TK8: Color grading with masks

Color grading is the process of adding color to an image beyond the normal or natural color balance that existed when the photograph was taken. It has traditionally been used in films to impart a specific mood, like the color green that signaled the characters were inside the matrix in the “The Matrix” movie franchise. Photographs, however, can also benefit from color grading, and have actually been doing so for a long time. Things like warming up the colors for images taken around sunset and adding extra blue to images of ice and snow are common examples.

“Morpheus” from The Matrix movies. Notice how the green color grading lets viewers know he is inside the matrix. Image copyrighted by Warner Brothers.

Lightroom and Camera Raw added color-wheel-based color grading in 2020. Color grading an image could now be accomplished by simply dragging and dropping an icon on the color wheel to add that color to either the shadows, midtones, or highlights.

Camera Raw color grading interface.

Photoshop, however, still lacks a similar feature. Curves, Levels, or Color Balance adjustments layers can be used for color grading, but doing so requires using multiple points on the Curves adjustment layer or adjusting multiple sliders on Levels and Color Balance. There is no native, drag-and-drop color grading tool inside Photoshop.

The TK8 plugin now adds color-wheel-based color grading to Photoshop. Shadows, midtones, and highlights can all be adjusted by simply dragging and dropping a matching icon (black, gray, or white square) on the color wheel. The further the square is placed from the center of the color wheel, the more intense the color. In addition to changing colors, the brightness of the different tonal ranges can also be adjusted with the slider at the bottom of the interface.

TK8 color grading interface.

Using a color wheel greatly simplifies the color-grading process. Multiple colors and intensities can quickly be tested to find the right one. And while it’s certainly possible to color grade the entire image using the TK8 color grading interface, the real power of this feature lies in combining it with the different masks that the TK8 Multi-Mask module generates. Color grading has traditionally been associated with more global color adjustments to the image, but the TK8 masks allows it to be more specific and localized, while still providing the easy control that comes with the color-wheel interface. There’s even a specific color grading button in the module’s output section to a) automatically create the necessary color grading layer with the mask preview as the layer mask, and b) open the color grading interface to allow quick access to this functionality.

Red outline shows the color grading output button.

Color grading through masks also simplifies the entire color grading process. When color grading the entire image, it might be necessary to color grade all three tonal ranges—highlights, midtones, and shadows—to get the desired look. However, when color grading through a mask, it’s often NOT necessary to use all three tonal ranges. Simply color grading the midtones, for example, might be all that’s necessary to achieve the effect you’re looking for.

In the video below, Dave Kelly demonstrates how to combine color grading with different pixel-based masks generated with the TK8 Multi-Mask plugin. He first demonstrates color grading the entire image, but then starts narrowing it down, color grading the background separately. He then goes even further to work with luminosity masks, zone masks, and color masks as ways to constrain color grading to specific parts of the image. He even throws in using the mask calculator in the Multi-Mask module as a way to focus color grading right where it’s needed.

Color-wheel-based color grading provides a new option for controlling color inside Photoshop. Combining it with masks can make color adjustments even easier.

Be sure to subscribe to Dave Kelly’s YouTube channel for more TK8 videos.

Personalizing TK8

Over the years I’ve received several suggestions on ways users want to customize their Photoshop panels in order to find their favorite features more easily. I liked these ideas and incorporated most of them. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how doing so definitely makes modules like Combo and Cx easier to use both in terms of finding the things I use most and also finding my way around these modules in general. If you’ve not already done so, I suggest trying some of the things listed below. In the video at the end of this blog, Dave Kelly demonstrates how to access and set up many of the customization options in more detail.

The preferences interface is the place to start personalizing TK8. It’s accessed via the “TK” button on the main interface of each module. For example, in the Combo module’s preferences shown below, the color saturation of the buttons throughout the panel can be set with the “Button Color” slider (green box) and the user interface language can be set with the language buttons (red box).

Other options here include whether or not you want tooltips to show all the time. Unchecking the “Show tooltips” checkbox once you know your way around TK8 turns off the “always-on” tooltips, but still allows you to access them by holding down the “ALT” key on Windows or the “option” key on Mac.

Whether or not to uncheck “Close TK ►” and “Close User ►” checkboxes is best explained in Dave Kelly’s video below. Unchecking these provides a method to better utilize both the Combo and Cx modules at the same time.

Beyond the preferences section for each module, there are two other customization pathways.

  • Color-tagging–Buttons, TK actions, and User actions can all be highlighted to make your favorites more visible. This can be particularly useful for creating your personal roadmap for the main user interface on the Combo and Cx modules. Once you tag your favorite buttons with a brighter color, you’ll likely use them more frequently. They’ll also serve as guideposts for finding other less-frequently used button on the module. So definitely color-tag your favorite buttons and actions as it makes the Combo and Cx modules more user-friendly.
  • Personal actions–Button actions, the Instant Action, and User actions are all places where each user can insert their own favorite personal actions into the Combo and Cx modules. The new method for adding personal actions in TK8 is very easy, so there’s no reason not to give it a try. The buttons outlined in red below can all be reprogrammed and renamed to run personal actions, and once again, Dave Kelly shows how to do it in the video. Even more, Dave also shows the method for adding ANY menu item to the panel as a personal action.

There are a couple of important things to know about personal actions. They are added from actions already recorded in Photoshop’s regular Actions panel. For button actions, you want to give these actions short names so that the name fits on the button it’s assigned to. Usually three to five characters depending on the width of the button. However, you can also use two words. The two words will “wrap” on the button and still fit with one word above the other. So, if you’re actions have long names, it’s best to rename them in Photoshop’s Actions panel before adding them to the Combo and Cx modules. This is easily done by double-clicking the action’s name on the Actions panel. Also, for any action that will be added to the module, avoid special characters in the name. Action names consisting of letters and numbers only are best to insure that the actions run properly when added to the module.

I think you’ll enjoy the video below. Dave Kelly does a nice job of demonstrating how to personalize TK8 in order to get the most out of it.

TK8: New features list and videos

As mentioned in the previous post, launching the TK8 plugin encountered some major issues. They have been taken care of now and the sales page and download server are working properly. Thank you for your patience during this unfortunate event. I’m staying caught up on email for the most part now and the feedback has been mostly positive. I’m happy to hear that the transition from TK7 was straightforward for most users and that the interface, especially the Multi-Mask module, is easier to navigate. As a reminder, the discount codes sent to previous customers are good until October 22, and there is also a site-wide 25% discount on everything using the code: TK25off

There are a lot of new and improved features in TK8. I wanted to take it well beyond what TK7 offered. I know no one will use ALL the buttons and functions in TK8, but hopefully there will be enough favorites for everyone to make the plugin an important tool in their Photoshop workflow.

It would nearly impossible to cover all the new features in detail in one blog post, but I did want to provide a list so readers have an idea of what to look for and what to expect. Below this list are several videos (in different languages) that review some of the new features.

All modules

  • Tooltips are persistent unless turned off, but even turned off, holding down the “ALT” key on Windows or the “option” key on Mac displays them when moving the mouse over a button.
  • New selection indicators are more prominent, easier to see, and less likely to be overlooked.
  • Improved error message alerts for when user does something that could cause an unexpected result, and these are now translated into different languages.
  • More icons/fewer words.

Multi-Mask module (replaces TK7 Go and RapidMask modules)

  • New smart-phone-like interface for accessing different types of masks and functions.
  • Color-wheel-based color grading (like in Camera Raw).
  • Edge masks that find edges in the image.
  • Edit selections as masks.
  • Workflow extras which include sketch actions and gradient actions.
  • One-click add-adjustment-layer buttons at the bottom of the main interface for quickly making favorite adjustment layers.
  • Layer Mask mode with changeable luminosity masks (Lights, Darks, and Midtones) for quickly testing the effect of different masks on the image.
  • 2-UP mode also returns to Layer Mask mode.
  • Real-time Levels and Curves modification for any mask.
  • Mask calculator has been moved to the output section and has bigger buttons.
  • “Paint Color” output option for adding color to the image through a mask selection using Linear Light blend mode for the layer being painted.

Combo/Cx modules

  • Many new buttons: Linear Light blend mode at 15% fill opacity (replaces Hard Light)Merge Visible is now Stamp Visible (CTRL+click on Windows/command+click on Mac moves it to the top of the layer stack)Select SubjectSelect SkyFeather SelectionExpand SelectionContract SelectionFree TransformExport As…Gradient and Solid Color adjustment layer options added to the Adjustment Layers menu.
  • New “TK” actions: Fill TransparentAlign+FocusFill Edges check boxCTRL/command+click on the Clarity action runs it without the result being turned into a smart object.
  • Expanded web-sharpening options including presets, file-naming, and file-saving.
  • Add your personal watermark/logo with ease.
  • Smart object indicator visually specifies the contents of smart objects.
  • New, easier method to add user and button actions to the module.
  • Ability to add unlimited user actions to the User Actions list.
  • Preference available to NOT close “TK” and “User Actions” menus automatically.  This makes it possible to use Combo or Cx module with an alternate interface (TK or User actions) and thereby use both modules with one set to an alternate interface.

New feature videos

Several of the affiliates I work with have recorded videos discussing the new TK8 features. I’ve linked to them below. Some are in languages besides English.

Sean Bagshaw is basically the Dean of Luminosity Masks. He probably knows the TK8 plugin better than anyone (except maybe me) and has the skills to explain it so that photographers get the most out of it. His TK8 Video Guide is the definitive guide to TK8 for the English-speaking world. In the video below, he reviews his five favorite new TK8 features. Sean’s YouTube channel has a TK Quick Tips playlist.

Dave Kelly is basically an enthusiastic lab assistant at Professor Bagshaw’s Luminosity Mask University. Dave does a weekly series (“TK Friday”) where he focuses on explaining different features in the TK8 plugin and applying them to various images. Dave’s actually a student of many different photography techniques and enjoys sharing what he learns with others. In the video below, he too looks at some of his favorite TK8 features. Dave’s YouTube channel is here.

I’m not a big video maker, but I usually try to make one when updates are released. Below is the video I made for Sean’s, Antonio Prado’s, and André Distel’s video guide courses. It goes over where to find the new features in the TK8 plugin.

Antonio Prado is the Spanish world’s leading expert in everything TK. He too has a very deep understanding of the different pixel-based masks made possible by the TK8 plugin and explains everything in his Videoguía TK8 series. In the video below, in Spanish, he goes over the new features, and only he could cover this much territory in such a short amount of time.

Rafael Coutinho was a major source of ideas for TK8. He was constantly asking for new features and refinements, and they were all good, so I kept adding them. It’s great to have someone like this to prod me into constantly making a better product. In his video below, in French, he also covers the new features in TK8.

Isabella Tabacchi has been working with and teaching about luminosity masks for many years. In the video below, in Italian, she goes over the differences between the TK7 panel and TK8 plugin.

I hope you enjoy the new TK8 plugin.

TK8 released today, but download server swamped

The TK8 plugin and TK8 Video Guide were released today. Sean Bagshaw and I sent previous customers emails with update information and discount codes.  Unfortunately the shopping cart and download server appear to have been quickly overwhelmed.  I apologize for the inconvenience.  Hopefully things will be back to normal soon.  If the “ADD TO CART” buttons are not working on my and Sean Bagshaw’s website, please try again later. In fact, waiting until later is probably the best strategy to allow the shopping cart to recover.  I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.