Sponge tool
Alters color saturation, or contrast in Grayscale mode
Photoshop Versions: At least 4.0, possibly 2.0
Keyboard Shortcut: O
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The Sponge tool is a retouching tool used to alter the saturation of a portion of an image. It is reminiscent of the sponges used by watercolor artists to soften (or even remove) a color that has already been lain on the canvas.

On current versions of Photoshop, the Sponge tool is grouped with the Dodge tool and Burn tool.

Color saturation

The Sponge tool works in two modes:

Color values are brought towards a neutral gray of similar lightness.
Color values are made more vibrant.

RGB and CMYK color values are compared to their closest HSL equivalent. Lab color values are simply manipulated along their a and b axes.

Newer versions of Photoshop have the "Vibrance" option, which reduces clipping to primary colors (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta) or grays. The effect of the tool is lessened for color values already close to these colors.

Grayscale contrast

Though grayscale images do not have saturation values to adjust, the Sponge can still be used to adjust contrast:

Decreases contrast, bringing values closer to middle gray.
Increases contrast, bringing values closer to black and white.


The Sponge tool is often reserved for quick retouching. As with other retouching tools, it performs destructive edits.

In many cases, other tools can be used to greater effect, often non-destructively. This is especially the case when the whole image needs adjustment:

  • Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
  • Layer set to "Saturation" blending mode
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