Anything Photoshop or Photography


This technique involves opening up a favorite image in any  format, and creating a color swatch from that image for use in your new creations. It is something most people do not realize can be done in Photoshop, and Corel Painter has a similar process for doing this. Apparently this option has been in Photoshop for a long time, but I just learned the basics from bittbox’s Jake Rocheleau in a blog called Build a Custom Photoshop Swatch from an Image. I am finding it is really nice to be able to sample the colors used in your favorite artist’s or photographer’s works.

Photoshop Workflow for Adding Color Swatch Sets

It is much easier to add color swatch sets in Painter (see end of blog for steps), but here are the Photoshop steps:

1.  First find an image that contains the colors you want to sample for use in your new creation. I opened up my image above to create swatch colors from since the orange colors are some of my favorites.

2. Now open up the Swatches Panel (Window -> Swatches) in Photoshop. Click on the pop-out menu at the upper-right hand corner of the panel, select Save As and name your original swatches – I usually save with the date in it like 042515 Swatches in a file folder on my desktop called Photoshop Presets. This way, if you want to return to your originally loaded swatch colors easily, all you do is replace the current with the original ones you just saved. See below for more on the pop-out menu.

3. Go to Image -> Mode -> Indexed Color and select Local (Perceptual), which uses the color spectrum where the human eye is most sensitive. (Local-Selective optimizes colors for the web and Local-Adaptive reproduces the colors that occur most often in the image – other options to try.) In dialog make sure other drop-down fields are set to None (Forced, Matte and Dither). Now go to Colors field and try different amounts. This will be a live preview so depending on the number chosen determines how your image looks and how many swatches will be produced. For example, if set to 10 (see top image below), there are just a few colors shown in the image and only 10 color swatches will be made; set to 256 will give 256 color swatches and probably some colors that look very similar (see bottom image below).

Screenshot of Indexed Color Table dialog

4. Unfortunately we are not done – one would hope they would just load into the panel, but they do not. Go to Image -> Mode -> Color Table. There are now 256 swatches from the image since 256 Colors were entered in Step 3. (See image below.) You can delete some colors in the table by clicking on the eyedropper and then on colors you do not like or appear to be duplicated. This can also be done later so I did not do this now. The Color Table needs to be named (mine was named Mums for Painter) and in the Save Type As select .ACT file format. The image can be closed at this point.

5. Back in the Swatches pop-out menu, select Replace Swatches and in Load dialog, above the word Load button, change Swatches (.ACO) to Color Table (.ACT), which was the only file extension allowed in Step 4), and click Load button. If you want to change the ACT file to an ACO file, can now go into the pop-out menu and select Save Swatches and the file format will change to ACO. I do not know why there are two different extensions in this process as it is confusing. Just know that both ACT and ACO file extensions are color swatches.

The Swatches Pop-Out Menu:

  • Select Replace Swatches to change from the original or current swatches to new one created.
  • If you choose Load Swatches, the new ones will load underneath the current swatches already showing.
  • Choose Reset Swatches to select the default color swatches that come with Photoshop. A choice comes up to either replace, or append the swatches which adds them at the bottom.
  • Select Save Swatches to back up the ones already loaded so they can be restored at a later date or to change the Color Table (ACT) file extension to Swatches (ACO) file extension.

If you find color swatches you want to remove, or if appended and want to change the swatch order, there is an easy way to do this. The Preset Manager can be used to do this. To open it, go to Edit -> Presets -> Preset Manager, or the easiest way to do this is to open the Brush Panel or Brush Picker Panel and click the Open Preset Manager icon at bottom of each (2nd icon over). In the drop-down Presets field at top, select Swatches. To remove a swatch color, click on the color to remove and then the Delete button. Also by CTRL or SHIFT clicking on the colors, you can remove a large group number of colors or drag and move them into a different order. I find this much easier than doing this while creating the Color Table. The Preset Manager will also save several swatch sets together into one set.

The colors from your selected image are now available to use in new creations by just sampling the color swatches while painting. Below is an image used recently in my Tidbits Blog (see Springtime Wishes from Betsy) where I had set up three of my favorite images into a Color Swatch set in the Preset Manager. Using this grouping of colors seems to be improving my color choices since these colors all seem to go together nicely. The three images whose colors I created my Color Swatch set were from: Wild Roses and Irises by John La Farge, Sunrise by Phil Sabado (apparently the Sunrise painting is not circulation anymore but all his art is beautiful so his website is linked), and The Picnic Party by Jack Vetriano. The tree colors are definitely from Wild Roses and Irises and the soft reed colors are from The Picnic Party. I am using these specific swatches a lot for my creative images. Also, if you find you want to add a color not in the loaded Color Swatch set, at bottom of the Swatches Panel click the first icon, Create New Swatch of Foreground Color or right click in swatches and select Add New Preset – it loads at the end of color swatches. Right click on a color and select Delete Swatch to remove it.

Screenshot of my color swatches for an image

This image below was also from my Tidbits Blog (see A Wintry Scene) and used the same Color Swatch set. This time different green colors were used. The dark colors picked up the greenish dark tones and even the sky tends toward the cooler colors  that improved the overall color quality.

Image of a Wintry Scene that I painted

How To Create Swatches in Corel Painter

In Painter they are called Color Set Libraries instead of Color Swatches or Color Tables. Open the image in Painter that you want to use for sampling from the color swatches. Go to Window -> Color Panel -> Color Set which puts Color Set Libraries panel on your screen. Click in the upper right pop-out menu of panel and select New Color Set from Image. Name and select the number of colors, just like in Photoshop’s Indexed Color dialog box. Say okay and it automatically adds the swatches to the bottom of the Color Sets listed. To remove, just click on pop out and select Color Set Libraries – just remove the check mark by clicking on it and it disappears. This is much easier to create your swatches than in Photoshop, but it is harder to remove colors you do not want to keep as there is no Preset Manager – icons at the bottom of panel must be used. I do not use this feature as much in Painter since there are several other ways to sample colors (for example, loading the artist’s image in the Mixer Pad, using it as a Reference Image, or adding it as a source in Clone Panel).


The swatches are not that hard to create and can be loaded for use whenever you want that color theme for your new painting. It is great Photoshop will create the colors in famous paintings to let you actually get the exact color for the blacks and light colors that they used. Just using the wrong colors in a black can totally ruin an image. I hope you will try making a few Color Swatch sets of your favorite paintings and images. You may find you get some great combinations that will really improve the color in your new creations. Until next time…..Digital Lady Syd


One response

  1. So simple and so useful. Thank you for sharing!

    04/25/2015 at 4:54 pm

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