How to Adjust Color Intensity with the Sponge Tool in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

Photoshop CS6 can help you turn down the color for a softer effect. The Sponge tool, which soaks up color like, well, a sponge, reduces the richness or intensity (or saturation) of a color in the areas you paint. It can also perform the reverse, imbuing a specific area with richer, more vibrant colors.

Surprisingly, the Sponge tool also works in grayscale mode, pushing light and dark pixels toward a middle gray, providing a darkening or lightening effect to those pixels. Unlike the Hue/Saturation or Desaturate commands (Image→Adjustments), which work only on layers or selections, you can use the Sponge tool on any area that you can paint with a brush.

You can use the Sponge tool on an image in subtle ways to reduce the saturation in selected areas for an interesting effect. For example, you may have an object that’s the center of attention in your picture simply because the colors are so bright. The Sponge tool lets you reduce the color saturation of that area to allow the other sections of your image to come to the forefront.

You can also use the Sponge tool to make an artistic statement: You could reduce or increase the saturation of a single person in a group shot to make that person stand out (perhaps as being more colorful than the rest). To use the Sponge tool, just follow these steps:

  1. Open an image and select the Sponge tool from the Tools panel.

    Press the O key to choose the Sponge if it’s the active toning tool or press Shift+O to cycle through the Sponge, Dodge, and Burn tools until the Sponge tool is active.

  2. In the Options bar, make the following changes:

    • *Select a brush from the Brush Preset Picker or the larger Brush panel.

      Use large, soft brushes to saturate/desaturate a larger area.

      Smaller brushes are useful mostly when you need to change the saturation of a specific small object in an image.

    • *Select either Desaturate (reduce color richness) or Saturate (increase color richness) from the Mode pop-up menu.

    • *Select a flow rate (the speed with which the saturation/desaturation effect builds up while you apply the brush) with the Flow slider or text box.

    • *If you want an even softer effect, select the Airbrush icon.

    • *Select the Vibrance option.

      This setting allows saturation for each color to reach its fullest level, but the setting stops saturation after that point to avoid clipping (when colors fall outside the printable range). At the same time, it allows saturation to continue for any colors that haven’t reached the clipping point.

    • *If you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet, click the last icon. Doing so overrides any settings you made in the Brush Preset picker or Brush panel.

  3. Paint carefully over the areas you want to saturate or desaturate with color.

    [Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/gradyreese Image #15518582]

    Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/gradyreese Image #15518582