Pop color, also referred to as "color splash", is a technique where color is removed from an image, save for a certain object. Irises of eyes and pieces of fruit are particularly striking examples.

There are two key elements:

  • The object to be isolated
  • The desaturation effect


In order of increasing versatility (ability to correct mistakes or choose a different path):


The Sponge tool can be used in Desaturate mode. Use wider brushes to sweep general areas, and finer brushes near the pop object.


The Selection tools can be used to mark the object. Invert the selection [Ctrl+Shift+I] if needed.

With the selection ready, use the Desaturate command to remove color.


This method uses a layer to hold a desaturated copy of the image, and the Eraser tool to expose the colored version underneath:

  1. Duplicate Layer
  2. Desaturate the duplicate
  3. On the upper (desaturated) layer, use the Eraser

To make corrections, use the History palette to mark the Desaturate command for use with the History Brush tool.

Layer MaskEdit

Instead of the eraser, a layer mask added to the desaturated layer is used to mark the object:

  1. Duplicate Layer
  2. Desaturate
  3. Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All

As with any layer mask, paint black in the mask to hide the desaturated layer (and thus expose color), and paint white to reveal the desaturated layer (hide color).

Adjustment LayerEdit

Desaturate is available as a choice of Adjustment Layer (along with Hue/Saturation and Channel Mixer):

  • Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Desaturate
  • Use the Adjustment Layer button in the Layers palette
  • Pick from the Adjustments panel

Adjustment layers come with their own layer mask—use this to mark the pop object.


Color IsolationEdit

Add ImageColor Isolation
Pop color can also be used to isolate a particular color or range of colors, regardless of where in the scene it is present. The Select > Color Range command can be used to pick the color to be spared.

Channel MixerEdit

As with other applications of black & white conversion, Channel Mixer can be used instead of desaturation to gain more control over the conversion. The various Lens Filters can be used beforehand to get an idea of how the tone of image will be altered.

Add ImageDesaturate
Add ImageChannel Mixer


Add ImageA subtle tinge of color remains
Instead of complete desaturation, a partial desaturation can add subtlety to the effect, especially when the pop color is vivid:
  • Hue/Saturation can be used instead of Desaturate. Adjust the Saturation slider downward.
  • The Fade command can be used immediately after Desaturate or other adjustments.
  • Opacity can be changed on any applicable layer.

The pop color can also be partially desaturated to lessen its impact.

Add ImagePartial desaturation

Graded desaturationEdit

A radial gradient can be used to ramp the desaturation, making it less apparent towards the edges. This is akin to using counter glow to increase the visibility of type, or Unsharp Mask for sharpening images.

Reverse pop colorEdit

Any of the techniques above can be used to turn down or remove color from a specific object. The sponge method is much more suited to this technique than for pop color.
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