The Foreground and
Background Colors

The Foreground and Background Colors affect several tools in Photoshop Elements.

They also have some quirky behavior that we'll explore in this tutorial.




Click on the video below to see all the ins and outs of the Foreground and Background Colors.

Under the video is an illustrated guide showing how to use the Foreground and Background Colors in Photoshop Elements.















As promised in the video, here's a link to my video about the Color Picker:

How to use the Color Picker










The Illustrated Guide To Using The Foreground And Background Colors


Location And What Everything Is.

The Foreground and Background Colors are located at the bottom of the Toolbox. They are those two overlapping squares.

The one on the top (the black one) is the Foreground Color and the square below it (the white one) is the Background Color.



There's this double-headed curved arrow which you can click on to switch the Foreground and Background Colors.

You can also press the letter "X" on your keyboard to switch the Colors.

Clicking the double-headed arrow will switch the colors.


There's also this tiny icon of overlapping squares which you can click on to restore the Foreground and Background Colors to their default colors of black for the Foreground Color and white for the Background Color.

Or you can press the letter "d" on your keyboard to restore the Foreground and Background Colors to their default colors.

Clicking the tiny squares will reset the Colors to their default.






How To Change The Foreground And Background Colors.

You can change the colors of the Foreground and Background Colors by clicking on the one that you want to change.

Let's say we want to change the Foreground Color. You would place your cursor right over the Foreground Color square and click once.



Once you click on the Foreground Color the Color Picker box will appear. You can use the Color Picker to change the Foreground Color to whatever color you want.

In this example I'm going to change it to red. So I would choose red in the Color Picker and then click OK to close the Color Picker and accept the change.

After choosing the color you want from the Color Picker, click OK to close the box.


Now the Foreground is set to red.



You can change the Background Color the same way.

Place your cursor right over the Background Color square and click once.



Once you click on the Background Color the Color Picker box will appear. Now you can use the Color Picker to change the Background Color to whatever color you want.

In this example I'm going to change it to blue. So I would choose blue in the Color Picker and then click OK to close the Color Picker and accept the change.



Now the Background Color is set to blue.






How Photoshop Elements Uses The Foreground Color.

The Foreground Color determines the color of the drawing tools like the Brush tool, the Paint Bucket tool, and the Pencil tool.

To demonstrate let's make the Brush tool active by clicking on it in the Toolbox.

Click on the Brush tool in the Toolbox to make it active.


Now if you click-and-drag over your photo with the Brush tool it will paint with our new Foreground Color which is red.

The Brush tool uses our current Foreground Color (red).


The Foreground Color also dictates the color of shapes drawn using the Custom Shape tool.

Let's make the Custom Shape tool active by clicking on it in the Toolbox.

Click on the Custom Shape tool in the Toolbox to make it active.


When you click-and-drag over your photo with the Custom Shape tool it will use our new Foreground Color of red to make the Shape.

Because we changed our Foreground Color to red, any shape we draw using the Custom Shape tool will be that red color like the heart shape above.


As stated earlier there are a couple of other tools that also use the Foreground Color for example the Paint Bucket tool and the Type tool.






How Photoshop Elements Uses The Background Color.

Now let's look at what the Background Color affects.

The Background Color is what's used by the Eraser tool when you erase with it on the Background Layer.

However if you use the Eraser tool on a regular layer it doesn't use the Background Color, it just erases to transparent.

To demonstrate I'm going to duplicate the Background Layer by pressing Command-J on a Mac or it would be Control-J on a PC.

Now in the Layers panel we have an exact duplicate of the Background Layer and it's named Layer 1 by default.

After pressing Command-J on a Mac or Control-J on a PC we have and exact duplicate of the Background Layer (outlined in red above) named "Layer 1"


Now I'll make the Eraser tool active by clicking on it in the Toolbox.

Click on the Eraser tool in the Toolbox to make it active.


I want to erase on the Background Layer so I'll make it the active layer by clicking on it in the Layers panel.

Make the Background Layer active by clicking on it in the Layers panel.


I need to hide the visibility of Layer 1 because it's on top of the Background Layer and covering it up so we wont be able to see the effects that the Eraser tool has on the Background Layer.

To turn off the visibility of Layer 1 all we have to do is click on its Eye in the Layers panel.

Once you do that you can tell that Layer 1's visibility is off by the red diagonal line going through its Eye.

The red diagonal line going through the eye (circled in black above) indicates that the visibility of Layer 1 is "off".


Now I'll use the Eraser tool on the Background Layer by clicking-and-dragging with it in the Active Image Area.

When I do that it erases the pixels of my photo and replaces them with the Background Color which we changed to blue.

When you use the Eraser tool on the Background Layer it erases the pixels of the photo and replaces them with the Background Color.


Now I'm going to make Layer 1 visible again by clicking on its Eye in the Layers panel.

When I do the red diagonal line that was over the eye disappears to indicate that it's no longer being hidden.

After clicking on the Eye for Layer 1 the red diagonal line goes away indicating that the visibility for Layer 1 is turned on.


Next I'm going to click on Layer 1 to make it the active layer. And I'll erase on this Layer by clicking-and-dragging diagonally just like we did when the Background Layer was active.



But we don't see any change in the Active Image Area. That's because we're seeing through Layer 1 to the Background Layer.

To see the results of erasing on Layer 1 I'll turn off the visibility of the Background Layer by clicking on its Eye in the Layers panel.

When I do that we see a red diagonal line over the Eye of the Background Layer indicating that its visibility is off.



Now we can see the results of using the Eraser on Layer 1 (which is a regular layer). Instead of seeing our Background Color of blue like we did when we used the Eraser on the Background Layer, we see a gray and white checkerboard pattern which is Photoshop Elements way of representing transparency.

The gray and white checkerboard pattern is the area that I erased on Layer 1.


So here's the takeaway:

  • If you erase on a regular layer like Layer 1 it erases to transparency.
  • But if you erase on the Background Layer of a photo it erases to whatever the Background Color is set to.

One other way that Photoshop Elements uses the Background Color is by filling any new canvas area that you add to your image.

When you open a photo in Photoshop Elements the image is on what is referred to as the canvas.

By default the canvas is the same exact dimensions as the photo so you don't normally see the canvas.

But you can add to the canvas area of an image or in other words you can expand the canvas size so that it's larger than your photo.

To change the size of your canvas start by going up to the Image menu and choose Resize>Canvas Size... by clicking on it.

Click on Canvas Size... located under the Image menu.


That will open the Canvas Size dialog box.

The Canvas Size dialog box.


Notice at the bottom of the dialog box there's a field called "Canvas extension color".

That field defaults to whatever your Background Color is. And because we changed our Background Color to blue it shows a blue swatch next to the field.

That tells Elements to make any added canvas the same color as our Background Color.

The Canvas extension color defaults to the current Background Color.

For our example I'm going to add ten inches to our canvas size and I'm going to leave the Anchor grid at its default setting which will add half of the ten inches to each side of the canvas.

To do that I will make the size in the Width field ten inches bigger than it currently is and then click OK to close the dialog box and accept the change.

After entering your new size, click OK.


Now we can see the new canvas area that's been added to our photo.



You can also change the Foreground and Background Colors by using the Color Picker tool.

To do that click on the Color Picker tool in the Toolbox to make it active.

The Color Picker tool looks like an eyedropper and was actually called the Eyedropper tool in older versions of PSE.


With the Color Picker tool you can click anywhere in your photo and whatever color you click over becomes the Foreground Color.

To illustrate I'll click on this purple bottle.



Now my Foreground Color has changed to the purple color that I clicked on.



You can also use this tool to choose your Background Color from the photo. But to change the Background Color you have to hold down the Option key on a Mac or it would be the Alt key on a PC as you click.

I'll press and hold the Option key since I'm on a Mac and then click on this green leaf.



Now my Background Color has changed to the green color that I clicked on.



That wraps up this Photoshop Elements tutorial on how to use the Foreground and Background Color.

Until next time,
Rick Peterson


 Go from FG and BG Colors to Photoshop Elements - Home page

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