How to use the Sponge Tool to add and remove colour in Photoshop


*Updated in November 2016 to reflect changes in Photoshop CC interface. The Sponge tool works in the same way in previous versions of Photoshop too.*

The Sponge Tool is one of Photoshop’s image retouching tools. It lets you increase the intensity of a colour (saturation) or decrease the amount of colour (desaturate) until it starts to lose all colour and becomes grey scale. The tool works as a brush, which means we can change the tip shape and size. As well as dramatically adding or reducing colour, it’s also a handy little tool for making small subtle saturation changes to specific areas of an image.

Saturating Colour In Photoshop

Let’s take a look at how to add (saturate) colour first.  I’m using a photo of a basket of flowers by photographer Annie Spratt. You can download it from Unsplash and use the photo for free. Or follow along with one of your own pictures.

1. Open the image in Photoshop.

2. Make a duplicate of the image on a new layer (just in case of accidents). Press Cmd + J (Mac) or Ctrl + J (Windows) to make a duplicate layer.basket-of-flowers-with-duplicate-layer

3.Select the Sponge tool (O) Sponge-Tool-Photoshop.

Note that it will probably be hidden under the Dodge tool.

dodge-burn-sponge-tools photoshop

4. On the tool options bar at the top of the screen, do the following:

  • Select a large soft brush, from the Brush pop-up palette. If you’re using the same image as me, I set my brush size to 100 pixels.
  • Choose Mode > Saturate. (Saturate increases the intensity of a colour, Desaturate decreases the intensity of a colour
  • For Flow , enter 75% for starters – if the changes are happening too rapidly, then decrease the flow. 100% adds a maximum amount of colour saturation, lower percentages saturate colours less.
    saturate-tool-options photoshop

5. Make sure you’ve selected the duplicate layer, then drag the Sponge tool in a circular motion so that you are painting on top of an area of the image. The more you drag over an area, the more saturated the colour becomes. In the image I’m using, I’ve painted over the two peach roses and the petals are starting to look much more colourful. See below. If you keep painting over the same area, you’ll see that the colours become over saturated and the colours look strange as has happened with the peach rose on the left. It looks unnatural now – but that’s ok for demonstration purposes 🙂


Desaturating Colour In Photoshop

Ok, so let’s say you want to suck some colour of a photo. We stick with the Sponge Tool but make a simple but important change to one of the options in the Tools Options bar at the top.

1. Just set the mode to Desaturate in the tool options bar.
desaturate-tool-options photoshop

2. Paint over the area that you want to remove colour from. In this case, I’m painting over the two pink roses at the front of the basket. The more I paint over the same area, the more grey it becomes.

3.To compare the before and after work you’ve done with the Sponge tool, toggle on and off the visibility of your duplicate layer. Your original layer should be untouched underneath.

I hope you found this short article on the Sponge Tool useful. Please share it using the sharing tools below. Thanks!