What Does the Sponge Tool Do in Photoshop?

The Sponge tool in Photoshop is often overlooked, but it offers plenty of creative possibilities for image editing. Essentially, the Sponge allows you to saturate or desaturate a specific area of your image, intensifying or removing color when necessary. Using your cursor or a tablet, you can draw on the image until the colors achieve your desired shade and vibrancy. Below, we've outlined how to use and customize the Sponge tool so that your colors pop. 

  1. First, launch Photoshop and open the image that you want to edit. In the main toolbar, find the Dodge tool (it looks like a darkened magnifying glass) and right click on the icon to bring up more options. Click on the Sponge tool. 
  2. With your new tool selected, you can change the advanced settings in the top toolbar, so that your sponge has the ideal thickness and style. First, click the brush option on the far left side to bring up a variety of settings, including size, hardness, and stroke style. For a soft medium brush, we recommend using a Size around 70 pixels and leaving the Hardness at 0%.
  3. From there, you'll need to choose a Mode — "Desaturate" or "Saturate" — to determine the Sponge tool's effect. Selecting "Desaturate" will give the Sponge the power to remove color from an image, while "Saturate" will increase the existing color's intensity. Next, the "Flow" setting determines how fast the Sponge effect takes hold when you use it. 50% is a good value for most applications.  
  4. If you'd like an even smoother sponge effect, enable the "Airbrush" setting and the tool will be applied like a light spray. Finally, checking the "Vibrance" box will allow all colors in your image to reach the highest saturation value that can still be printed (i.e. before clipping). If you're drawing on a pressure-sensitive tablet, enabling the pen-and-target-shaped icon on the far right will allow you to apply precise strokes with your stylus. 
  5. Start drawing on the image to saturate (or desaturate) colors as desired! There are so many useful applications for the Sponge tool in Photoshop, because it offers a fine-tuned approach that simple saturation and filters can't achieve. Take colors out of a photo, make bright colors even more vibrant, and use the Sponge to tweak your image until it's perfect.  
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