Photoshop: Desaturate All Colors Except One




Ever seen a photo that is all black and white except one color and said, "Man, I wish I could make a photo like that..."

Well now you can!

This tutorial is geared toward a beginner user of Photoshop CS5. It will teach you the basic steps on how to desaturate all colors except for one color of your choice.

During this tutorial, if you find that a step is incomplete, inaccurate, or needs rewording, or that instructional images are inaccurate, please post a comment that will provide us with enough information to edit the tutorial. Thank you, and Good Luck!

Please note that the screenshots will only be useful to Windows users. The Photoshop Menus look different when you're running a Mac operating system.

Step 1: Opening Photoshop CS5

- 1-A. When you installed Photoshop CS5 on your computer, it normally places the program in a folder titled Adobe Photoshop CS5. Depending on whether you have other Adobe CS5 programs, the folder may be titled “Adobe Web Premium CS5.”

- 1-B. Click your windows “start” menu, go to All Programs --> “Adobe Web Premium CS5” --> Click Adobe Photoshop CS5. This will start the program. You should see a blue rectangle with the Photoshop logo as it is loading the program.

See Image 1, and Image 2

See Image 3 to see what Photoshop looks like while loading.

Step 2: Setting Photoshop to the Correct Parameters for This Tutorial

- Once Photoshop has loaded, you will be confronted with a workspace, many toolbars, and gadgets. Chances are there are menus and other gadgets open from the last time you used Photoshop (if you’ve used it before). For the purposes of this Tutorial, and to avoid error, we’re going to set Photoshop to its default settings.

See Image 1

- You’ll see at the top-left of the screen there is a row of dropdown menus. These dropdown menus will be used to navigate and control Photoshop.

- 2-A. Find and click “Window,” go down to “Workspace” --> Click “Painting,” then click “Reset Painting.”

See Image 2

- Photoshop should now be at default settings, making it easier for this tutorial to help you.

Step 3: Uploading an Image for Editing

- There are a few ways to upload an image into Photoshop, for the purposes of this tutorial we’re going to use this way:

- 3-A. The image must be saved somewhere on your computer. For the purpose of this tutorial, you’re going to use the photo that's provided here at this link:

- 3-B. Go ahead and save this image to your desktop. You can do this by right clicking on the image, and going down to “Save As…” This will bring up a menu, and in order to save it to your desktop, simply click the desktop box to the left, then click the button “Save.”

See Image 1, then see Image 2

- 3-C. In Photoshop, click “File” at the top left of the screen, then click “Open.” This will open a menu where you can find the picture that you just saved to your desktop. Do this by clicking on the desktop button, which will display the files on your desktop. Find the image then press “Open.” The image should appear in your workspace.

See Image 3

Step 4: Opening the History Panel

- 4-A. In Photoshop at the top of the screen, click “Window,” then go down and left click on “History.”

See Image 1

-This will bring up a very useful and necessary panel that will display all of the actions you do while editing. See Image 2. If you make a mistake while editing, this panel can be used to revert back to an older action by simply clicking on an action you did in the past. Note that “Control + Z” together will revert back just one step as well. This can be a quick way to go back a step and continue working.

See Image 3: Using the history panel to revert back a step by deleting recent steps.

Step 5: Using the Magic Wand Tool

Don't get discouraged, there is a lot of reading for this step. Skipping over anything will cause you to get confused, so please try to read thoroughly.

- You will notice a skinny vertical rectangle filled with tools on the left side of your screen. This is the palette that contains all the tools you’ll need for hands on editing. Every tool has numerous versions of itself, yet each version performs a slightly different task. You’ll find that by left-clicking and holding on a tool that these different versions appear.

- 5-A. Left-click and hold on the “Quick Selection” tool (the fourth tool from the top), then click on the “Magic Wand Tool.”

See Image 1

-Your cursor arrow should now be changed into something that looks like a small wand. You’ll also find that near the top of the screen, properties have appeared that deal directly with the “Magic Wand Tool” like “Tolerance,” “Contiguous,” “Anti-Alias” and “Sample All Layers.” We’ll only be discussing what the “Tolerance” option does.

See Image 2

- 5-B. Please make sure that the "Contiguous" checkbox is checked.

- 5-C. How the “Magic Wand Tool” functions: The “Magic Wand Tool” selects contiguous pixels of the same color. In other words, whatever color you click on with the tool, it’s going to select pixels that are similarly colored around that area. Give it a try. Click on the red rose buds in your uploaded photo with the wand, and you’ll quickly get a feel for how it works. Now, the Tolerance option at the top of your Photoshop workspace has a number next to it. The higher this number, the more lenient the program is with selecting colors that are similar to the one you’ve clicked. In general terms, the higher the tolerance, the bigger the area that’s selected becomes. The smaller the tolerance, the smaller the area that’s selected becomes. Give this a try, set the tolerance to a high number, “100” for example, then click on a color in the photo. Now, set the tolerance to “20” and click on the same color. You’ll find that a smaller area has been selected. Getting a feel for how this tool works is going to take some time, and trial and error.

- 5-D. - Holding shift down and left clicking with the wand tool, you can keep your previous selection and add more selections.

Step 6: Choosing the Color You Want to Keep

Now comes the time to apply what we’ve learned in step 5. Make sure the “Magic Wand Tool” is selected.  Most of Photoshop can be learned simply by trial and error, and this step may require some error before you figure out what you're doing.To help out, we'll also be including a video exemplifying this step.

To view video: (can't get an embedded video to work yet)

- 6-A. Hold down shift while left clicking on all of the red rose buds in the photo. Being precise means you’re going to have to constantly change the “Tolerance” number. Make sure to try to select all of the red rose buds, which may take a bit of time and a lot of clicks. Remember, you can use the History panel to revert to an older action, or use “Control + Z” to revert back one step if you make a mistake in your selections.

See Image 1 and Image 2

Step 7: Desaturating All Other Colors to Black & White

With all of the red rose buds and only the red rose buds selected, you’re going to need to invert your selection to all the colors you wish to turn Black & White.

- 7-A. To do this, go up and click on “Selection” and go down, click on “invert.”

See Image 1

You should now see that your selection has been inverted to everything you didn’t select with the wand.

-7-B. Now with all of the green leaves and stems selected, go up to the top of the screen and click on “Image.” Go down to “Adjustments” --> click on “Black & White.” This will bring up a menu, just go ahead and click on “Okay.”

See Image 2 then see Image 3

-7-C. Deselect everything by pressing “Control + D.”

Step 8: Saving Your Edited Picture

- There are two things you’re going to need to do when saving your picture. You’ll need to save the picture as a normal .jpeg file, and save it as a Photoshop file. The Photoshop file will allow you to open your image in Photoshop right where you just left off, in case you want to edit it later. The .jpeg file will be the file that you use to upload your picture to the internet, or do any sort of multimedia with, like printing.

- 8-A. To save the image as a jpeg, go up to “File,” then click on “Save As…” This will pop up a menu. Make sure that the “Format:” is set to “JPEG (*.jpg, *.jpeg, *.jpe)” Save the image to a destination of your choice. For the purposes of this tutorial, save it to the desktop.

- 8-B. To save the image as a Photoshop file, repeat step 8-A. but this time make sure that the “Format:” is set to “Photoshop (*.psd,*.pdd)”

See Image 1 and Image 2

Step 9: Conclusion

Your edited photo should now look like something similar to Image 1.

We hope you've found this tutorial helpful! Please let us know any recommendations or mishaps you encountered while going through this tutorial by posting a comment!

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13 Discussions


8 years ago on Introduction

This was very informative. I actually had trouble opening up adobe from the first instructions, although I know how to do it on my own. Maybe it was the computer I am using but i had to type "photoshop "into the search area when the windows start menu was may be like this for others too.

Good Job!


8 years ago on Introduction

This tutorial was extremely intuitive. The screenshots however are for those running microsoft. The menus are slightly different in Photoshop for Mac, but I was able to figure out where everything was using only the written instructions. Thanks

1 reply

I appreciate your reply! We had not thought about what the menus looked like when using a Mac operating system. I will note that the screenshots are only useful for Windows users.


4 years ago on Step 9

Great Tutorial for the beginner such as myself. It was easy to follow and figure out. My only point of confusion was when trying to turn my picture black and white. I had been reading other tutorials from other webpages which wanted me to use the color mixer. I had created a color mixing layer and had it selected, so when I tried to change my picture to black and white it wouldn't allow it. So to any other beginners out there trying it, make sure you're on the right layer. If you follow the tutorial exactly you should be good. Thanks for the new skill.


8 years ago on Introduction

Have used Photoshop for quite a while before this so I cheated a little bit. A primary example being that I did not change around tolerance when using the magic wand rather I left the tolerance at 30 by personal preference. That being said, the idea of switching around the tolerance is a good idea for anyone to explore their comfort zone. As a tutorial goes this is a perfect set-up for someone that has never experienced photoshop, though anyone that has had any experience with photoshop at all may find it a little tedious, but aren't all tutorials?

1 reply

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

We tried to make this tutorial as one for beginners who have very little or no experience with Photoshop. It is reassuring to know that even though it may be a bit tedious, experienced users can still follow it easily. As for the tolerance, we wanted the user to get comfortable with a tolerance that allowed them to select the color easily yet still make them figure out how to use the magic wand tool! So your personal preference is fine! Thank you for your input.


8 years ago on Introduction

Having used Photoshop for quite a while before this, I cheated on some of the directions. A primary example being I did not adjust the tolerance when using the magic wand tool. Rather I left it at 30 out of personal comfort. Beside that fact this tutorial suggesting someone to adjust tolerance is a great idea for anyone to explore their comfort zone. This tutorial as a whole is ideal for someone who has never experienced Photoshop but a person who has had experience with Photoshop may find it tedious. But aren't all tutorials a little bit?

This is awesome! I'm actually excited to try this with my own photo's!

There is kinda a lot of reading involved with the different steps. I guess you kinda need it though. I think that making the steps simpler like "do that..." would make it easier to find what one is supposed to do. Bolding or changing the colors of the different tasks would be cool. Other than that, my photo looked the way it's supposed to! THanks

2 replies

As for ad_am's comment:

That's weird that you could not open up adobe (i'm assuming you couldn't find the folder for it in the menu?) Glad you knew other ways to search for it. There should usually always be the folder unless it was deleted or had another name? We should mention that "adobe photoshop" can be typed into the search area of ms windows start menu (as another means of opening the program). Thanks!

Thank you for the feedback. There is a lot to explain with photoshop, especially for those people who have never used it before. I think we could space it out more and possibly add more bolding but I don't think this site allowed us to change the color or size of the font without being a "pro" member. We did our best to make the instructions organized and easily readable. Glad you were able to get through all the steps despite the large amount of description in some sections.


8 years ago on Introduction

Great tutorial!

There are many ways to do just about everything in Photoshop.

I would also try:
Right Click
Color Select (Hold the Shift Key to select multiple colors or color shades.)
Use the Quick Selection Tool to refine your selection
Click on the Refine Edge tool make the adjustments as you like and then send the selection to a new layer.

This way you haven't edited the original layer and still have the roses as a sepearate layer. Then you can duplicate the background layer and change it to black and white.

You will have the same effect but this way you could also quickly change the color of the roses to be purple with a simple color overlay or hue change.

One thing I would suggest, and it's something that I try to teach all of my interns at work, is to think in Layers. If you could show beginners how to do everything in layers that would help them a lot. Because as they advance in skill they will find that seperating everything into layers and groups can increase productivity.

1 reply

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Great suggestion. It is very unfortunate that we didn't get into "Layers" as they are such an essential and necessary part of Photoshop's power. It would indeed help if beginners understood layers. I'm assuming we skipped that part as it isn't exactly necessary for the overall goal, but for the overall understand and teaching for the user it would definitely be necessary.