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Custom Swatches


You can make a color table of up to 256 colors from a photograph.

This color table can then be used to create a swatch of the colors from the photograph. q

Two Uses

There are two uses for custom swatches.

Use #1

If you're doing a collage, you can use a custom swatch for choosing the colors of the type, border, and other design elements.

Use #2

If you're retouching a face, you can use the custom swatch colors for airbrushing.

Indexed Color Mode

Your photograph is in the RGB color mode.

You'll change it to the Indexed Color mode.

While the RGB mode has more than 16 million colors, the Indexed color mode has only 256.

Be sure to check off as you go along.


1) Preserve your original file.

If you haven't already done so, go to Preserve Your Original File.

2) Create a Background copy layer.

If you haven't already done so, go to Create a Background Copy Layer.

3) Go to File > Duplicate.

This will make a duplicate of your photograph.

4) Make sure the duplicate is selected.

Indexed Color Mode

5) Go to Image > Mode > Indexed Color.

You're changing the color mode of the copy, so don't be concerned about changing the color mode.

If the photograph is already in the indexed-color mode, do the following.

a) Convert it to RGB Color.

b) Convert it to Indexed Color.

6) If there are multiple layers, you'll be prompted to flatten the layers.

You're flattening the layers of the copy, so don't be concerned about flattening them.

Click OK.

The Indexed Color window will open.


7) Enter the values below in the Indexed Color window.

If you don't need 256 choices, change the value in the Colors box to a lower value, such as 64.

Indexed Color Window Choices
Palette Local (Perceptual)
Colors 256 or less
Forced None
Transparency Checked
Matte None
Dither None

More about the Indexed Color Window

The following information may be useful in the future, but not for this tutorial.

Palette Box Choices

In the Palette box, you selected Local (Perceptual).

Go to Indexed Color Window Palette Choices for descriptions of Local (Perceptual) and the other palette choices.

Forced Box Choices

In the Forced box, you selected None.

In other situations, you can use the choices in the Forced box to prevent certain colors from being changed when your photograph is converted from the RGB mode to the Indexed Color mode.


8) Go to Image > Mode > Color Table.

The Color Table window will open.


9) Go to Window > Info.

In the Color Table window, place the cursor on the color that you want to use.

Write down the RGB values that appear in the Info panel.

Eyedropper Icon

There's an eyedropper icon in the Color Table window.

It doesn't select a color, is it does elsewhere in Photoshop Elements.

Instead, when you click a color, it makes the color transparent.

The eyedropper has two uses.

Use #1 - Locate Where a Color Is

If you make a color transparent, you'll e to see where the color is located in your photograph.

Click the eyedropper icon in the Color Table window, and click a color in the table.

Click the color again to restore the color.

Use #2 - Montage

You could make a color transparent, and then place a layer under the photograph.

The new layer will appear where the color (that you made transparent) used to be located.

Saving the Color Table

10) To save the color table, Click Save.

11) The Save window appears.


Do the following.


a) Use the Save in box to browse to the the Presets folder.

Go to My Computer (XP) or Computer (Vista & Windows 7), and use this path:

The Presets folder is located on the path below.

If you can't find the folders below on your computer, go to Hidden Files & Folders.

C: > Program Files > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > Presets


a) Use the Save in box to browse to the the Presets folder.

Open Finder, and navigate using this path:

Applications > Adobe Photoshop Elements > Presets


b) Right click inside the Save window, and select New > Folder.

c) Create a new folder called Color Tables.

d) Click Open.


e) At the bottom of the Save window, enter a name for the color table.


f) Click Save.

g) The Save window will disappear.

The color table has been saved in the Color Tables folder.

The Color Table window is still open.

12) Click OK in the Color Table window.

Load the Color Table into the Color Swatches Panel

13) Open the Color Swatches panel in the panel bin.

If the Color Swatches panel isn't present, go to Window > Color Swatches.

14) Click the icon in the top-right corner of the Color Swatches panel.


15) Click Replace Swatches.


16) At the bottom of the Load window, change the file type from .aco to .act.


17) Use the Look in box to browse to the the Presets folder, and then to the Color Tables folder that you created above.

Use one of the pathways below.


C: > Program Files > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > Presets > Color Tables


Applications > Adobe Photoshop Elements > Presets > Color Tables

18) Select the color table you created.


18) Click Load.


The color table will open in the Color Swatches panel.


19) Close and don't save the copy of the original photograph.

20) Return to the original photograph and use the colors in your custom color swatch.

Save Using the Color Swatch Extension

Above, you made a new Presets folder called Color Tables.

You saved the color table to this folder.

The color table file has the extension .act.

You can save the file in the Color Swatches folder in Presets.

This may be a more easily accessible location.

You must rename the file with the color swatch file extension of .aco.

You can't create the file with the .aco extension, but you can rename it later.

The new color table won't appear in the Color Swatches panel menu until you restart Photoshop Elements.