Jun 15, 2005

Photoshop Canvas Color Tip

Ok, so what does Independence Pass (elevation 12,095 feet) have to do with Photoshop? Well, nothing, except that it is the image I chose to use to show you this nifty tip.

Have you ever wished that the canvas color (the area behind your document window) could be a different color? There’s a way and it’s been in Photoshop since version 4.0. If you’ve never heard this before, read on. . .

Normally, many users simply work in Photoshop with a standard document window as shown above.

When you reduce the size of your image or expand the document window, you’ll see the canvas inside your doc window but outside of your image. Often this canvas color is not as useful as it could be. That’s why the Photoshop engineers put in this little documented method of changing the color. Note, this works in all versions of Photoshop since 4.0 and on both Mac and Windows.

First, on the Photoshop tool bar, set your foreground color to the color and tone you wish in the canvas.

I’ll often set the color to be a neutral 50% gray rather than the 70% or so tone that is Photoshop’s default.

The next step is to select the Paint Bucket Tool as your active tool.

Next, with the document window expanded to reveal the canvas, use the Paint Bucket Tool, while holding the shift key (this is a crucial command) and click in the canvas.

As soon as you click, the canvas will become the color you’ve selected as the foreground color. Note, this is an app preference, so it’s not undoable.

There are other useful purposes for changing the canvas color–say you need to color and tone correct an image that will be set against paper white. It’s useful to view the tone & color against a tone that will give you a perceptual match to the paper. Also, if your image is to be reproduced against a strong color, you can choose to make the canvas the color that will be reproduced next to your image.

You can also use this new found tip to “play” with friends and co-workers. When nobody is looking, slip into Photoshop, choose a really nasty color, change the canvas and then close the image. They won’t have a clue what you’ve done-and unless they know the trick, they’ll have no idea what’s wrong! But don’t be mean about it. . .you can tell them how to “fix” their obvious problem. I’ve actually won bets (minor things like a free beer) that I could “fix” Photoshop.

Now, about the image I’ve used for this tip. I shot this on a motorcycle trip in June a couple of years ago while riding back to Chicago from a trip to LA.

This particular route, OVER A FRIGGIN’ MOUNTAIN in Colorado, was not my idea.

Click on the image to see larger sized image in a new window.

I generally don’t like RIDING IN THE SNOW, but my riding buddy, Carl Corey (of decided that this route looked “nice”. Fortunately, the tempurature wasn’t cold enough for the snow to stick to the road, but it did feel weird (and rather cold) to be riding through snow in June.

6 Responses to “Photoshop Canvas Color Tip”

  1. Pierre Courtejoie Says:

    Well, I’d say that it is undoable, using the same technique, provided that one has the original values: 192, 192, 192

  2. Pierre Courtejoie Says:

    Another fun trick (but quite elaborate) for getting free beers from co-workers is to take a screen capture from Photoshop,create a new document (it will use the screen capture dimensions), pasting the screen capture.

    Now, set Photoshop to display the image at 100% magnification (double-click the zoom tool)
    Hide the palettes (tab)
    Set Photoshop in full screen mode without menu bar (F, F)
    If necessary, hide the rulers (CTRL/Command+R)

    You now have the screen capture of Photoshop filling the whole screen, without any real interface showing. Choose the path selection tool (A) to further confuse your friend. He’ll think that Photoshop is frozen. Provide help, in exchange of a fresh one :D

  3. Jonathan Wills Says:

    The use of the term “canvas” in this article is misleading. Photoshop’s canvas is the editable area of the document window, and is referred to in the Canvas Size and Rotate Canvas commands. When you increase the size of your canvas, the default canvas color is the background color in your tool palette, so you change the canvas color by changing the background color using the color picker.

    In other apps, this area is often called the artboard, but since this area is not a active area in Photoshop, that name is also a misnomer. You can make up any name you want, but don’t call it the canvas.

  4. Phosphor Says:

    Many of us on the Adobe Photoshop Forums have taken to calling that normally-gray area “the apron.”

    Seems as good a name as any, and should prevent any confusion with how we know the artboard to behave in Illustrator.

  5. John MacLean Says:


    If you’re in OS X, another funny is to use a screen shot as the “Desktop Picture”. But lewd images at work could probably get the user fired before they figure out what’s going on!

  6. Evan Says:

    I dont care what its called be it “canvas” or what ever. I was really confused when my it changed to white and couldent figure out what I did. It buged the crap out of me.

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