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frogfish 10-04-2011 01:20 PM

Creating a Custom Color Palette
Being able to match colors in your photos to papers and elements can add to the overall feel of a layout. You can also use this technique to create papers/elements that don't necessarily match your photos but are based on the colors of another object that perhaps isn't even included in the layout. For example: matching the papers/elements to the movie poster or DVD cover that your layout is based on--layout for "It's Tough To Be a Bug" based on a color palette created from the "Bug's Life" DVD cover.

Matching colors is done most simply by creating a custom color palette of the major colors in the image--reducing the number of colors in the image to a manageable number based on how much they appear in the image.

Although you can do this manually using an eyedropper tool, selecting directly from the photo, the methods described below are faster and allow you to save the palette for future use.

An internet search will reveal many online color palette generators and they all do pretty much the same thing.
The site I like (the one that includes the features that I find most useful) is: The site allows you to chose an online photo or upload one of your own. You can view the generated color palette with corresponding color (hex) codes or you can export your color palette as an ACO file, which is an Adobe Color File that can be used in any Adobe program.

Photoshop can generate a color palette based on an image you have open in the program. (These directions were created for Photoshop CS4 and were tested in Photoshop Elements 3 but will most probably work in other versions with little or no changes.)
  1. Open the image you want to create the palette from; it may be an image you have on your computer or an image you have copied and pasted from the internet.
  2. Make sure to duplicate the image first (if you are interested in saving the image in it’s current state)! Changing the image mode is a destructive edit and simply duplicating the layer won’t help you here…
  3. Go to 'Image > Mode > Indexed Color' and change the following settings: ‘Palette: Local (Perceptual)’, the number in the 'Colors' box to the number of colors you want in your palette (can choose from 1 to 256 colors), ‘Forced: None’, uncheck the ‘Transparency’ box, ‘Dither: None’, and click ‘OK’.
  4. To retrieve your palette go to 'Image > Mode > Color Table'. You can save your palette from that screen—it may be helpful to create a custom swatches folder for easy access to all of your saved swatches.
  5. To load your palette in the swatches window, go to 'Window > Swatches' which will open the swatches window. In that window, click on the drop down icon in the top right corner and select ‘Load Swatches’ and navigate to the folder in which you saved the color table. You will probably need to change the 'Files of Type' drop down to ‘Color Table (*.ACT)’ which is what Photoshop uses as a default extension when saving color tables.
  6. Lastly, you will want to change the Image Mode back to RGB color so the setting doesn't affect future creations. Go to 'Image > Mode > RGB Color'

If you know how to create a custom color palette in another program please share!

If you have any questions or comments, please post back in this thread!

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