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Photoshop 101: What’s the Difference Between Curves and Levels?

If you want to manipulate the light and color information in an image using Photoshop, two of the most common tools for the task are Curves and Levels. But how do these two adjustments actually differ? And when might you choose to use one instead of the other? That’s exactly what Aaron Nace explains in this helpful video.

In some important ways, Curves and Levels look and act very similar to one another. In fact, every single parameter that you can edit in Levels is also accessible through Curves. Black point, white point, mid point, and output levels can all be manipulated using either adjustment, allowing you to pick whichever one you find more intuitive as your preferred photo editing tool.

The difference comes down to the level of control at your disposal: for some tasks Levels is enough, but if you want to take more granular control of the tones in your image, that’s when you should be using Curves.

Curves doesn’t just allow you to make your mid-tones darker or lighter using a single sliding point, the way Levels does; Curves allows you to manipulate the light and color information in your photo using as many points as you need along the entire histogram. This, combined with the helpful “hand” tool that lets you edit right on your image, makes Curves both more powerful and easier to use.

All of this is much easier to explain in video rather than text, so if you want a detailed overview of all of the adjustments available to you in both Curves and Levels—including a demo of some buttons you’ve probably never even tried inside the Curves tool—check out the full video up top.

And if you’re feeling brave and want to dive even deeper into Photoshop’s bag of tricks, you can keep learning by visiting the Phlearn YouTube channel or exploring the hundreds of Photoshop tips and tricks that we’ve featured on PetaPixel over the years.