Build Your Business:

One-Click Colorization

April 18, 2016

Color editing and stylizing can be a bear of a chore to handle, consuming lots of time to achieve a customer’s desired look on a sublimation-friendly product.

Dye sublimation allows you to achieve a wide gamut of colors for photographic and personalized products. But there’s a one-click wonder you can use to save production time and maybe some frustration — with lots of options already loaded in Adobe Photoshop.

You’ve seen color tonal effects everywhere, and using Photoshop’s Color Lookup image adjustment tool is one way to achieve these looks. This layer effect is an easy, one-clickmethod to change the color of a photograph without costly plug-ins. While it became available in Photoshop CS6, the Color Lookup effect is not widely known for photo editing. It has been more commonly used by those in the video-editing industry and now is becoming more known into the photo-editing realm.

The presets available in Photoshop are known as the color lookup tables, or LUTs. They include specific directions that are computed to Photoshop on how to remap an images color scheme to instantly achieve a new look. These are inspired by the lookup tables used for movie making (see “More on Lookup Tables”).

The effect is made on an adjustment layer that allows for some further editing while being non-destructive to the original image layer. It is a file effect that changes all the colors of your image to different ones, usually applying some sort of stylized look — for example, changing all the tones to duller with a blue tint. This is just one style; there are many variations included in the settings.

Getting Started
Open an image you want to apply some color effects to in Adobe Photoshop. Save the file under another name before moving forward with any editing steps. Make sure the Layers palette is open. If it is not, then you can find this under the top menu bar: Window>Layers. Click on the Layers Effects button at the bottom of the menu. It is a circle that is half filled and half empty.

From the pop-out menu, select Color Lookup. There are three property categories listed: 3DLUT, Abstract and Device Link. Don’t be fooled by the 3-D name; this effect only remaps colors and doesn’t add any 3-D effects. To start, I’ve selected the 2Strip look for my sample  image from the 3DLUT property drop-down menu. You can see the color change when compared to the original image. Because these are layer adjustments, the amount of the effect can be varied through the layers’ Opacity and Fill boxes.

I tried the TealOrangePlusContrast.3DL from the 3DLUT file properties for a
different effect on the original image. You can see the color scheme at 100%, then I adjusted the opacity to 60%. You also can experiment with setting the layer effect for the Color Lookup. Try Multiply, Overlay or Screen and experiment with some of the others if you are familiar with them.

I also tried doubling the layer effect. I did this by simply duplicating the layer adjustment. Find it under the right-hand drop-down menu of the Layers palette, then select Duplicate Layer. While this color scheme is not what I’m looking for, you can see some of the flexibility that using Color Lookup offers for editing.

I didn’t like the extra layer effect, so to remove it, I dragged that layer adjustment to the garbage can at the bottom of the Layers menu.

Some of the effects can be combined or dialed in a bit more. You’ll notice for the most part there is not a lot of control over the color effect. I selected the Kodak 5218-Kodak 2395 effect and some additional options appeared. You typically should leave these options alone, but feel free to experiment and see what they can do.

You can get a glimpse of how changing some of the limited available settings treats your image. For example, the BGR Table Order becomes checked instead of RGB, and if you switch them and check RGB, a green and pink tint is applied across everything. When I changed the Data Order from RGB to BGR, it did the same thing to my image so I reset both of those to the suggested or automatic settings.

When I selected the Crisp_Warm.look option from the 3DLUT menu, I noticed some of the menus listed on the Properties menu changed to allow other drop-down menus to be available. When the Abstract button was active, I selected Sienna-Blue. The drop-down menu under the Device Link also was active, so I considered the AnimePalette, Smokey, TealMagenta-Gold, ColorNegative, RedBlue-Yellow options. The ColorNegative option wasn’t one of the reverse-color, crazy looks I wanted, but Smokey and AnimePalette were quite nice, fitting the color style I sought.

If you are growing your business with photo gifts or other photo-based products and dye sublimation, the Color Lookup tool in Photoshop is a valuable tool. This one-click color setting — with its many options and flexibility — will become a commonly used item in your digital toolbox.

Jennifer Foy is the creative director for Unisub and SwitchCase brands at Universal Woods Inc., a manufacturer of blanks for dye sublimation. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at or visit