How to Create a Photoshop Color Effect Action

What You’ll Be Creating

Photoshop actions really help when we need something done quickly and accurately, turning hours of work into a simple click or two. We can create color effects for pictures just like this tutorial and apply the same effect to any other image in seconds. That is what I love about Photoshop actions, and that is why I like to teach you how to create them.

Tutorial Asset

The following asset was used during this tutorial:

  • Old 20s Car Image

1. How to Create the Action

Step 1

Open your image in Photoshop. I will use an image of an old 20s car that I resized to 2000 x 2997 px. I recommend using an image of a similar size.

Before you start recording the action, make sure that the image is not locked as a Background image. Double-click on it and rename the layer to whatever name you want to unlock the layer.

Go to Window > Actions to open the Actions panel. Then click on Create new set and name it My Photo effects. After that, click on Create new action and name it Color Gradient Action

Creating a new Photoshop Action

Step 2

Now Photoshop is recording the actions you make. Keep an eye on the Actions panel. You can delete any mistake by selecting the step and clicking on the trash bin icon.

Rename the image layer to Base Image. Then press Control-J to duplicate it. After that, rename the copy to Contour Lines

Duplicating and renaming the layers

Step 3

Now right-click on the Contour Lines layer and choose Convert to Smart Object. Then go to Filter > Stylize > Oil Paint and apply these settings:

  • Stylization: 1.1
  • Cleanliness: 0.6
  • Scale: 0.1
  • Bristle Detail: 0.0
  • Lighting: Disabled
Oil Paint Settings

Step 4

Convert the layer to Smart Object again and apply another Oil Paint filter with these settings:

  • Stylization: 1.3
  • Cleanliness: 0.0
  • Scale: 0.1
  • Bristle Detail: 0.0
  • Lighting: Disabled
Second Oil Paint settings

Step 5

Now go to Filter > Filter Gallery and choose Glowing Edges, which is inside the Stylize folder. Use these settings:

  • Edge Width: 1
  • Edge Brightness: 7
  • Smoothness: 3
Glowing edges filter settings

Step 6

Now double-click on the Contour Lines layer to open the Layer Style window. For the Blend If options, leave Gray selected and move the right slider of This Layer to 98. After that, hold Alt and drag the right side of the same slider to 248. Doing that will split the slider in two.

Right now it’s hard to see what Blend If is doing, but don’t worry—I will come back to it later.

After that, click OK to close the Layer Style window.

Blend if settings

Step 7

Change the Foreground Color to #ffffff and the Background Color to #000000.

Changing the foreground and background colors

Step 8

Go to Filter > Filter Gallery and this time choose Neon Glow, which is inside the Artistic folder. Use these settings:

  • Glow Size: 24
  • Glow Brightness: 4
  • Glow Color: #000000

Your image will look like a drawing on the preview, but it will kind of disappear on the document, and that’s normal. It is the Blend If removing the white of the image and leaving only the dark lines. It is hard to see with the base image active, but it is there.

Neon Glow Settings

Step 9

Now go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and use these settings:

  • Channel: RGB
  • Shadows Slider: 149
  • Midtones Slider: 2.72
  • Highlights Slider: 255
Levels settings

Step 10

Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves and use these settings:

  • Channel: RGB
  • First Point Output: Input: 0
  • Second Point Output: 79 Input: 60
  • Third Point Output: 181 Input: 199
  • Fourth Point Output: 255 Input: 255

All these filters are hard to see at this point, but they’ll make a difference later.

Curves settings

Step 11

Now go to the Layers panel again and convert the Contour Lines layer to a Smart Object. This layer now has a transparent background. At the end of this tutorial I will show you why that happened.

Converting the contour lines layer to a smart object

Step 12

Select the Base Image layer and convert it to a Smart Object too. After that, go to Filter > Stylize > Oil Paint and use these settings:

  • Stylization: 1.3
  • Cleanliness: 0.0
  • Scale: 0.1
  • Bristle Detail: 0.0
  • Lighting: Disabled

All the filters we are applying are nondestructive and can be edited after the action is complete. Some people don’t like the effect of Oil Paint—that’s OK because you can make it weaker or completely turn it off later. 

Applying an oil paint effect to the base image

Step 13

Go to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen and use these settings:

  • Amount: 100%
  • Radius: 0.6 px
  • Reduce Noise: 0%
  • Remove: Lens Blur
Smart Sharpen settings

Step 14

Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map. Name it Gradient Map 01 and check the Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask checkbox. 

Creating a new Gradient Map

Step 15

Double-click on the thumbnail of Gradient Map 01 to open the Properties panel. Check the Dither checkbox and click on the gradient bar to open the Gradient Editor. We are going to create a new gradient.

Opening the Gradient Editor

Step 16

Look at the gradient bar of the Gradient Editor, and you’ll see some sliders that you can move. The sliders above the gradient bar control the opacity; leave them both at 100%

The sliders below the gradient bar control the colors. To create a new slider, you have to click below the gradient bar where the mouse pointer turns into a pointing finger.

Understanding the Gradient Editor

Step 17

Now edit the gradient with these settings (don’t click on new):

  • First Slider Location: 2% Color: #0b005d 
  • Second Slider Location: 36% Color: #eb0d32
  • Third Slider Location: 54% Color: #1244ff
  • Fourth Slider Location: 78% Color: #ffae2e
  • Fifth Slider Location: 100% Color: #fff889

After that, click OK to close the Gradient Editor.

Creating a new Gradient

Step 18

Double-click on the Contour Lines layer to open the Layer Style window. Add an Outer Glow with these settings:

  • Blend Mode: Linear Light
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Noise: 0%
  • Color: #ffaa4f
  • Technique: Softer
  • Spread: 0%
  • Size: 46 px
  • Contour: Gaussian
  • Anti-aliased: On
  • Range: 45%
  • Jitter: 0%

Some images will need different values; you can edit them after the action is complete. Normally you will only need to change the Size and Range values.

Outer Glow Settings

Step 19

Now add a Color Overlay with these settings: 

  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Color: #ff7800
  • Opacity: 100%
Color Overlay settings

Step 20

Select the Base Image layer again and go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and use these settings:

  • Amount: 3.2%
  • Gaussian: On
  • Monochromatic: Off

Just as with all the other filters of this action, we can tweak these values later.

Adding noise to the layer

Step 21

Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and leave all the values at 0. We will not use these adjustments with this image, but it can be useful when you run the action with a different image and want to tweak the colors. There are no rules with this filter—just move the sliders until you think it looks good. Just remember that these sliders will not change the colors of the Gradient Map; they will change the colors of the original image.

Hue and Saturation values

Step 22

Now go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast and leave all the values at 0 too. Here I like to use the Legacy mode on my images, but it is up to you if you want it on or off. Just like Hue/Saturation, we will only need this filter with some images. 

Brightness and Contrast values

Step 23

Double-click on the Base Image layer to open the Layer Style panel. Add a Stroke with these settings:

  • Size: 29
  • Position: Inside
  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Overprint: Off
  • Fill Type: Color
  • Color: #ff1623
Layer Stroke settings

Step 24

Now select the Base Image layer and change its name to Base-Image. Then do that for The Gradient Map 01 and Contour Lines layers too. That is important because it makes it possible to run the action multiple times in the same document. Without this change, the action would change the values of existing layers with the same name.

This is what the layers should look like:

  • Contour-Lines
  • Gradient-Map-01
  • Base-Image
How the layers should look like

Step 25

Go to the Actions panel and click on Stop/Playing Recording.

Stopping the recording

Here’s how it should look:

Color Effect Final Result

2. How to Play the Action and Edit the Result

Step 1

Choose an image you like and open it with Photoshop. After that, go to the Actions panel and select the Color Gradient Effect action. Then, click on Play to apply the effect to the image.

Playing the action

Step 2

After the action finishes, you will have all the layers and filters that we created before. Now you can edit them as you like. I will show you how to edit the Noise filter, but all the other filters work the same way, including the filters on the Contour-Lines layer.

Double-click on the Add Noise filter on the Base-Image layer. Then change the value to any amount you want. 

Editing the filters

You can also hide any effect that you don’t want by clicking on the eye in front of it.

Step 3

Now I will show you how to edit the Gradient Map. 

Repeat step 15 of this tutorial to open the Gradient Editor. Now you can create your own gradient. What you need to know here is that the colors on the left side of the gradient bar control the shadows, the colors in the center control the midtones, and the colors on the right side control the highlights. So if you place a light color on the left side of the gradient bar, the shadows will have that color.

Here is an example of a gradient that you can create. Note that I changed the colors of the Contour-Lines layer and removed the Stroke filter of the Base-Image layer:

Alternative final result

You can see that the combinations of Gradient Map with the Contour Lines layer are endless.

Step 4

Double-click on the thumbnail of the Contour-Lines layer to edit its contents. I will show you how Blend If works in this action.

When you open the Contour-Lines layer, you will finally see how it looks. It is a transparent layer with only the contour of the objects on it. The transparent part is coming from the Blend If settings that we did before. 

Contour Lines layer with a transparent background

Double-click on the Contour Lines layer to open the Layer Style panel. Now drag the first white slider of This Layer all the way to 255. You will see that the white part of the image comes back.

Change the blend if value

Blend If hides the light or dark areas of the image. If you drag the dark sliders to the right, only the dark parts of the image will be hidden. Splitting the sliders into two makes the transition of transparent to color areas smoother.

When you convert a layer that has those Blend If settings on it to a Smart Object, the result is a layer that behaves like a PNG image with transparency, allowing us to work only with the visible part, and not the whole image. That is how the Contour-Lines layer works in this action.

Remember that we used the This Layer sliders and the Gray channel for this tutorial. 

Congratulations. You Did It!

In this tutorial, we created a color gradient effect Photoshop action. We started by creating a contour of the objects with the Blend If option. After that, we applied a colorful gradient map to the whole image and a layer style to the contours. Then we added some adjustment filters and finished the action. Now you can apply the effect to any image with a single click and customize it as you like.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. Feel free to leave your comments below.

Don’t forget to check Color Gradient Photoshop Action on GraphicRiver.

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