How To Use The Eyedropper Tool In Photoshop

Despite the Eyedropper Tool being one of the most used tools in Photoshop, most people don’t fully understand everything that this tool can be used for. The power of the Eyedropper is unquestionable when it comes to using color in your project. Below, I will show you how powerful it truly is. 

Most Photoshop users have at least used the Eyedropper, but did you know that there are two more eyedropper tools? We’re going to go over all three of them and I’ll show you the best way to realistically change the color of an object. 

What Is The Eyedropper Tool Used For? 

The Eyedropper Tool in Photoshop is used to sample a color in a photo that can be later used with a brush, gradient, or shape. Any color you sample with the Eyedropper Tool will also be saved as a recent color swatch in the Swatches Panel. Ultimately, this tool is useful for painting precise colors in Photoshop.

Let me demonstrate by painting over the reflection of the fishing pole in this picture.  

First I’ll select the Eyedropper Tool (I) and sample the color next to the reflection. 

Doing so will change the Foreground Color to the color I sampled. 

If you want to change the Background Color instead, hold down Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) and click where you want to sample. Most of the time, you want the change the Foreground Color. 

Now I can select the Brush Tool (B) and paint over the reflection with the exact color of the water. 

It doesn’t look perfect, so we need to paint with more colors. I just need to sample a few more spots around the water and repeat the process a few more times. 

To make it easier for you to switch between using the Brush and the Eyedropper Tools, you can temporarily access the Eyedropper Tool while you have the Brush Tool active by holding down Alt (Win) or Option (Mac). 

One more thing to note about using the Eyedropper Tool. Every time you sample a color, that color will be added to your Swatch Collection under the Swatch Tab. If you don’t see this panel, go to Window > Swatches.

So if I needed to use that color again, I just have to click it in the Swatch Tab.  

It gets even better. I can create a folder of multiple samplings of the water for this project or future projects. First, I’ll take my samples of the water.   

After sampling all the colors, I’ll create a new folder by clicking the Create New Group button

Photoshop will ask me to name the group. 

Now, I can add colors to this folder by selecting the color and clicking the Create New Swatch Button. Photoshop will ask if I want to name the layer and then I can click OK when finished. 

Repeat this process with all the colors to create a folder you can keep going back to. 

How To Access The Eyedropper Tool In Photoshop

The quickest way to access the Eyedropper Tool is by pressing the I Key. The Eyedropper Tool can also be accessed from the toolbar.

The additional types of Eyedroppers can also be accessed by right-clicking on the Eyedropper Icon

Types Of Eyedroppers In Photoshop

Photoshop has three different Eyedroppers. 

  • The Eyedropper Tool 
  • The 3D Material Eyedropper Tool
  • The Color Sampler Tool

 – The Eyedropper Tool

If you use color in your projects at all, the Eyedropper Tool will be indispensable for your workflow. 

On the surface, the Eyedropper Tool will simply just sample whatever color you click on. It’s what you can do with that sample that makes the Eyedropper Tool so resourceful.

Let’s say I’m working on a logo, and I’m not loving the color. 

Then, I stumbled upon a picture with the perfect color I need. 

I can simply select the Eyedropper Tool (I) and sample the color. 

With the color I need now as my Foreground Color, I can return back to my logo, select the Magic Wand (W) and click on each leaf. 

Next, I’ll select the Paint Bucket Tool (G) and click inside each leaf.

With the Eyedropper Tool, you can grab a color from any picture and apply it to another quickly and easily. 

– The 3D Material Eyedropper Tool 

The 3D Material Eyedropper Tool only works with 3D Layers. I’ll show you how this works with a 3D version of the logo above.  

Also, in order to use the 3D Material Eyedropper, you must change your workspace to 3D Mode

To do this, select Window > Workspace > 3D.

This workspace will limit the types of tools you can use and open up a 3D Properties Menu

First I’ll select the 3D Eyedropper Tool (I) and sample the color I want to use. 

Now, switch to the 3D Material Drop Tool (G). This tool will allow me to color in other planes in this 3D model. 

The 3D Material Drop Tool is only useful for working on 3D-based projects. It’s a complicated tool, but if you only work with 2D projects, you won’t need to use it.

– The Color Sampler Tool 

The Color Sampler Tool is like a super-powered version of the eyedropper. It’s more complicated to use, but I’ll walk you through it. 

The Color Sampler Tool doesn’t actually “sample” the color you click on, but displays useful information for you to use to manipulate your image. Let me give you an example.

Right-click on the eyedropper tool to find the Color Sampler Tool (I). Click on your image to place a crosshair on the color you want information on. 

You can place up to ten of these crosshairs. 

If you selected too many colors, you can hover your mouse over the crosshair you want to delete and Alt + Click (Win) or Option + Click (Mac) the crosshair to remove it. 

You can also move a crosshair by Control Dragging (Win) or Command Dragging (Mac) the crosshair where you would like it to be.

The Info Panel

All of this color information will be displayed in the Info Panel. If the Info Panel is not displayed, go to Window > Info to display it. 

The Info Panel will display the RGB values of each color. Each box in the Info Panel will have a number in the top left corner that corresponds with the number under each crosshair in the image. 

The upper boxes will display the color values of where your mouse is currently located.

If the project you’re working on is in CMYK or a different color mode, you can click the Hamburger Menu in the Info Panel and choose the color mode you’re working with. 

You can also get the CMYK or other color mode information under each crosshair by clicking on the Eyedropper Icon in each box and changing it to your color mode. 

Prep Work 

So what can you actually do with all this information? Actually a whole lot!

Let me show you by changing this man’s shirt color from the gray in the picture on the left to the burnt orange in the picture on the right. 

In order for this to work, I’ll need to sample the highlights, mid-tones, and shadow colors in the grey shirt. This will make the color-changing process much easier after I sample the burnt orange jacket in the second image. That’s because I can take the original sample points on the grey shirt to use as my guide when updating the color values.

The first thing I’m going to do is add two layers to the Layers Panel by clicking the Create A New Layer Button. I’ll name the top layer “reference” and the second layer “shirt”.

Next, I need to create a Curves Adjustment Layer in order to find the best color values for the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. I’ll do this by selecting the “reference” layer and clicking the New Adjustment Layer button. Then, select Curves.

Now, the Properties Panel will display the curves of my image. Clicking the Hand Icon will update the curve information in real-time. 

So, now when I move the Eyedropper Tool in the image, it will update me in real-time where the true highlights, mid-tones, and shadows are. The highlights are in the brightest area of the chart lines, the mid-tones are in the middle and the shadows are in the darkest areas. 

When I click on the picture with the Eyedropper Tool, notice the Anchor Point that gets dropped in the Curves Panel. This is how you know it’s a highlight color because the anchor point is in between the lightest areas of the chart lines. 

Now that I’ve determined where a good highlight color is, let’s find a good mid-tone color and shadow color. 

I’ll select the “Shirt” layer, grab my Eyedropper Tool (I), and sample in the general area where I just checked the curves on the “reference” layer. This doesn’t have to be exact, as close to the general area is fine. 

Now, I’ll click on my reference layer again and grab the Brush Tool (B). I’ll paint a small line in the corner of the picture. This will be used later with the Color Sampler Tool. 

With the highlight color done, I’ll repeat the process by sampling the mid-tones and shadows, then paint a line for both.

With the gray shirt done, now I need to repeat most of the same steps for the red jacket. I don’t need to add more layers, but I do need to add a Curves Adjustment Layer by clicking the New Adjustment Layer Button and selecting Curves

Now it’s time to find the best spots for the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows by hovering the Eyedropper Tool over the picture and taking note of the darkest and lightest spots. 

After that, I’ll grab my Eyedropper Tool (I) and sample the highlights area. I’ll go back to the picture with the gray shirt and paint a line with that color. I’ll repeat this process for the mid-tones and shadows. 

The final thing left to do for the prep work is to isolate the gray shirt so that it will be the only object to change color. 

I’ll grab the Object Selection Tool (W) and click on the shirt. 

The selection needs some refinement. I’ll click Select and Mask and use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to fix it up. The Plus and Minus buttons make it easy to add or subtract from the selection. 

The Color Sampler Tool In Action

Now that all of the prep work is completed, let’s finally take the Color Sampler Tool for a spin. 

First I’ll select the shirt layer and add a Curves Adjustment Layer to it by clicking the New Adjustment Layer Button and selecting Curves. Notice the mask for the Adjustment Layer showcases the selected shirt. 

With the Color Sampler Tool selected, I’ll click on the highlight, mid-tone, and shadow colors. Each color will display its values in the Info Panel.  

Now, I’ll click on the Curves Adjustment Layer. By pressing Shift + Control + Right Click (Win) or Shift + Command + Right Click (Mac) on each color, an Anchor Point will drop on the Red, Green, and Blue Channels. 

To confirm that I did this correctly, I just need to switch RGB to the separate Red, Green, and Blue Channels with the Drop-Down Menu. First, I’ll switch to the Red Channel.

Also, take note of the anchor points on each of the separate channels

Now the fun begins. I’m going to take the information from the Color Sampler Tool on the jacket and apply it to the shirt. Let’s start with the highlight color. 

The highest anchor point is the highlight color. Now we just have to match the numbers from the Info Panel to the numbers in the Curves Panel. I’m going to change the Output Number to the value of the red highlight color found in the #1 box. 

The anchor point drops down, indicating I’m on the right track. 

I’m going to repeat this process with the mid-tone and shadow anchor points. 

Some color-change has happened, but we still have two more channels to go. 

I’ll switch to the Green Channel and change all the anchor point colors that I need to. 

Finally, I’ll switch to the Blue Channel and do the same. 

Often times you can do everything right, but the result you get still looks off. 

To fix this, go back into each channel and tweak the mid-tones a bit as well as the shadows and highlights. There’s no right way to do this, just try to get your color to match the tone of the image. 

Here’s the final result and a unique way to use the Color Sampler Tool in Photoshop. I share the more direct method for changing clothing color in another tutorial here.

Eyedropper Tool Settings Explained 

There are only a few Eyedropper settings to mess with, but knowing what these settings do can really speed your project up. 

Sample Size 

When sampling with the Eyedropper Tool, you don’t have to just sample one pixel at a time. You can actually sample much larger areas at once. 

To change the sample size, open the Sample Size Drop Down Menu in the Options Bar

The Point Sample option will only sample the pixel you click on, and the rest of the options will sample a radius around your Eyedropper. This radius will average out the values to create one single RBG value. 

Below is an example of each sample option from Point Sample to 101 by 101 Average, taken from the exact same spot in the picture. 

It may look like the same color over and over, but let’s break out the Color Sampler Tool and look at the actual numbers.

Each sample is slightly different. It may be best to adjust your sample size up or down to find the perfect color for your project. 

In general, the 5×5 option is the best one to use for everyday use. 

Sample Setting 

If there are layers in your project that you don’t want to sample colors from, you can pick what type of layers you want to sample with the Sample Drop Down Menu

If your project only has one layer, then it doesn’t matter what is selected here. If you’re working on a big project with a bunch of adjustment layers, then you may want to select Current Layer or Current & Below.

Adjustment layers are often what mess things up when sampling colors. That’s what makes All Layers No Adjustments and Current & Below No Adjustments excellent choices in giant projects. 

Sampling Ring 

The Sampling Ring can be your best friend when using the Eyedropper Tool. 

If you can’t see the Sampling Ring, make sure it’s checked on in the Options Bar

The ring itself will display two colors: the color that is currently your Foreground Color on the bottom, and the real-time color that you will be selecting as your new Foreground Color on the top. 

So if you’re looking for the perfect color, you can preview and compare your new color at the same time with the Sampling Ring. 

For most projects, it’s best to keep the Sampling Ring checked on, but if you feel like it’s in your way, you can always check it off.

Now if you’re starting to work with the Eyedropper Tool but are running into problems, I share a simple troubleshooting guide to the Eyedropper Tool here.

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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