Change Hair Color

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These methods to change hair color with Photoshop Elements are your opportunity to enter the exciting world of digital hair dressing.

No muss, no fuss and this is the only training you need!

Amaze your friends, your family and yourself by turning a brown hair into a redhead or any other color you wish.

There are a couple of different methods you can use with one being a Hue and Saturation layer and the other a selection with a Fill Layer.

The added advantage of the Fill Layer is that you can change hair color using a solid color, a gradient or a pattern.

This change hair color tutorial was written with Photoshop Elements 7.0 (which is included in the Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch box, by the way) and the techniques will work with most versions of Elements.

If you're using the full version of Photoshop then click here for the Photoshop Version of this tutorial.

The techniques are easiest to complete with a Wacom pen - either a Bamboo or an Intuos -  because the pen and tablet sure does make it a whole lot easier to work with those fiddly bits of stray hair during both selection portion and the clean up.

Here is the image that we will work with to start ...

change hair color original

Change Hair Color Using Hue And Saturation

As the name suggests, a Hue and Saturation layer allows for changes to the Hue, the Saturation and the Lightness of the whole image or colors within the image and this is how it's used to change hair color with Photoshop Elements ...

change hair color hue and saturation

Create a new Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer

Put a check Mark in the Colorize box - the whole image will change to a new Hue but don't be concerned about it

change hair color colorize

Now move the Hue slider around to find a new color you like and then start fiddling with the Saturation and Lightness sliders to get the new color exactly how you want it to be.

change hair color show all layer mask

Now that the color (all over the place) is what you want it's time to get rid of it (because this is a tutorial demonstrating how to only change hair color) and that's done by inverting the Layer Mask on the Hue and Saturation Layer by typing Ctrl-I or Cmd-I.  

Before inverting, the Layer Mask is white and after inverting the Layer Mask will be black.

change hair color layer mask
The black Layer Mask is hiding the adjustment you just made so you have to paint White on the Layer Mask to reveal the adjustment you want to reveal.

This is where you grab your wonderful Wacom pen, set the brush size to change with pressure and start painting in the new hair color with the foreground color white..

When working on the little strands of hair it will be necessary to zoom in tight and work with a very small brush size.

So here is the image with a nice new hair color ...

change hair color red

The nice thing about the Hue and Saturation layer method to change hair color is that you can go back in at any time and change the color by simply clicking on the Hue and Saturation Layer and then adjusting all the sliders again.

(Note - when you save the file make sure you save it as a Photoshop file - .psd - so that the Hue and Saturation Layer is saved intact rather than merged which happens if it is saved as a ;jpg).

If there are areas where the color has traveled into areas where it shouldn't be (this is known as a mistake) it can be painted away on the layer mask.  This seems to happen where there are little hair strands over the background of the image.

To get rid of the mistakes grab a brush that changes opacity with pressure, lower the brush hardness to 0%, switch the foreground color to black and very lightly paint over the offending area with your Bamboo pen.

Check out the Pressure Settings for Photoshop Elements if necessary..

Because the little strands are over a different background it doesn't seem to make much difference if they are not the fully saturated color you selected - try it - it'll work out fine.

I took a little artistic license and painted in her eyes as well - most of the time to goal is to get rid of red eye ...

Video 1

Hue And Saturation Video

Change Hair Color Using A Fill Layer

Using a Fill Adjustment Layer is an alternate method to change hair color with Photoshop Elements and it probably works about the same as a Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer.

The advantage of the Fill Layer are the different modes ...

  • The first is Solid Color
  • The second is Gradient, and
  • The third is Pattern.
Solid Color

The Solid Color one is just what it implies - this fill layer fills the layer or a selection with a solid color.

The other two are really quite unique.  With a good selection to start you can apply either a Gradient or a Pattern to the selection which will give really unique hair colors and looks.

Here's the image for this tutorial ...

change hair color original

Getting Started - Select the Hair

How you create your selection depends on which selection tool you prefer.  The selection should be as accurate as possible - duh - goes without saying, right?

change hair color maskI chose to make the selection with the Selection Brush Tool and my Wacom pen - the only way to make a selection..

The Selection Brush Tool is a great way to select something (like hair) but it takes some time to get it right.

This image does not have a lot of little strands and fiddly bits to select so the process was not particularly onerous.  

Here is how the mask looked after the selection (just the hair portion).

This creates a pretty good starting point to change hair color - well - it actually creates a fabulous place to start - a nice solidi mask with the one strand nicely selected.

Click on any selection tool to bring up the marching ant selection and the first part of the technique is completed.  If everything is selected except the hair then do a Select  > Inverse to have just the hair selected.

Adding The Fill Layer

The next step is to add a Fill Layer (solid color to start).

Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color and this dialogue will pop up ...

change hair color new fill layer

One change has to be made in this dialogue and that is to set the blend Mode: to Soft Light.  If this step is missed the solid color will be an unsightly blob - so don't miss this.

When you click OK the Solid Color Fill Layer will be applied only to the selection - that's why the great selection was necessary.

change hair color color palette

Now all you do is move select different colors in color palette until you find one you like.  If you click OK, take a look and decide you don't like it then double click the Fill Layer and the color palette will come up again.

In the preceding image I moved the cursor off of the color palette and it turned into an eye dropper.  The eyedropper was clicked on the red band in her top, that color was selected in the palette and her hair color followed suit.

Pretty cool, huh?

Here she is as a redhead ...

change hair color redhead

Quick Review

Up to this point the procedure is ...

  1. Make a selection with your Wacom pen.
  2. Add a new Solid Color Fill Layer set to Soft Light.
  3. Choose the new hair color.
It sure isn't a lot of steps to make such a dramatic change, is it?

Now - let's have some fun with Gradients and Patterns ...

Gradient Fill Layer

To apply a gradient rather than a Solid color uses the exact same steps with one exception and here it is ...

Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient - that's it and here's the new layer dialogue ...

change hair color gradient fill layer dialogue

Like the Solid Color layer, the only thing to do here is to change the Blend Mode: to Soft Light and then click OK to get right here ...

change hair color gradient picker

To select different gradients just click on the little down arrow to the right of the gradient preview .

change hair color gradients

There are nine different gradient sets available and they are available by dropping down the little arrow on the right (outlined in white).  The thing to do is cycle through the different gradients and watch the effect on the image.

Some are rather bland and others are quite dramatic.  When you find one you like click on the Gradient Fill Layer dialogue again and mess around with the different adjustments ...

  • Style - Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflected, Diamond.
  • Angle - this one spins the gradient around.
  • Scale - this sets the size of the gradient.
If you feel really adventurous then click on the actual gradient in the Gradient Fill dialogue and edit the gradients yourself.

change hair color gradient editor

After following all of these steps this is the result I came up with and it's only one of hundreds that are possible ...

change hair color gradient

I like that one now see what you can come up with.

Pattern Fill Layer

Using a Pattern Fill layer is exactly the same as the Solid and Gradient Fill Layers but the dialogue is slightly different - just as you would expect.

change hair color pattern dialogue

The only change is to set the Mode: to Soft Light and then click OK and then you can select the pattern you want ...

change hair color pattern

Choosing a pattern is exactly the same as choosing a Gradient, that is, just drop down the little arrow on the right side of the pattern selector and you can choose from eight different choices of patterns.

The one I ended up with was Frozen Rain in the Texture Patterns ...

change hair color pattern

The pattern provides an interesting look, don't you think?

It certainly is an interesting method to change hair color and add some spice to a picture.

Change Hair Color Samples

change hair color solid full layer Solid Color Fill Layer
change hair color pattern Pattern Fill Layer
change hair color gradient fill layer Gradient Fill Layer


Helpful Hints

As you work your way through the change hair color tutorial (with either method) it will be a good idea to save your work as you go.  When you save make sure you save the file as a Photoshop File - .psd.  This will save the layers as they are rather than collapsing them which is what happens when the file is saved as a .jpg.

Use the Save As and select the Photoshop format.

Are you familiar with the Undo History Palette?  It's one of the most useful tools in Elements and I used it a lot going through this tutorial.

It's kind of like you own personal digital editing time machine.  Everything you do with an image is recorded in the Undo History palette and if you don't like something you have done just go back before you did it and the offending change is gone.

You can flip back and forth through the palette as much as you like.  The default setting is 50 levels of undo but that can be increased in Edit > Preferences > Performance > History and Cache.

The Undo History palette is accessed by selecting Window > Undo History.

Comments, Suggestions and Questions From Photoshop Elements Users

Click below to see contributions from other Photoshop Elements users ...

Gradient Not rated yet
I changed the color of my hair I didn't know about gradient, it really works tnx for sharing

Page Links

Hue and Saturation Method

Video 1

Fill Layer Method

Change Hair Color Samples Video 2

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