Difference Between Vibrance and Saturation


Today’s Question: What is the difference in effect between vibrance and saturation?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Both Vibrance and Saturation enable you to increase (or decrease) the saturation of colors in a photo. The key difference is that Saturation is a linear adjustment, affecting all colors in the same way, while Vibrance includes some variation that helps balance the saturation levels in the photo and also protects skin tones from getting over-saturated.

More Detail: The Vibrance adjustments are available in Photoshop (including as an adjustment layer), in Adobe Camera Raw, and in Lightroom Classic (as well as the non-classic version of Lightroom) via the Develop module.

I think of Vibrance as an updated and more “intelligent” version of Saturation. Both Vibrance and Saturation enable you to increase or decrease the saturation, or purity, of colors in your photos.

Vibrance provides a couple of key advantages compared to Saturation. First, Vibrance protects skin tones from getting over-saturated. When skin tones get too saturated, they can look very artificial and over-processed, so this is a helpful feature for any photos that include people.

Vibrance also has a variable effect on colors, which helps avoid over-saturated colors while still enabling you to boost the colors that need the most help. Put simply, colors that are not very saturated will get more of a boost than colors that already have a relatively high saturation level. I think of this as the Vibrance control “putting the brakes” on saturation levels once they get too high.

Because of these advantages of the Vibrance adjustment, this is my go-to tool for adjusting saturation levels in my images. However, both Vibrance and Saturation can work together very well.

I often start by increasing saturation levels with Vibrance until there is a good balance between the colors that had low saturation to begin with and the colors that already had relatively high saturation. When I’ve achieved this balance, very often the overall saturation in the image is a little too high. A little bit of a negative value for the Saturation adjustment provides a perfect solution.

So, I recommend using Vibrance as a good starting point for adjusting the color saturation in your photos, and then possibly make use of the Saturation adjustment as needed to fine-tune the overall result.