A Quick Way to Develop a Color Palette (Photoshop Elements)

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. Continue reading

Using Colorways in Photoshop Elements

In this previous post (I know it’s been a while–golf season has arrived) I talked about how to color-reduce a photo and then change the colors to create different colorways of the same image.  In this post I’ll show how you can use the colorways to create coordinating designs.

Below is the daylily photo I used in the earlier post (on the left), along with its color-reduced version (middle) and the purple colorway (right).

SAVING A COLOR TABLE

1.  I’m going to start with the purple image, opening it in Photoshop Elements.  Once it’s opened, from the menu  click Image –> Mode  (as shown below).   If the check mark is in front of the “Indexed Color” option, skip ahead to step 3.

2.  In this example the image was in RGB mode, so I need to change it to Indexed Color mode.  Simply click on the “Indexed Color” option shown in the picture above.  This will open up the “Indexed Color” pop-up menu show here.  Select the “exact” option from the Palette drop-down, and the click OK.

3.  Now the image is in Indexed Color mode.  To see the colors in the image, go to the menu and select Image –> Mode –> Color Table.

4.  This opens the Color Table, shown here.  I want to save this color table so that I can use these colors when creating other images.  Click on the “Save” button and then give the file a name.  Remember where you save it, and note that the file has an extension of “.ACT” for Adobe Color Table.  I named my file purple daylily.act

USING A SAVED COLOR TABLE

1.  Now I can use my Purple Daylily colors to create a new image.  I’ll start with a blank file (File –> New –> Blank File).

2.  From the menu, click Window –> Color Swatches to bring up the color swatches panel with a default set of colors (shown here).  Click on the “More” option and then select “Replace Swatches” at the bottom of the list.

3.  The “Load” window opens so I can navigate to the folder where I saved my color table.  Note that the “Load” window defaults to files of type Swatches (*.ACO) — change this to files of type Color Table (* .ACT).  I’ll select the Purple Daylily.act file and click the Load button.

4.  The Color Swatches window now shows only the colors from the Purple Daylily file.  Clicking on any of the colors in the Color Swatches window makes it the foreground color.

5.  Going back to the new, blank file, I’ll quickly create a coordinating stripe to go with the purple daylily photo.  I selected one of the lighter purple-grays from the Color Swatches window, then using the Paint Bucket, I filled in the background of the new file.

6.  Using the brush tool, and selecting different colors from the Color Swatches, I added a bunch of wavy stripes to get this coordinating design.

And here’s another design example.

Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.   Oscar Wilde

Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.   Pablo Picasso

Color Reducing a Design Using Photoshop Elements

In a previous post I talked about why you might want to color reduce a design, even in the age of digital printing.  In this post, I’ll go through the steps to color reduce a photo in Photoshop Elements.  I’ll also note the differences for Photoshop since there are some variations.

The basic process is just a couple of steps:

  • convert the photo to the ‘indexed color’ mode with 256 colors
  • reduce the number of colors to around a couple dozen by picking the main colors from the photo

Steps for Color Reducing a Photo

1.  Here’s the photo I’ll start with.  Note that this photo is in RGB color mode.  It’s always a good idea to work on a copy of your image and keep the original image unchanged.

2.  The layer needs to be unlocked.  Often when first opening a file, the layer will be locked (indicated by the padlock icon on the layer–circled here.)  To unlock the layer, click on the padlock icon in the menu (arrow) and the padlock next to the layer will go away.

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3.  The next step is to convert the photo to what Photoshop calls the Indexed Color mode.  If your file has multiple layers, they will be merged when you convert it to Indexed Color mode.  From the menu, select the command Image–> Mode –> Indexed Color as shown below.  This will bring up the pop-up box outlined in green below.  Make sure the settings are set as follows:

  • Palette–Local Adaptive
  • Colors–256
  • Forced–None
  • Preview–Checked
  • Dither–None

DO NOT CLICK OK.

3a.  Without closing the “Indexed Color” pop-up box, click on the Palette drop-down list again and change the selection to Custom (see picture to the right).  Note for Photoshop only:  sometimes the “Custom” option is grayed out.  If this happens, reselect “Local(Adaptive)” and change the number of colors (say to 255) and then change the Palette again to “Custom”.

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4.  This will open up a color table (shown  to the right) with 256 colors from the photo.  The photo has been reduced to these 256 colors, but we want to reduce the number of colors much further.  Do NOT click OK.

5.  Next is to select all the colors in this color table and change them to black.  To do this, click on the color in the upper left corner of the color table, and drag your mouse down to the lower right corner so that all the color boxes are selected.

5a.  This opens the color picker window shown here.  Select black for the color, either by clicking in the lower left portion of the color window, or by typing 0 (zero) into the R and G and B boxes.  Then click the OK button twice to close the color picker.  Do NOT click OK to close the color table.

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6.  Now the Color Table is filled with black squares.  We need to replace some of these black squares with the colors we’ll have in the final color-reduced image.

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7.  Click on one of the black squares in the color table, and the color picker window opens again.  With the mouse, go the to main photo and click on one of the colors you want to keep.  This color will then be in the color picker window.

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7a.  Click OK in the color picker window and the new color will replace the black square in the Color Table.  Do NOT click OK to close the Color Table.

8.  Repeat steps 7 and 7a to select additional colors from the photo.  Using more colors gives a more accurate representation of the photo, but also makes changing colors later more work.

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9.  Here is the color table with 22 colors selected from the photo.  When you think you’ve selected enough colors, click OK to close the Color Table.  Since the Preview button was checked in step 3, this will show a preview of your color-reduced photo.  Unfortunately, if you don’t like the results, the only thing to do is select Cancel and start over from the beginning.  If you like the results, click OK and your photo is now color reduced, as shown below.

Note:  In Photoshop Elements (and Photoshop) many image editing functions don’t work if your image is in Indexed Color mode.  To make changes (other than swapping colors which is described below) you should change the image back to RGB color mode.  This is done from the menu:  Image–> Mode–> RGB Color, as shown below.

Swapping Colors in a Color-Reduced Photo

Now for the fun part…changing the colors.

1.  If your file is back in RGB Color mode, first change it to Indexed Color mode:  Image–> Mode–> Indexed Color.  In the pop-up box, make sure the Palette is set to Exact (see picture on right) and click OK.  Using Exact for your palette loads the colors which you picked when color-reducing the photo.

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2.  With the image in Indexed Color mode, open the color table:  Image–> Mode–> Color Table, and the color table with your custom colors will pop up.

3.  Make sure the Preview box in the Color Table pop-up is checked.  Click on one of the colors in the Color Table that you’d like to change, and the color picker window opens.  Select the new color and click OK.

4.  With the Preview box checked, you’ll see the changes to your picture as you change the colors (see below).  Repeat step 3, selecting additional colors to change until you’re satisfied with the result.

5.  Here is the color table after I’ve changed all the flower colors to blues and purples, but I left the greens unchanged

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And here is the Purple Daylily.

Here’s a comparison of the original photo (left), the color reduced photo and the re-colored photo.

“If you see a tree as blue, then make it blue.”– Paul Gauguin

“Oh, I love red. I”m very loyal to my colors. I love violet.”–Elizabeth Taylor

Color Reducing a Design — What is it and Why Bother?

Most printed commercial fabrics today are made using some form of screen printing technique.  This requires a separate screen for each color which will be printed.  More colors mean more screens and higher manufacturing costs.  To keep costs down, designs may be color reduced to use fewer colors in the final manufacturing set up.

Printed commercial fabrics will often show the colors used in the printing process as numbered circles along the selvage of the fabric.  Shown below are two colorways of the same design from Timeless Treasures.  Each fabric was printed using the same screens, but 8 different colors, and the end results are different, with more contrast in the first fabric.

The design process for a commercial fabric might start with a hand-drawn or hand-painted design which is then scanned into a computer where the design and its repeat are finished.  However, scanning an image is likely to result in thousands of colors–way too many for screen printing.  A big part of the computer side of the design process is to reduce the number of colors to a manageable number–often less than a dozen–without sacrificing the quality of the original artwork.  Once the “color reduction” is done, it’s a simple matter  to change the colors to generate different colorways of the same design.

Digital printing technology allows anyone to print on fabric with virtually an unlimited number of colors.  For many situations, there’s absolutely no need to color reduce a design before printing it with either your own inkjet printer or through one of the on-demand printing services  (see here for some places to print your fabric).

Even though digital printers print with a huge range of colors, there are still some situations when color reducing a design is useful.

Color matching–When printing fabric on an inkjet printer, the colors you see on your computer screen are not always the colors you get on your fabric out of the printer.  This can be frustrating and expensive.

A way to minimize this issue is to create your design using colors which you know how they will print on fabric.  Most of the on-demand printing services offer color swatches and the corresponding digital file so you can see the printed color on fabric compared to the color on your computer screen–here’s an example of Spoonflower’s color guide.  If you’re printing on your own inkjet, you can create and print your own color guide.  When you use colors in your design from your color guide, you can be confident how the colors will print on fabric.

When you start your design with a photo or a scanned image, you might have colors in your design that you aren’t sure how they will look printed on fabric.  Using Photoshop Elements (or other digital editing tools) you can replace colors in the design with known colors from your color guide.  However a photo or scanned image might have thousands of colors, so to make color replacement manageable, the design first needs to be color reduced to a much smaller number of colors.

Colorways and color palettesTwo more reasons to color reduce a design are to create the design in different colorways or to create designs using a common color palette.  I used these techniques in creating the designs for my Echinacea collection.

I started with the ‘focus fabric’ shown below.  This design was color reduced to 64 colors.

Using Photoshop, I selected from the 64 colors in the design to create separate color palettes of blues, pinks and oranges.  Then I replaced all the colors in the design with the blues to get the blue version of the coneflowers (below).  Using this version of the design (now with about 10 colors rather than 64) I replaced the blues with pinks and then with oranges to get the different colorways.

I used the same color palettes to create the stripe fabrics to coordinate with the floral prints.  You can see more fabric designs using these colors here.

In upcoming posts I’ll discuss how to use Photoshop Elements to color reduce a design.  An example is below–the original photo is on the left, the color reduced design is in the middle, and a recolored version is on the right (zoom in to see the differences).

Dorothy:  What kind of a horse is that?  I’ve never seen a horse like that before! 
Cabby:  No, and never will again, I fancy!  There’s only one of him, and he’s it.  He’s the Horse of a Different Color you’ve heard tell about! 
–from the Wizard of Oz

[looking for a certain type of flower]   Blue flower, red thorns. Blue flower, red thorns. Blue flower, red thorns. Man, this would be so much easier if I wasn’t COLOR-BLIND!
–Donkey in Shrek

New Quilt — Coneflowers

I thought I’d try to make a small quilt with sort of a ‘watercolor’ feel.  I started with these photos of coneflowers from my back yard.

After a lot of playing in Photoshop, I reduced the photos to this black and white ‘sketch’ — if I could only draw, this would have been done a lot faster.

I printed this on some cotton fabric and backed it with some stabilizer and then I experimented with different thread options for the leaves.

Even with stabilizer, and using a hoop while thread painting, the fabric was bunching up a bit.  Also, the white fabric showing through the thread wasn’t giving me the look I was after, so back to Photoshop.  I painted the sketch with multiple transparent layers to get a watercolor look.

Here’s the result after printing on fabric.

Before starting with the thread, I backed this with an ultra-firm stabilizer (peltex #72) and a backing layer of fabric.  I started the thread painting on the stems, and kept it fairly light, but when I got to the leaves, the thread started building up pretty heavily.

At this point I knew the ‘watercolor’ idea was long gone, but I was liking the heavy thread work, and at least a tiny bit of the fabric color was showing through.

Here’s the finished quilt, Coneflowers.  It’s 17 inches wide by 25 inches long.

And here’s a detail view.

I really like how it turned out, though it’s nothing like I intended.  I think I might go back to the black and white sketch and try another version, but with much less thread work.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I wrote this haiku after working for hours on this thread painting:

Coloring with thread
Quilting or Embroidery?
Love all the texture.

Creating Your Own Plaids in Photoshop Elements

A plaid, or Tartan, pattern consists of criss-crossing bands of different color threads in the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (weft) orientations.   The distinctive diagonal lines in  plaids are created by weaving in a twill pattern.  To create a plaid effect in Photoshop Elements we need to be able to mimic the twill weaving pattern.  Continue reading

Black and White Fabric Designs

Spoonflower has a fabric design contest coming soon with a theme of black and white — the designs can only use black and white, no shades of gray allowed.

I’ve been playing with some of my photos of coneflowers, and converting them to look like pencil drawings.

Here are a couple of draft designs, both representing a fat quarter of fabric–22 inches by 18 inches.  This was my first attempt, but I think it’s a bit too busy, and some of the areas are too dark.

Here’s another version, with some of the elements taken out, and some of the lines lightened up a bit.  I like this one better, but I’ll probably rearrange the flowers a bit more.

I’ve also been working on a larger drawing to use in a quilt.  Here’s what I have so far.  My plan is to print this on white fabric and then add thread painting to get sort of a watercolor effect.

If you want to look at some great botanical art, check out Science-art.com and search on any keyword, such as coneflower.

Making a Repeat Pattern Look Less Boxy – Photoshop Elements

If you’re designing a repeat pattern in Photoshop Elements, there’s an easy way to make it look less boxy.  The trick is to have design elements which overlap the edges of the tile.

I started with this simple tile.  Each of the design elements is in its own layer in Photoshop.  The tile creates this repeat pattern — there’s clear space between the tiles.

Since each element is in its own layer, I can use the offset command (from the menu:  Filter –>Other –> Offset) to independently move each element.  You can play around with the level of offset to move any element so that it wraps around the tile horizontally, vertically or both.  When you input an amount of offset, a positive number will move the element right or down, and a negative number will move it left or up.  The big benefit of using the offset command is that you can draw/edit an individual design element in its entirety, and then later split it up across the edges of the tile.

Here’s a quick update to the original tile where I moved some of the elements (and also changed the size of some elements).  And here’s the resulting repeat which looks less boxy.

A couple things to keep in mind when using this.  The offset command shifts the entire layer in Photoshop Elements, so it works best if your overall design is in multiple layers which you can shift independently.  Any editing you want to do to your design is much easier to do before using the offset command.  If you want to edit a design after offsetting it, you will usually need to undo the offset before making the edits.

Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose — Charles Eames

How to Create A Half-Drop Repeat in Photoshop Elements

In the last two tutorials I showed how to make a seamless repeating pattern in Photoshop Elements.  In this one I’ll show a quick way to make half-drop repeats.  Half-drop repeats add a diagonal line to any pattern, such as the polka dots shown below.

1.  For this repeat to work, you really need a solid color in the background, and you don’t want parts of the image touching an edge.  I’ll start with this basic tile.  Its size is 200 pixels by 200 pixels.

2.  To create the half-drop, we need to add a duplicate tile and then offset it.  So, the first step is to double the width of the ‘canvas’.  This is done from the menu: Image –>Resize –>Canvas size, and then the box shown below pops up.  In the “new size” section, if you set the measurement to ‘percent’ (circled in yellow), then make the width 200 percent.  Alternatively, you can set the measure to ‘pixels’ and set the width to twice as wide as the current size.  In the “anchor”area (yellow arrow), click so that the box looks like that shown below.  This will put the original tile on the left side of your new canvas.

This is what the new canvas looks like in Photoshop.

3.  Next, duplicate the layer (from the menu:  Layer –> Duplicate Layer), and then offset this new layer.  From the menu:  Filter –> Other –> Offset.  For the horizontal offset, enter the full width of your original tile (200 pixels for my tile).  For the vertical offset, enter half of the original height of your tile (100 pixels in my example).  Shown below is the Offset dialog box and then the resulting tile.

4.  From this, you can define your pattern and create the repeat (see Tutorial 1, step 6 for directions).  This is the resulting repeat.

5.  One of the fun things you can do is add designs to the tile created in step 3.  Here I’ve drawn in some additional elements.  When I put this tile into a repeat, the new elements will repeat in a straight repeat while the original elements are in a half-drop repeat (compare the repeat of the blue star to the pink circle).  The repeat is shown below.

Also, with this method, you aren’t limited to creating half-drop repeats.  In step #3 you can specify the vertical offset to be any portion of the vertical size…1/3, 1/4, etc.

Here’s an example where I recently used a half-drop repeat.  Starting with the crazy Kauai rooster photos from the previous post, I removed the background and hand colored the birds in funky colors.  I call this Kauai Breakfast because it reminds me of breakfast on the beach in Kauai, surrounded by roosters and hens.