabric or otherwise) it’s helpful to work with a fixed palette of colors. The inspiration for a color palette can come from anywhere, and I find that photos are often a great source of color palettes. In this post, I’ll show how to quickly create a color palette (called a color table in Photoshop) from a photo. You can then use the color palette to create your own designs.

This post compliments a couple of my previous posts where I talked about how to color-reduce a photo in Photoshop Elements, and then how to generate a Color Table from the color-reduced photo and use the color table to create coordinating designs.

I’ll start with this photo that I took of Delicate Arch in Utah. I used this photo to create a small quilt for the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt initiative, which you can see here.

1. With the image open in Photoshop Elements (or Photoshop), choose the following from the menu: Image –> Mode –> Indexed Color. If your image has more than one layer, Photoshop will ask to flatten the image–click OK. (This is a good spot to remind you to always make a backup copy before modifying your photos.)

2. This opens the Indexed Color menu, shown here. In the Palette drop-down, select Local (Adaptive). Make sure the preview box is checked, and then play around with changing the number of colors. Here you’re trying to extract the ‘appropriate’ number of colors for your palette — you’re not trying to edit your photo. When you’re happy with the colors, click the OK button.

3. The photo is now reduced to the number of colors chosen — 20 in this example. To bring up this color palette, selec t Image –> Mode –> Color Table from the menu. This will open the Color Table window shown here. Click the Save button and give your color table a name. Photoshop saves it as a file with an extension of .ACT.

4. Using the steps outlined in this previous post under the heading “Using a Saved Color Table”, I created a stripe design using this color palette. It’s shown below along with the color-reduced photo (on top) and the original photo (on bottom).

You might notice that the color palette is pretty weak on the colors from the sky of the original photo since that’s a small portion of the photo. It’s easy to generate a color palette which emphasizes part of the photo. Use the Marquee tool to select the area of the photo you want to emphasize, and then follow steps 1 through 4 above. The picture below shows the marquee and the color table which results from selecting this portion of the photo. This color table has more of the grays/blues from the sky than the first color table.

And here’s an example of a stripe design using this second color palette along with the color-reduced photo (on top) and the original photo (on bottom).

I lack the magnificent richness of color that animates nature.
Paul Cezanne

That title may seem a little strange or brash, and by no means am I condoning theft. The point I’m arriving at, is that we can use readily available tools to emulate works we draw inspiration from.

If you’re on Instagram, or follow certain blogs of photographers, you’ll see that they seem to have an almost interminable stream of ‘new’ material that they garnish their sites with. This is great for us the viewer, who get to see more from the people we follow, but it does make you wonder how much shooting these guys do in order to produce content each day. More often than not they will, like a pill, slow release the work they do in pieces, and then they’ll often crop photos down, and manipulate them so they seem ‘new’ and fresh. This isn’t a bad thing at all, and one of the methods I actually use is to essentially take a color cast from one photo, and utilize it in another.

With the advent of Instagram and filter sets, photos today can be made to look drastically different and convey different moods, just from filters. But what if you don’t have the precise filter? Or what if you have a photo you would like to transpose a color palette from into another? With Photoshop, of course, it couldn’t be simpler. And it’s also quite brilliant because you can use color palettes from photos of famous paintings in your own images.

How To:

Note* While the process is simple in essence, there may be a level of manipulation you need to do to achieve just the look you want, but we’ll address that here also.

Step One

Open the image you want to take the color cast from, and then the photo of yours you’d like to receive it. (The order doesn’t matter and you can open many images at once if you’d like). In the first scenario We’ll use a photo I took testing out my Sony RX100 firing a Nikon SB700 (which worked easily), and taking the color cast from The Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue commercial, taken by Mario Testino and starring David Gandy and Bianca Balti.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Step Two

Select the photo you want to edit. Then select Image>Adjustments>Match Color.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

You’ll then be presented with the following screen.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

From here select ‘Source‘ and choose the other photo you are taking the cast from.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Upon arriving here, your photo may not look just as you’d like it, but you’ll actually be quite close to the original, and testing out and playing with the three sliders present an ability to fine tune it as you would like.

As another example I took an image of me and my dog Walter, and took the caste from the famous painting, ‘Liberty Leading The People,’ and the results are interesting, and pleasant.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph
How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph
How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph


We recently spoke about culling your photos and how necessary it is. Doing this presents a fun, simple, and effective way to take some of those culled photos, if you like, and make them into something different; something more. And there’s just so much more you can do with Photoshop.

To understand it can take time, which is why we try to bring you the best in simple effective steps. If you’d like a comprehensive breakdown, do check out the Photoshop 101 and 201 by Phlearn, which became available in our store just today!

Learn how to quickly transform a black and white photo to color or change the colors in specific areas of a photo.

Open a photo in Photoshop Elements.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photographImport a photo to colorize

Choose Enhance > Colorize Photo . You can also press Option+Command+R (macOS)/Alt+Ctrl+R (Windows).

A preview is generated in the Colorize Photo workspace. Four color options will appear in the panel on the right. Choose the option that works best for you.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photographClick the Before/After toggle to compare results with the original photo.

Click OK or click Reset if you want to return to the original photo.

Open a photo in Photoshop Elements.

Choose Enhance > Colorize Photo . You can also press Option+Command+R (macOS)/Alt+Ctrl+R (Windows).

Switch the toggle in the right panel to select Manual .

In the right panel, use the Quick Selection Tool or Magic Wand Tool to select the areas where you want to change the color.

Click the Droplet tool and add the droplet in the selection to mark the area you want to recolor. You can add multiple droplets based on your needs.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photographAdd a droplet in the selection to change color.

To focus on one selection at a time, press Control+D (Win)/Cmd+D (macOS). You can also choose Select > Deselect to remove the existing selection before making a new selection.

For each droplet, a set of customized colors is displayed in the Color Palette . Simply select a droplet (selected droplets appear with a blue outline) and click the desired color from the Color Palette .

You can also use the vertical slider in the All Applicable Colors panel or use the icon to select a desired color.

The last used color appears next to the Color Palette swatches. You can use this to select the previously used color.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photographManually change colors in your photo.

Switch off the Show Droplets toggle to view the result without droplets. You can also view the original and edited photo using the Before-After toggle. To cancel all changes and to return to the original photo, click Reset .

How would I convert a photograph or pattern to use only colors from a palette I give it? Is this possible in Photoshop? I think Pic2Color used to do something like this but it’s offline.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

1 Answer 1

Yes it is possible, and very easy to do: Image > Mode > Indexed Color: Here you can switch the Palette to “Custom”, pick number of colors in the palette and few other options.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Photoshop will then ask you to flatten the image for the conversion.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

We have arrived at the crime scene. Here you can change various options, e.g., if you were creating a new palette.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

For the pre-defined palette, we’ll have to go for the topmost option and select “Custom. ” to get the file selection menu open.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Photoshop has already generated a suggestion palette for your image, but since we’ll be using a pre-defined palette, we’ll go for the “Load. ” button at the right side of the custom palette menu.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Now we are dealing with the murded weapon. I have my pre-defined palette here, saved using Photoshop default file format “.ACT”. Photoshop also understands .ACO and .PAL – if your palette is in different format, you might enter *.* in the “File name” box and just try to use it (works only if the palette actually is one of these formats but is renamed to avoid abuse or something. ) OR convert it to one of the supported formats. (Don’t know any tools for that ATM, never had to convert palettes.)

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Now this here is the custom palette I have. One thing to keep in mind as we progress: This palette here is not very suitable for the picture we are using it with. But it demonstrates the change of palette and dither options well. You could manually adjust the colors here by double clicking the representing squares. Useful in case you have to have a #FF00FF for transparency at the index #0 or stuff like that.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

You will propably want to adjust the dither options in case the palette you are using doesn’t fully support the given image. Options are diffusion, pattern and noise. In the previous picture we were using Diffusion. Here is Pattern:

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

Here is the last option, Noise. I’ll stick with this, just because the gradient pleases me the most. If you have a lot of pictures where obvious dithering happens, you might want to keep the same option for the same project for the sake of consistency, but that’s up to you.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

You can make a color table of up to 256 colors from a photograph.

This color table can then be used to create a swatch of the colors from the photograph.

Two Uses

There are two uses for custom swatches.

Use #1

If you’re doing a collage, you can use a custom swatch for choosing the colors of the type, border, and other design elements.

Use #2

If you're retouching a face, you can use the custom swatch colors for airbrushing.

Indexed Color Mode

Your photograph is in the RGB color mode.

You'll change it to the Indexed Color mode.

While the RGB mode has more than 16 million colors, the Indexed color mode has only 256.

Be sure to check off as you go along.


1) Preserve your original file.

If you haven't already done so, go to Preserve Your Original File.

2) Create a Background copy layer.

If you haven't already done so, go to Create a Background Copy Layer.

3) Go to File > Duplicate.

This will make a duplicate of your photograph.

4) Make sure the duplicate is selected.

Indexed Color Mode

5) Go to Image > Mode > Indexed Color.

You're changing the color mode of the copy, so don't be concerned about changing the color mode.

If the photograph is already in the indexed-color mode, do the following.

a) Convert it to RGB Color.

b) Convert it to Indexed Color.

6) If there are multiple layers, you'll be prompted to flatten the layers.

You’re flattening the layers of the copy, so don’t be concerned about flattening them.

The Indexed Color window will open.

7) Enter the values below in the Indexed Color window.

If you don't need 256 choices, change the value in the Colors box to a lower value, such as 64.

Indexed Color Window Choices
Palette Local (Perceptual)
Colors 256 or less
Forced None
Transparency Checked
Matte None
Dither None

More about the Indexed Color Window

The following information may be useful in the future, but not for this tutorial.

Palette Box Choices

In the Palette box, you selected Local (Perceptual).

Go to Indexed Color Window Palette Choices for descriptions of Local (Perceptual) and the other palette choices.

Forced Box Choices

In the Forced box, you selected None.

In other situations, you can use the choices in the Forced box to prevent certain colors from being changed when your photograph is converted from the RGB mode to the Indexed Color mode.

8) Go to Image > Mode > Color Table.

The Color Table window will open.

9) Go to Window > Info.

In the Color Table window, place the cursor on the color that you want to use.

Write down the RGB values that appear in the Info panel.

Eyedropper Icon

There's an eyedropper icon in the Color Table window.

It doesn’t select a color, is it does elsewhere in Photoshop Elements.

Instead, when you click a color, it makes the color transparent.

The eyedropper has two uses.

Use #1 – Locate Where a Color Is

If you make a color transparent, you’ll e to see where the color is located in your photograph.

Click the eyedropper icon in the Color Table window, and click a color in the table.

Click the color again to restore the color.

Use #2 – Montage

You could make a color transparent, and then place a layer under the photograph.

The new layer will appear where the color (that you made transparent) used to be located.

Saving the Color Table

10) To save the color table, Click Save.

11) The Save window appears.

Do the following.


a) Use the Save in box to browse to the the Presets folder.

Go to My Computer (XP) or Computer (Vista & Windows 7), and use this path:

The Presets folder is located on the path below.

If you can't find the folders below on your computer, go to Hidden Files & Folders.

C: > Program Files > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > Presets

a) Use the Save in box to browse to the the Presets folder.

Open Finder, and navigate using this path:

Applications > Adobe Photoshop Elements > Presets


b) Right click inside the Save window, and select New > Folder.

c) Create a new folder called Color Tables.

e) At the bottom of the Save window, enter a name for the color table.

g) The Save window will disappear.

The color table has been saved in the Color Tables folder.

The Color Table window is still open.

12) Click OK in the Color Table window.

Load the Color Table into the Color Swatches Panel

13) Open the Color Swatches panel in the panel bin.

If the Color Swatches panel isn't present, go to Window > Color Swatches.

14) Click the icon in the top-right corner of the Color Swatches panel.

15) Click Replace Swatches.

16) At the bottom of the Load window, change the file type from .aco to .act.

17) Use the Look in box to browse to the the Presets folder, and then to the Color Tables folder that you created above.

Use one of the pathways below.


C: > Program Files > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > Presets > Color Tables

Applications > Adobe Photoshop Elements > Presets > Color Tables

18) Select the color table you created.

The color table will open in the Color Swatches panel.

19) Close and don't save the copy of the original photograph.

20) Return to the original photograph and use the colors in your custom color swatch.

Save Using the Color Swatch Extension

Above, you made a new Presets folder called Color Tables.

You saved the color table to this folder.

The color table file has the extension .act.

You can save the file in the Color Swatches folder in Presets.

This may be a more easily accessible location.

You must rename the file with the color swatch file extension of .aco.

You can't create the file with the .aco extension, but you can rename it later.

The new color table won't appear in the Color Swatches panel menu until you restart Photoshop Elements.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photographPicking the perfect hues for your design projects, on or offline, can be a tricky business. Using the swatches palette in Photoshop you can grab a full color palette from any photograph or image and save the swatches. Here’s how it works.

1. Open your image in Photoshop. It’s always a good idea to work on duplicates of your original files, just in case of accidents. To make a copy choose Image > Duplicate.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

2. To reduce the number of colors in the image down to 256, choose Image > Mode > Indexed. If your image is in CMYK mode, you’ll need to convert it to RGB and then Indexed. A dialog box opens up with options for converting your image to Indexed Color. Choose Local (Perceptual) in the Palette drop down box.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

3. Still in the Indexed Color dialog box, set the number of colors to 256, set Forced to None and Dither to None. Click OK. (Note: If you want only a few key colors from the image, set the number of colors to 20)

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

4. Now you will be able to see a color table created when you converted to Indexed Color. Choose Image > Mode > Color Table to view it and the colors selected from your image.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

5. Now you can save the table, otherwise you’ll lose the new palette you’ve created. Hit the Save button on the Color Table dialog box and then save it into Photoshop > Presets > Color Swatches folder.

6. You may find that your photograph is not looking so hot since you converted it to Index Color. You’ve stripped out potentially millions of colors and reduced it down to 256. Just close the image without saving.

7. To load up your palette with your new swatches, open the Swatches palette and from the drop down menu in the top right corner choose Load Swatches. Browse to the folder where you saved your color table and open up the new palette. Palettes can be saved as .ASE, .ACT or .ACO so make sure you are searching for the file format that you saved you swatches in.

How to add a color palette in photoshop from a photograph

And there you have it! You now have a set of colors that will NOT clash if you use them in a design with your original image.

Using the following process in Photoshop, you can easily create a color palette and add them to your swatches for your projects. This fast and easy how-to video tutorial is sure to save you tons of time and frustration.

How to convert a photo into a Color Palette using Adobe Photoshop

The below video goes into more detail but here’s the quick breakdown.
1. Open you photo in Adobe Photoshop
2. Select Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic
(This reduces image into color squares. The larger the Cell Size number, the simpler color pallet.)
3. Click “OK”
4. Open Swatches
5. Select eye dropper tool
6. Click on color in photo, then click on Swatches pallet. This will add the color to your swatches.

Watch this video and drop any questions or comments below. Thanks.

    on July 20, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Awesome tutorial. I never knew you could use the mosaic filter to create a color scheme out of a photo, let alone adding the colours into swatches. Terrific job!

@Teddy: Thanks. Glad you found it useful. There are some more exacting methods for creating a color pallet from a photo but this one is really quick for me.

Nice! Simple and easy Michael pretty awesome way to do it. Thanks.

Cool! Now I know how to select my palette of colors. Thanks.

Nice tutorial Michael. This is a very easy way to do this and will save me time in the future.