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Colorizing B&W Photos


With the advent of the digital age, many movie studios decided to capitalize on their back catalogue of black & white movies by using electronic processes to colour the frames, thus giving them a whole new lease of life without the added hassle of refilming.  Whether you agree or not with this process is another matter, but this tutorial details a very simple method for accomplishing the same effect using nothing more than the virtue of patience and a good eye for color detail.

Step 1: Open up a stock image in Photoshop of any size and/or format.  Ensure that you spend a few minutes adjusting your tonal range and clarity via Image > Adjustments > Brightness / Contrast, and then convert the image to RGB color using Image > Mode > RGB Color.

NOTE:  If you have chosen an image that is already colored, strip the color out by selecting Image > Mode > Greyscale from the main menu BEFORE proceeding with this step.

Step 2: Go to the layers palette, add a new layer on top of the background, and change its blending mode to Color.     Select the Brush Tool and give it a large smooth-edged tip with 100% opacity.  For the rest of this tutorial you will need to change the size and smoothness of these brushes regularly, so spend some time getting used to the brush dialogs if you haven't done so already.

Step 3: With the new (color) layer active in the layers palette, and with a suitable color selected in the foreground color swatch, paint onto your image.  This stage takes the most eye for detail and is very time consuming - don't rush it, and use the zoom tool to your advantage.

NB.  There are plenty of more advanced Photoshop techniques that you can use to your advantage during this step.  The simplest hint I can give you is to use a different layer/set for each body part.   Another is to use clipping masks to prevent colors bleeding out of desired areas.  Manual coloring without fancy techniques also works just fine, provided you have the time and patience required.

Step 4: And here is the result!  If you want to lighten or darken the colors to add depth or detail, add a new layer above your color layer in the layers palette and change the Blending Mode to Overlay.   Use your Brush Tool with a solid black tip to add darker tones, and a white tip to add lighter tones.  You can also raise and lower the layer's opacity as needed.   And its that simple!   This technique also works perfectly for coloring line art and clipart, although more work will be needed to build up detail.   Have fun!

- Tutorial written by Gunyu

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Last 5 User Comments

User:  Tamlin (#42199)
Date: Wed May 23, 2007. 19:07:49

Post #6 of 6

Hi supertackyman and welcome to BioRUST. That's a very interesting tip you've contributed - one that probably wouldn't have occurred to a lot of people. I hope you stick around to offer more advice and ideas.

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User:  supertackyman (#42198)
Date: Wed May 23, 2007. 18:51:23

Post #5 of 6

i joined the communtiy today mostly to add a comment allthough membership should have its privliges.
re: colorizing photos no one seems to have discussed accurate flesh tones.
six years ago i began colorizing an old family photo in pretty much the same way as described i was stymied when it came to flesh color though because i allways seemed too painted on looking. here's my solution: the web has an ABUNDANCE of "flesh" sites out there find some "cheesecake picture" and crop out a large fleshy arealike a midriff or arm or thigh and using a new layer overlay the flesh onto the fleshy areas on your old picture then erase what you dont need and adjust the layer transparency until it looks right.

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User:  iiiilyiiii (#32178)
Date: Fri Sep 22, 2006. 16:31:56

Post #4 of 6

I have 7.0 and its there, I usually go to Windows --> then to Resette Palette Locations

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User:  apixel (#30860)
Date: Tue Aug 08, 2006. 10:07:39

Post #3 of 6

This is a much better way to colorize photos than the color replacement tool!

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User:  Tamlin (#30574)
Date: Tue Aug 01, 2006. 07:22:37

Post #2 of 6

Quote from munchkins89:
what version of photoshop is that tutorial for because i have 7 and i don't seem to have the spot that shows all the brushes or a tab that has layer comps is it that the tutorial is based on cs? and if so is there a way i could form it to version 7?


Nope, you should have the Brushes palette there somewhere. If you don't see it, it could be that you've hidden it. Try the following: select Window > Brushes or press F5 on your keyboard and the Brushes palette should appear.

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