Photoshop Replace Color Not Working? 4 Reasons WHY

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The Replace Color tool is one of the more complex tools in Photoshop, meaning that it can be hard to troubleshoot issues that come up with color replacement.

In this article, we discuss the instances where the Replace Color tool is not working at all, or it is not working properly, and how to fix it.


photoshop replace color not working
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How to Fix the Photoshop Replace Color Tool Not Working

To fix the Replace Color Tool, ensure that you don’t have a pixel lock or full lock on the layer by clicking on the padlock symbol next to the layer in the layers palette. Replace Color will also not work on a Smart Object, which should be rasterized, and does not work well with unsaturated or black and white images.


1. Make Sure that the Layer isn’t Completely Locked

You should be able to find the Replace Color tool in the Image Menu, then select Adjustments, and from there, you will find Replace Color near the bottom of the Drop-Down Menu.

replace color tool

If you cannot get to this menu because the Adjustments is grayed out, this is likely to be because you are attempting to use a locked layer.

grayed out adjustments in photoshop

When you open an image in Photoshop, the background layer is locked by default. But, if you look closely, it is not completely locked.

photoshop locked layer

As you can see, the background layer has three out of four possible locks on it. The only thing that is not locked is the image pixels. When the layer is locked in this manner, Replace Color should work.

But if the layer is completely locked, or it has the pixels locked, the Replace Color won’t work.

That is because the lock prevents any changes to the pixels of the photo, and Replace Color needs to be able to change the pixels in order to work.

replace color doesn't work with locked layers

In order to fix this, simply remove the locks by either pressing the Lock Icon on the Layer, or press the Lock Icon or the Brush Icon (whichever is turned on) in the Lock Menu within the layers palette. 


2. Replace Color Won’t Work on a Smart Object

Smart Objects are a cool option in Photoshop as they convert the layers into a non-destructive document that can still be edited within your image file.

But, by doing so, some options and tools don’t work anymore. The Replace Color is one of them. When you have a Smart Object selected, the Replace Color will be grayed out.

replace color grayed out

All you need to do to fix this is to convert the Smart Object back to a regular layer.

If you want to know which layer is a Smart Object, look for this Icon on the Layer Thumbnail.

smart object thumbnail

To convert a Smart Object back to a Regular Layer, you can Right-Click the layer and then choose Rasterize Layer.

rasterize layer

You can do the same thing by going to the Layer Menu, then to Smart Object, and from there, choose Rasterize.

smart object rasterize

3. Color Replacement Won’t Work If You Have a Hidden Selection

Make sure you do not have a hidden selection active. Sometimes when you are using the Patch Tool, or any selection tool, you can create a small selection that won’t be noticeable, and the Replace Color Tool won’t work. 

Technically, it will work, but within that small selection that you have accidentally made, so that you might not notice it.

small selection

To fix this, all you need to do is to Deselect.

You can do this by using the shortcut Ctrl/Cmd+D or simply select any selection tool, and right-click on the image window, then choose the Deselect Option.

deselect to make color replacement work

The Replace Color should now work properly.


4. Replace Color Does Not Work Well with Desaturated Colors or Black or White

The tool is designed in a manner so you can change a color on an image quickly.

That design comes with a flaw, where it does not have a significant impact on colors that are not saturated enough or if you are trying to colorize black or white

colorize black and white

Black will remain black, and white will remain white, with only the Lightness slider having any real effect on the image.

black and white image with replace color

Changing either of the hue and saturation sliders has no effect on the image.

replace color is not working with black and white

But changing the Ligthness does have an effect. This is how you know that the Replace Color tool is working correctly. Unfortunately, there is no way around this, although applying a tint to your image will give you some control over color replacement.

color replacement not working

Final Thoughts on the Replace Color Tool Not Working Correctly

The Replace Color tool is largely fixable, but deliberately will not work if you have a pure black and white image.

Before trying anything else, you should check:

  • Your layer isn’t completely locked
  • You’re not using a Smart Object
  • You do not have a hidden selection

If you have a pure black and white image, you can try other options such as creating a Fill Layer of a solid color and using Blending Modes to add that color in to your image.

You could also combine this with selection tools like the Magic Wand to apply a new solid color fill layer to only a selection of your image.

Ultimately though, this may come down to painting in a new color by hand.


Free Photoshop Tutorials:

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Follow Andjela Cvetkovikj:

I’m a professional photographer and experienced content writer who enjoys sharing engaging and informative content.

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