Hair Color

Changing hair color is a technique most new digital editors would love to do to their images.  You know - brown to blond or red or blue.

Amaze your friends and family and have a blast with it ... 

The reality is that hair has all of those little strands and fiddly bits that make it a very difficult thing to modify.

More advanced techniques use the Photoshop Channels to isolate the strands and then apply a color change.  This method is quite effective.  

An easier method is to work with selections, specifically the Quick Mask to selected the hair and then add a Solid Color Fill Layer.

When all is said and done, the effectiveness of the selection is the one thing that will determine the effectiveness of the hair color change.

Of course, the Quick Mask selection will be best completed with a Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos ...

So maybe this is a tutorial on selections with the result being applied to changing hair color ...

If you use Photoshop Elements then click here ... Change Hair Color with Elements ... the steps are the same but the palettes are the ones you are familiar with, 

Quick Mask

Photoshop's Quick Mask is one amazing selection tool.  If you're not familiar with the Quick Mask you can check out the Quick Mask Tutorial or follow along here to get the basics as the apply to changing hair color. 

A quick refresher ...

The Quick Mask is called that because you are actually making a Mask on an portion of an image.

Quick Mask Mode is entered by clicking on the little button (outlined in red) at the bottom of the Photoshop toolbar or by pressing the "Q" key on the keyboard.

Nothing much will  change other than the foreground and background colors will change to black and white.

To select an area in Quick Mask grab the paint brush tool and use your Wacom pen to paint black over the area you want to select.  If you make a mistake then switch to white and paint out the error. 

If you want to have all of the little hair strands included in the selection then zoom way in, decrease the brush size down to a pixel or so and carefully paint over the strands.  The pen (Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos) makes this so much easier to accomplish.

When satisfied with the selection press "Q" again or click the little icon to the right of the little red square to leave Quick Mask.

This will produce a typical marching ant selection that is the basis of changing hair color.

Here is the Mask that was created using Quick Mask on the sample image.

Other Selection Methods

For those who are more comfortable with other methods of selections - well - they can be used as well.

The  Lasso tools will do an acceptable but not great job.

The Pen Tool and a graphics tablet will do a fabulous job if you know how to use it and have the patience to work your way around the hair and little strands.   The advantage of the Pen Tool is that you can save the path you create, go away for a day or so and come back to work on it again.  

If you want to give it a go then click the link to learn how to use the Pen Tool

Feathering and The Fill Layer

After leaving Quick Mask Mode the typical marching ants will appear with your selection.

At this point some Feathering can be added - go to Select > Feather, change the amount and click OK.

Take a close look at the selection and if any of the little strands have disappeared from the selection undo the Feather and try again.

The next step is to change the color of the selection - thereby changing the hair color.

This is accomplished by adding a new Fill Layer above the image.

Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color

This will bring up the New Layer dialogue.  At the bottom of the dialogue is the Mode: button - change the Blending Mode to Soft Light and click OK. 

Now the fun part begins and that is actually changing the hair color in your image ...

Changing The Color

After clicking OK in the New Layer Dialogue the typical Color Picker will come up - and this is where you select the new hair color. 

At this point you have unlimited color choices.

Move to Color Picker to one side of your monitor and mess around with the sliders just to see what happens.

When you are in the Color Picker you can move the cursor off of the palette onto the image and the cursor will change to the eye dropper.  If the eye dropper is used to sample a color on the image the hair color will change.

How can you use this?  Simple - sample a piece of clothing to have the hair match (more or less) the clothing.

Hair Color Samples

The top left is the original hair color and the rest are variations.

Fill Layer Versatility

Up to this point we've been using a Solid Color Fill layer which works quite nicely.

There are two additional modes in the Fill Layer dialogue (Gradients and Patterns) and both of them can be used to create some really unusual and interesting hair color changes.

The steps are exactly the same ...

  1. make the selection
  2. choose the type of fill layer
  3. change the Blend Mode to Soft Light and
  4. select the fill (either Gradient or Pattern).

Gradient Fill Layer 

This is one of the Metal gradients.  If she had this done by a hairstylist it would probably be very expensive and time consuming.

The settings are ...

  • Style:  Reflected
  • Angle: 151.9
  • Scale 64%


This is one of the Photoshop patterns called "Tie Dye".

The only setting available is Scale: and it's set to 932%.

Additional Adjustments

You may want to make some adjustments to your hair color modification and these are some suggestions ...


It's always a good idea to check out the Histogram to see if it covers the full range.  If not then move the Black or White slider to fill in the full range.

You can also adjust just the mid-tone slider.

Link to the Levels Tutorial.


Adjusting the curves of the image will increase contrast and there is nothing wrong with that.

Link to the Curves Tutorial


If you find some color leaking into parts of the image where it shouldn't be just grab the eraser and remove the offending color cast.  It's best to use a large, soft edge eraser to prevent hard edges where the erasing was completed.

There you have it - a fairly easy and straightforward method to change hair color.

Give the different Fill Layers a try and prepare to amaze yourself! 

Mask Panel and Refine Edge

In Photoshop CS5 an adjustment was added that takes some adjustments to a whole new level and that includes a hair color change.  Depending on the complexity of the hair, using this method can be quick and painless or quite challenging.

If the Mask Panel is new to you then perhaps it would be useful to watch the 3 videos on the Mask page.

The Masks Panel makes it much, much easier to modify a selection with the Refine Mask adjustment.  The process  may seem a bit strange at first but once you become familiar with it then the Masks Panel will become part of your normal Photoshop workflow.

The goal here is to completely select all of the hair including the little strands and that particular project can be very, very difficult and frustrating.  Once selected it's a simple matter to add a Hue and Saturation layer to color the hair.

Here is the image we'll work with ... 

This is a more difficult one to work with because of the little fiddly bits of hair over and above her shoulders.

The first thing that doing is to make a copy of the Background Layer because we are going to be adding a Layer Mask and you can't put one of the Background.

Activate the Copy of the Background and then the starting point is exactly the same as before - with a great selection using the Quick Mask brush or perhaps the Lasso Tool.  In fact, it really doesn't need to be totally 100% perfect because the Refine Mask adjustment will take care of a lot of the left over problems.

I tried both selection methods and had the best results with the Lasso Tool and that's probably because I was using my Intuos Pro to make the selection. 

Now add a Mask to the top layer and then click on the Mask panel. 

Part way down the panel is the Mask Edge ... button.

Click on it and now you've got a whole lot more options to refine the mask (which is the hair).

This is the Refine Mask panel and there are lots of options.

You can view your mask in 7 different ways.

When Show Radius is selected and the Radius slider is moved up (generally quite a lot, by the way), you will see the edge of the mask.

To the left is the Refine Mask Brush.  This is where you take your Bamboo or Intuos pen and paint in the radius to improve the mask.

Shift Edge (the bottom slider in the Adjust Edge panel) will increase or decrease the selection.

Color contamination in the mask can be eliminated or modified by checking Decontaminate Colors in the Output panel.

It may be necessary to fiddle around in this panel for awhile to get the mask right.

You can always click OK, add a Hue and Saturation layer to check the results.  If they are not what you want then open the panel and start again or go back in the History Panel just before the Mask was made.

Here's the photograph with the hair color changed to blue-purple ... 

If you're even more adventurous how about adding a Gradient Adjustment layer?  This is how the image looks now ...

This is one of the Color Harmonies 1 gradients at 100% in a Diamond Pattern reversed.  It's kinda neat.

Remember - if the Mask Panel is a bit confusing then check out the videos on  the Mask Page

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