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Photoshop Vector Mask Tutorial (changing a car’s color)

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This tutorial will show you how to make changes to an image by using vector masks. Vector masks are just like normal masks, but use paths which gives more flexibility and control. With print work especially, you’ll notice your edges will look much smoother than any rasterized mask or erasing. This tutorial will take 30-60 minutes for most to complete.


1. Open Vector_Mask_Tutorial.psd and select your Pen Tool (P). Then select the “Paths” button and “Add to path area” button toward to top left of Photoshop. Now start tracing the car, first go around the outer edges, we’ll delete the inner areas like the headlights, and windows later.

2. This is your first pass, if you make some mistakes you can leave it and fix them later. Keep going around the outer edge of the car. If you deselect your path by mistake, click on the end with the pen tool and you will be able to continue the path. Also, if you hold the alt key handles will appear which will be needed for some areas.

3. When you reach your starting point your mask will be closed. Right click the mask and select “Create vector mask”.

4. If you hide the background layer you’ll be able to see the mask you created. Turn the background layer back on since you’ll need it for reference. Select the Pen Tool (P) again, but this time select “Subtract from path area” located towards the top. After you have it selected start going around the headlights, grill, and driver side window. We don’t want these areas to be effected by the color changes we make, so we need to remove them. Remove the non-silver areas until your mask looks like this.

5. Now you’ll add an adjustment layer which is what will control the color of the car. In the layers palette select your top layer (Silver) and then click the “Create new fill or adjustment layer” button located at the bottom of the layers palette.

6. When the Hue / Saturation menu comes up turn on “Colorize” and then click OK. You’ll notice everything is being effected, but we’ll fix that next.

7. Now hold the alt key and move the mouse between your adjustment layer and your top layer (Silver). You’ll see an icon with 2 circles appear, click and the adjustment layer will shift to the right and an arrow appears. The adjustment layer now only effects the layer below it.

8. I decided to start of with an orange car. Open up the Hue / Saturation settings again so the values can be changed. Double click the icon on the adjustment layer to bring up the menu. Then change the settings to Hue: 43, Saturation: 90, Lightness: -30.

9. Now that we have a bright orange car we can see difference between the silver and orange quite easily. Select your vector mask from the layers palette and select the Direct Selection Tool (A), make sure it’s not the Path Selection Tool. They are under the same icon. When you click your mask the points will appear. Move the points and handles until all silver areas of the car are orange. If the path is getting in the way Ctrl+H will toggle visible Extras on and off. Fix any areas of your mask as needed. You can see in the screenshot there’s a little silver above the tire which I had to fix as well as some other areas. You’ll want to zoom in when moving your points, but be sure to zoom out to 100% regularly to make sure you’re staying on track.

10. When you’re all done your mask should look like this. Hide the background layer if you want to see just your mask. (I decided to remove the orange from the stripe on the mirror and the keyhole)

11. The last step is making the logo on the front of the car show up if you have not done so already. I decided to use the brush since it’s so faint. You can draw directly on the adjustment layer. The areas you paint with black will return back to silver. Zoom in and grab a very small brush, then paint black around the logo with the Hue / Saturation Adjustment layer selected. (Ignore the 3 other adjustment layers you see in the screenshot)

There’s a lot of debate over which adjustment layer works best for changing the color of something like a car. There is no best adjustment layer, most of the time there will be a few you can choose from to get the same results. I chose Hue / Saturation for this tutorial since it’s very simple to use. My final will be shown below, but I also did a few other tests with other types of adjustment layers. The Vector_Mask_Tutorial_Finished.psd has all my Adjustment Layers.

Here’s the final for the orange car that we made in the tutorial, using a Hue / Saturation Adjustment Layer.

This one was made with a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer.

This one was made with a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer.

This last one was made with a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer and a Hue / Saturation Adjustment Layer. I will say although Hue / Saturation controls are very easy to use, they can easily wash out your image. I added the Channel Mixer to bring back some of my shadows and midtones.

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