Color Wheels for Photoshop, Finally a Reality Thanks to Retouching Toolkit

It still boggles my mind that Adobe hasn't added color wheels to Photoshop in 2019. It's a tool loved by colorists and video editors, yet photographers are forced to rely solely on curves and sliders instead. Fortunately, the guys at Retouching Toolkit fixed Photoshop once again.

Let me start by explaining what the color wheels are for those of you who don't know, and why they are so great to use. It's an easy tool to apprehend even for people with limited color theory knowledge because it's very visual. Move the cursor towards the hue and saturation of your choice, and then adjust lightness, all the while looking at the result. Typically, video editing apps rely on three different color wheels for independent adjustments between shadows, midtones, and highlights. Some software solutions also come with a master color wheel which adjusts the overall color cast of the image. It's the case in Capture One, for example.

The powerful Color Wheels tool found in DaVinci Resolve 16

In Photoshop, similar results can be achieved using the curves or the color balance tool. However, they are not as user-friendly. Beginners are often scared by the curves, and advanced users tend to lose time when making fine adjustments by going back and forth from one channel to another. Curves do offer the advantage to be more precise by giving the chance to work on more points of the image than three luma ranges.

Curves let you define numerous points to be as precise as possible, unlike the color balance or many color wheels tools.

The best of both worlds would be to have a curve managed by a color wheel. Well, that's precisely what the Retouching Toolkit team did with the Color Wheels addon. They created an extension with color wheels to adjust curves layers! So if you are a beginner, it means that you don't need to worry about tweaking curves anymore. You can simply rely on the color wheel panel to do the daunting work for you and focus on the result. The Retouching Toolkit Color Wheels addon let you manage the color and luminosity of the shadows, midtones, and highlights independently and quickly. Because the Color Wheels addon makes a color correction and color grading so easy doesn't mean it's limited to less advanced users. It brings efficiency to anyone's workflow while simplifying it and retaining all the precision offered by curves. Unlike other color wheels tools on the market, this addon can load numerous points from a custom curve so you can work on more than three luminosity ranges. Each position is then displayed as a different color wheel.

Because the color wheels are applied as a curve adjustment layer in Photoshop, this means you can also tweak the blending mode and opacity. However, Conny Wallstrom, the mind behind this fantastic Photoshop extension, pushed things even further by offering the possibility of adjusting the strength of the curves instead of just the opacity.

Another great feature to be noted is that the wheels can be displayed in three different sizes. This way they can fit your Photoshop workspace even when retouching on a small monitor or adding more custom points. Furthermore, the wheels can be shown in both RGB and RYB.

The Color Wheels Addon for the Retouching Toolkit is available now for $59 and requires the Retouching Toolkit 3. The latter currently sells for $129, but is also available in bundles with different addons. For example, the $199 package includes the Color Wheels addon and the future Color Mapping Addon. For more information about the Retouching Toolkit, be sure to read my previous review or visit the official website.

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Dominic Deacon's picture

I started learning colouring in video apps. I could not understand when I shifted over to photoshop why they weren't used there and why no had built a decent plug in to fix that. So I had a moment of excitement when I saw this article and then I realised, I really don't need colour wheels anymore. I still think its odd that Photoshop doesn't have them but iI'm not sure they would add anything to my workflow these days.

Spy Black's picture

I'm the opposite, I came from Photoshop and couldn't get a handle on the wheels in video editors. I know these work well for some folks, so this can be a handy tool for them.

Michael Steinbach's picture

Agreed. Compuzling.

Patrick Sobottka's picture

Most of all it saves a lot of time not to have to switch between the channels all the time while color correction ;)

Conny Wallström's picture

Stealing software from small companies is a sure way to kill any future development.

David Hynes's picture

Love this so much!

Deleted Account's picture

Missing color wheels à la CaptureOne (or DaVinci Resolve) in all Adobe products…

Martin Peterdamm's picture

would be nice to have it native in photoshop, also a luma vs saturation curve and scopes and all the nice colorgrading stuff - it is all helpful and often much more intuiv to use

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I use both C1 and PS, I've used the sliders and curves so long in PS I have a better handle on sliders than wheel. But since my plan is to migrate as much as I can to C1 I force myself to use the wheels.

Joe Petolino's picture

Photoshop does have a Color Wheel of sorts. Not exactly like the one advertised here, but maybe you can get used to it if you don't want to spend $199. Open up the Color panel (Window > Color) then select Color Wheel from its menu. To use it to filter the colors of your image, add a Solid Color adjustment layer in Multiply blend mode. You can then adjust the color using either the Color Picker dialog or the Color Wheel in the Color panel. You can of course dial back the effect using the layer's Opacity slider, or confine it to a tonal range with Blend If (Underlying Layer).

Conny Wallström's picture

Hello Joe! What you are showing is a Color Picker. While technically a wheel, it's not the same thing at all. Adobe also have the Kuler that creates harmonies, but all you get out of it is color values. The Retouching Toolkit Color Wheels is to do actual corrections or grading trough curves. Have a look at the videos above.

Lance Evans's picture

if memory serves, I'm about I'm about 90% sure it does, photoshop used to have something of a color wheel many years ago. It also had something that was like a mixing palette. There've actually been a lot of things Photoshop has had and gotten rid of over the years. Especially over the early years. I can't remember them, but there were a number of plug-ins I missed after being deprecated.

Conny Wallström's picture

They had Adobe Kuler. Which was for picking colors in harmonies. It's not the same thing at all.

Anton Averin's picture

Same effect can be easily achieved with luminosity masks, and you will not have to spend 199$.