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How to Make Rainbow Hair in Adobe Photoshop: Two Easy Methods


Who doesn't love the idea of rainbow hair? With a focus on Pride over the summer months, we thought it was the perfect time to roll out the rainbow carpet and show you a couple of easy ways to create rainbow hair in Adobe Photoshop.

If you'd like to follow along with the tutorial, you can download the free images here:

Alternatively, there are a number of great portrait images you could work with from Photodune.

Method 1: Brush On

Portrait of a woman with curly hair
This is the image I'll be working on.

First, duplicate the background layer. It's always best not to work on your original image, just in case you make a mistake with destructive changes to that layer.

Then, create a new blank layer and call it Colour.

Adding a blank layer named Colour to the layers panel
Create a new layer and call it Colour.

Colour In!

Using a round brush, select your rainbow colours one at a time and paint over the hair. You can be a little messy here as we'll tidy it up soon.

Wide stripes of eight contiguous colours painted over models hair
Paint some bright colours on your blank layer over the hair. You might want to think about how the colours will flow from one to another in the end effect.

Blend Mode

Change the Blend Mode of your painted colour layer to Overlay.

Painted layer of colours overlaid onto image of model
Changing the layer's blend mode to Overlay mixes the painted colours with the original colours of the model's hair, and preserves the highlights and shadows of the base colour.

Add Blur

Next, apply a filter to the colour layer. With the colour layer selected, select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and in the dialogue box, move the Radius slider until the edges between the colours blend better.

Gaussian blur dialogue box
Adding a blur to the colour layer helps to create a more realistic transition of colours.

Create a Hue/Saturation Layer

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and create a clipping mask against your colour layer (right click on the Hue-Saturation layer and select Create Clipping Mask) so the hue/saturation adjustments only apply to the painted hair colours. Drop the Saturation and decrease the Lightness slightly to better blend the colours with the hair.

Huesaturation adjustment layer added to the list of layers in the layers panel
Using a hue/saturation layer and a clipping mask allows you to adjust only the painted colours to achieve the desired effect.

Tidy Up

Add a layer mask to your colour layer and with a soft brush, paint out any areas where you can see colour where you don't want it to be, such as over the skin.

Mask applied to the colours layer and sections of the image masked out
Masking areas like the model's face tidies up any sloppy areas of colour.

Adjust Layer Opacity

Fine tune the colour effect, if needed, by adjusting the Opacity of the colour layer.

Take it Further

If you want to jazz up your image even more, try adding a colourful or sparkly Photoshop action

I'm going to use Lucent Photoshop action on this image. For many actions like this one, you need to create a new layer above your background and call the layer Brush. You might also have to install a brush as well as the action. Each action comes with a Read Me file that will tell you exactly what you need to do to run the action.

Using black and a soft brush on the brush layer, paint over any area of your image where you don't want the effect to be applied. This can be quite messy.

Models face brushed out with black
Paint over your subject on the brush layer.

Run the action. This can take quite a while because there are a number of layers created. 

Once the action has finished, use the created layer masks to brush some detail back into your subject's face.

Image of woman with rainbow striped hair and Lucent effect added
The final effect after applying the Lucent action and brushing some detail back into the model's face.

Method 2: Add a Rainbow Gradient Layer

For the second method, I thought it would be fun to give a splash of colour to some beard hair as well!

Portrait of a man with a beard and glasses
This is the image I'll be working on.

Brush Over Your Subject

Create a new blank layer and call it Colour. Using any colour brush on the colour layer, paint over any hair you want to transform.

Green painted on colour layer over models hair beard and eyebrows
Brush over any hair you want to be coloured with the rainbow effect. Because I've chosen to do the model's hair and beard, I've also included the model's eyebrows for a complete effect.

Add a Gradient

Double click the colour layer to get the Layer Style panel and select Gradient Overlay. In the dialogue box, change the Gradient to one of the rainbow styles (or whatever you fancy).

Layer style panel with gradient overlay chosen
Adding a rainbow gradient will apply the colours to the painted areas on the layer. You can use the Angle adjustments to rotate the gradient if you don't want a straight horizontal effect.

Blur the Layer

As you did in Method 1, select the colour layer and then blur the colours by selecting Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Drag the Radius slider until the colours in the gradient blend a little better.

Menu items for choosing a gaussian blur
Add a blur to blend the edges of the colours in the gradient.

Tidy Up and Fine Tune

Tidy up any sloppy edges where colour has been applied to skin or other areas where you don't want the effect by creating a layer mask for the colour layer and brushing out any colour effect that shouldn't be there.

Finally, decrease the opacity of the colour layer until the colour looks right for the model's hair and skin tone. 

Man with rainbow coloured hair beard and eyebrows
The finished, coloured image.

Take it Further

This time, I'll use the Magic Dust Photoshop Action to add some sparkle to the image. This action also requires a brush layer as in Method 1, so create a new layer and call it Brush. This time, use any colour brush to brush in where you would like the effect to appear.

Red painted on brush layer over mans hair and shirt
I've chosen to have the effect apply to the model's hair and shirt, but you can paint in any areas you choose for the effect.

Run the action. Again, as with the previous action we used, this may take a while.

Man with rainbow coloured hair beard and eyebrows with sparkles added to hair and shirt
Our finished image, with sparkles!

Few things can't be improved with the addition of sparkles, and using pre-made actions like these are a quick and easy way to achieve that while still being able to manipulate the effect to suit your own taste.

Have fun with these two quick methods for creating rainbow hair. Now that you know the techniques, you may think of other situations where you'd like to apply a similar effect. 

If you'd like to get into a little more depth with changing hair colour, Monika Zagrobelna has written a useful tutorial on How to Realistically Change Hair and Fur Colour in Adobe Photoshop. Her tutorial walks you through options for being more precise about where in the hair the effect is applied.

Share your results in the comments below. I'd love to see what you do.

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