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How to Color Match and Recolor a Product Image


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Throughout my career as a retoucher, I’ve spent a lot of time doing “spins” — taking a product model and changing colors or swapping out material. It’s fun, creative work, and today I’m going to show you a few quick ways to do it yourself.

Loosely speaking, what I’m demonstrating falls into two categories:

  1. Color Matching: Matching the colors in your product image to the photographed product as closely as possible. Accurate colors reduce returns and increase customer trust.
  2. Recoloring: Changing the colors in your product image to match a different colorway of the same product. Recoloring saves on photography and sample production costs.

I’m going to walk you through both.

Step by Step: Color Matching and Recoloring Footwear

First, the capture. While these instructions will focus on post-production, everything flows from the initial capture. For this demonstration, I’m going to be photographing my girlfriend’s soccer cleat.

The Setup

My lighting setup for this shoot:

Footwear product photography lighting setup

Beauty dish, softbox, and fill card for lighting shoe.

That’s a beauty dish with diffusion just over the laces, a soft box with diffusion underneath the cleat, and a fill card for the heel.

The shoe is suspended from a large gauge bendable wire connected to a c-stand. The wire runs through the shoe, making it really easy to bend and get any angle you want; I also stuffed the shoe with tissue paper.

It’s a best practice to shoot a plate with a color card first so you can achieve a more accurate color. You can get one from your local photo store and of course online. Full disclosure: I did not use a color card for this image.

Preparing Raw Image

Here is my image straight out of camera.

Unretouched product image soccer cleat suspended from wire

Unedited image of soccer cleat straight from camera.

I’m going to start working on it in Adobe Camera Raw, a plugin that comes with Photoshop. Most things you do in Camera Raw you can do in regular Photoshop, but to edit a RAW file you must use Camera Raw. RAW edits are nondestructive, so you have the freedom to adjust your image without losing any information.

I already have a desired look for my image to start with (I want it to look like it’s illuminated by stadium lights, to tell a sporting narrative), so I adjusted accordingly. You can take an image pretty far in Camera Raw.

Cleat product image in adobe camera raw being edited

Cleat with initial adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw.

Cut It Out

Since I am going to make a background for my image, I cut it out using the pen tool. That’s a great tool every retoucher uses a lot.

Soccer cleat product image masked out

Image with background cut out and a mask around it.

After cutting out the background of the image, you’ll want to clean up its imperfections. I like to use the clone stamp tool; if you don’t overuse it, it’s a great way to get rid of distracting parts.

Clean It Up

Before I begin on the color I want to clean up the image, dodge and burn certain parts. Since the shoe is almost all white I’m going to desaturate the white to take out any color casting.

I’m also going to add grain to spots as a quick way to add back texture to areas that have been heavily worked.

Color matched product image in blue

Image after clean up, desaturation, and added grain.

Layer Naming

Layers are all indestructible and editable if I need to go back to fix anything. I make sure I name my layers meaningfully to help keep track of what’s what.

Post production photoshop layers naming scheme

Name your layers to track your work.

Color Matching

If you don’t use a color card when photographing your image, the colors won’t come out as well as they appear on the product. Color matching is how to get the color of the image on your screen to match the color in real life.

Since my blues came out cooler than the product, I’m going to add green and yellow to match the tone of blue on the cleat. I’ll do this by masking the color parts with my pen tool to isolate just those parts.

Footwear product image colors masked out except for laces and heel

Then I used the curves tool to add in color that was lost when photographing. You can achieve this by other methods, but I felt using the curves adjustment tool worked best for this scenario.

In the resulting image, you can see a warmer blue particularly in the heel.

Color matched product image green and yellow added

Green and yellow added because blues were too cool.

Recoloring

Recoloring is functionally much like color matching, but has one key difference in principle. Instead of adjusting colors to more accurately match the photographed product, you’re changing to a different color palette to match a different colorway of the same product.

In Photoshop there are many different ways to achieve the same outcome. Here’s a quick way to change one color to another, which works well for our example because the blues are all about the same. If your colors varied, then this tool would not be my first go-to.

Recolored product image using hue and saturation photoshop tool, green soccer cleat

A recolored cleat, using the Hue/Saturation tool.

Option 1: Hue/Saturation

The hue/saturation tool can isolate colors and change them by moving the arrow from left to right. You can also control how saturated you want the color and adjust its brightness.

Because I simply want to change the blues to green, all I have to do is move the arrow to the left until I find my desired color. This is fast and cuts down on time because you don’t have to mask out your parts, but the downside is that it’s limited to color and toning.

Option 2: Selective Color

Another way to change color is to use the selective color tool, which allows you to isolate your colors individually. For this one I want to add some weight and go for more of a deep pure blue with some cyan tone to it. Make it pop more.

Color matched product image Recolored cleat selective color

A recolored cleat, using Selective Color

In selective color I open up my blue channel and adjust the c,m,y,k values independently by adding and subtracting. Then I open up my cyan channel and adjust accordingly.

This is a very powerful tool that can handle a lot of information. I tend to always have this adjustment active when working with some sort of color.

Photoshop selective colors cmyk

Selective Color lets you control cmyk values.

Option 3: Painting on Layer Masks

The last two options were ways to achieve a color change quickly without masking and with limited control. This option is for when you need the freedom to apply any color and tone desired.

Since I made my masks earlier I get to use them again to isolate parts to color change. I begin with desaturating my colors by using the hue/saturation tool.

Photoshop product image desaturated hue saturation

Begin by desaturating with Hue/Saturation tool.

I then make a copy of the grey layer and change its blending mode to overlay. You can use the “color” blending mode also, but I like to use overlay.

Next, use your color picker to grab any color you want and paint it on your overlay layer. You will want to add a curves adjustment to your grey layer so you can have full control of the tones.

Recolored post production yellow cleat

Use the color picker to paint on overlay layers.

Extra Effects - Add Some Pop

Now that we’re done with color, it’s time to add some pop to my shoe. I want the outsole of the cleat to stand out and be the focal point, so I’ll add a curves adjustment layer to brighten up the light that’s there already.

First I’ll mask it out and adjust the curve until I’m happy with the way it looks.

Photoshop curves mask layer labeling

I masked out the outsole and used the curves adjustment to brighten up the light.

Now I want some glow. To get a glowing effect, I’ll make a copy of the outsole and add motion blur to it until it has the effect I’m looking for.

Photoshop motion blur creates glowing effect at studs of soccer cleat product image

Motion blur can create a glowing effect.

Next, I’m going to start on the background plate. I want to add some light to direct the eye to the outsole. I want something to resemble stadium lights, but I also want to make it look as if the lights are holding up the cleat (get as crazy as you like)!

Background motion blur stadium light effect

I want the background to resemble stadium lights.

To get that effect, I took a copy of the outsole layer and flipped it over, then used the motion blur filter and made blur going vertical. With my paint brush I added in tints of blues around the lights.

Photoshop screenshot lights layers

I flipped a layer, added vertical blur, and added blue tints.

Final Product Image

And here you have it!

Final processed footwear product image, color matched and glowing

Final, color matched cleat floating on stadium style lighting.

If this shoe was being sold in a dozen colors, we could easily output recolored options instead of re-photographing the shoe. Maintaining a consistent presentation (it doesn't get any more consistent than the same photograph!) makes it easy for the customer to compare colors and find their preferred option.

Color Adjustment alternatives

Photoshop has a steep learning curve, and even once you’re skilled its use can be time-consuming. If you’re looking for easier or faster ways to handle post-production, you may want to consider Lightroom Presets or Photoshop Actions.