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Photoshop CS5 HUD Color Pickers

One of the more useful improvements to Photoshop CS5 is the addition of the HUD (or Heads Up Display) Color Pickers. A bit of random trivia: this name was borrowed from military aviation. The idea is that vital flight information can be displayed (on a special piece of glass) directly in front of the pilot as he looks ahead of the aircraft. This way the pilot can see what’s in front of him, while rapidly glancing at the airspeed, altitude and other variables.

Similarly, in Photoshop the HUD allows us to continue looking at our document, while invoking the new color pickers, which help us define the color values we’re using without scanning the toolbar and opening a modal dialog.

Hue Strip
The Hue Strip works on the same principle as the standard Color Picker dialog, with the exception that you cannot manually enter color values. Visually, there is a strip at right for choosing the hue, and a square color ramp to the left that allows you to choose a specific shade or tint for that hue. To invoke the new HUD Color Picker (Photoshop uses the Hue Strip option by default – there is also a Hue Ring option covered below), select a painting tool like the Mixer Brush, then move the cursor over your document. You can also invoke the HUD with other brush tools selected, if need be.

The new HUD Color Picker in Photoshop CS5 (Hue Strip option)

For Mac OS, press and hold Command-Alt-Control and click the document canvas; for Windows, press Shift-Alt-right-click on the canvas.  The new color picker appears over the point you clicked. To use the color picker, release the keyboard shortcuts but keep the mouse button or stylus down. The HUD will then stay in place, so that you can move your cursor.

To change the hue value first, continue to “hold the click” and mouse over to the hue strip, then drag the slider to select your hue. After setting your hue, continue to “hold the click” and drag the cursor over to the square color ramp, then choose the shade or tint before releasing the mouse and continuing with your edits.

If you decide after choosing the shade or tint you like, that you want a slightly different hue, you can do this. Continue to hold the click, then press and hold the space bar. Once pressed you can move the cursor back to the Hue Strip, without moving the selected point on the ramp. You can go back and forth using this method as many times as you like.

When finished just release your mouse button or pick up the stylus to continue with your edits.

The HUD "Hue Ring"

Hue Ring

The new HUD feature also provides access to a Hue Ring color picker. Although it uses the same shortcuts and process, the Ring can make it easier to choose a precise hue because it expands the color spectrum over a larger area. Essentially, it provides a more subtle gradation between each primary and secondary hue.

To use the Hue Ring instead of the default Hue Strip, open Photoshop’s preferences by pressing Command-K (Mac OS) or Control-K (Windows). Under the HUD Color Picker, choose from the three sizes of Hue Ring. Medium usually works well for most purposes unless you have a very small screen. The Hue Wheel (Medium) is shown above; note the size relative to the toolbar. Once you get used to the new HUD Color Picker, you won’t need to use the old dialog in many cases, except when manually entering color values.

If you’re upgrading to Photoshop CS6, there are even more ways to streamline your photography workflow with the new Properties panel. You can read about additional efficiency gains in Photoshop CS6 at Peachpit.com.

About Dan Moughamian (37 Articles)
Dan Moughamian is an experienced photographer and educator, and has worked with Adobe Photoshop since the early 1990s. He also has extensive experience with Photoshop Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, plugins from Nik software, and many other digital imaging products. As an educator, Dan's focus is to help photographers at all levels get the most from their digital workflows.

3 Comments on Photoshop CS5 HUD Color Pickers

  1. Boris // 19/03/2012 at 3:24 am //

    Shift-Alt-right-click does not work on my Windows computer. Not sure why. Otherwise keyboard and mouse are OK. Is it possible to find the hue wheel in the menue?
    Thanks in advance for the help.

  2. This HUD color picker would be amazing if it didn’t take longer to press the INSANE comand keys than opening the old color picker. Why does Adobe can’t just improve the custom key configurations so we can configure the useful stuff instead of being able to configure hundreds of useless ones and none of the ones we actually need to change?

  3. Dan M. // 09/08/2013 at 5:02 am //

    Hi. For Windows folks it might be worth dropping a line to Adobe and request a simpler shortcut / easier to find shortcut for this feature. I don’t blame you guys for being frustrated. Even Cmd-Opt-Control on Mac isn’t great, but at least the keys are all together in one place. 🙂


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