Introduction: How to Color a Black and White Photo

Picture of How to Color a Black and White Photo

These instructions will show you how to turn a boring black and white (B/W) photo into a vibrant colored photo using Adobe Photoshop.

In these instructions, I am going to color a photo of a little girl, to show the basic steps and concepts of how to color a B/W photo. To color your own B/W photo, the concepts are the same, and it will not be a difficult task for you.

Black and white photographs were popular in the early 19th century. It took about a half century for people to switch from B/W photos to color photos. As a result, there still exists lots of B/W photos in our lives. Even for a color photo, its color is going to fade as time goes on. However, the world cannot only be in black and white. Color can help to tell a story, and it can be used to communicate on an emotional level. As you can see from the Figure.1, the little girl looks cold and pale. However, it looks much different in Figure.2. The girl looks prettier and the scene feels warm. As a result, putting color on B/W photos is an important skill.

Technical Ability Requirements:
Coloring a photo doesn't require a lot of skills. Even if you are a child, you are able to complete this task. However, it is better for the readers to know basic computer skills, like opening and saving files, and copying and pasting components. If you are familiar with Adobe’s graphic processor Photoshop 5 or 6, it will be very easy for you. Here I am assuming the readers have the basic computer skills like launching Photoshop software and creating a new project.

Required Time:
It usually takes 20 minutes for a starter to finish all the steps by following the instructions. As you get more familiar with it, it will not take longer than 10 minutes. But, the better you want your photo to be, the more time you should spend on it.

Coloring photos could bring you a lot of fun to your daily life. Just imagine if you colored your grandma’s old photo and showed it to your family, how surprised and happy they would be. When other people know you are able to use Photoshop and handle some cool skills, they will be jealous. Furthermore, this practice may lead you to a new interest in working with images.

List of Required Parts:
1. A black and white or faded photograph.
    In this case, an example image is provided as shown in the first figure.
2. Adobe Photoshop CS6 or CS5 on a working computer

List Required Tools:
Because we are going to use Adobe Photoshop to do all work, it is necessary to have a copy of Adobe Photoshop. You can either buy a copy from the Adobe official website or download the trial version. A trial version gives you a limit of 30 days to experience this software. Adobe Photoshop CS6 and CS5 both work well for this instruction. If you only have an earlier version of Adobe Photoshop, like CS3 or CS4, theoretically they can work because the functions we are going to use are basic functions in Photoshop. However, if you use CS3 or CS4, the user interface would be very different from the later version. As a result, it will be a little difficult to follow the steps here and you may need to find those corresponding functions by yourself.
Here is the link of the official website:
http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html


The system requirements of Adobe Photoshop CS6 are as following:
Windows
• Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor
• Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 3 orMicrosoft Windows 7 with Service Pack 1. Adobe® Creative Suite® 5.5 and CS6 applications also support Windows 8. See the CS6 FAQ for more information about Windows 8 support.*
• 1 GB of RAM
• 1 GB of available hard-disk space for installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on removable flash storage devices)
• 1024 x 768 display (1280 x 800 recommended) with 16-bit color and 512 MB (1 GB recommended) of VRAM
• OpenGL 2.0–capable system
• DVD-ROM drive
• This software doesn't operate without activation. Broadband Internet connection and registration are required for software activation, validation of subscriptions, and access to online services. Phone activation is not available.

You can get more information for system requirements from the official website:
http://helpx.adobe.com/x-productkb/policy-pricing/system-requirements-photoshop.html

OK, Let's Start our work!

Step 1: Launch Photoshop

Picture of Launch Photoshop

Step 2: Drag the B/W Photo Into Photoshop.

Picture of Drag the B/W Photo Into Photoshop.

After dragging in the image, you should see a little girl lying on a bed playing with a bottle of perfume as is shown in the figure. As you can see, he picture looks boring and not so vivid.
So far, you have made a good start. Let's go a little bit further.

Step 3: Convert the Image Mode to CMYK Color and Click OK to Confirm Conversion.

Picture of Convert the Image Mode to CMYK Color and Click OK to Confirm Conversion.

You will be given a Confirmation message as shown in the second figure. Just click “OK”.

The CMYK color model in Adobe Photoshop refers to four color printing process, in which cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks are mixed to generate a range of colors. By modifying the intensity of these colors, we are able to create any color that we can use to color the photos.

For more information about CMYK, you can view the following link.
http://www.ehow.com/facts_6769174_cmyk-photoshop_.html

Step 4: Press Ctrl + J to Make a Copy of the Original Photo.

Picture of Press Ctrl + J to Make a Copy of the Original Photo.

You will see a new layer is created on the “Layers” panel as shown in the figure.

Step 5: Take a Snapshot of the Current Layer by Pressing “Alt” + Clicking the Camera Icon in the History Panel.

Picture of Take a Snapshot of the Current Layer by Pressing “Alt” + Clicking the Camera Icon in the History Panel.

If your “History” window does not show up, go to the menu “Window” => “History”. 

You will get a confirmation dialog window like in the second figure. Select “Merged Layers” from the drop-down window and click OK.

A snapshot is part of the history palette. It is used to record the state of the document at a point in time. You’ll want to make a snapshot before you make major changes which you might not be sure about keeping so that you can go back to the snapshot of the .psd file at the point you “recorded” it.

Step 6: Switch to “Channels” Panel and Select “Cyan” Channel.

Picture of Switch to “Channels” Panel and Select “Cyan” Channel.

The photo will appear brighter as in the second figure.

Step 7: Go to Image => Adjustments => Brightness/Contrast to Set Up Brightness and Contrast.

Picture of Go to Image => Adjustments => Brightness/Contrast to Set Up Brightness and Contrast.

“Bright/Contrast” window will show up like in the first figure. Adjust “Brightness” to 85 and “Contrast” to 25.

Then if you select “CMYK” in “Channels” panel,The photo should look like the third figure.

By doing this step, we created a color that we will use to tint little girls skin and skirt, which means you have completed a big process. Keep it up!

Step 8: Take Snapshot Using the Same Method Described in Step 5.

Picture of Take Snapshot Using the Same Method Described in Step 5.

Step 9: Click Color/ Balance in the “Adjustments” Panel and Set Parameters.

Picture of Click Color/ Balance in the “Adjustments” Panel and Set Parameters.

Change “Cyan” to 100, “Magenta” to -100 and “Yellow” to 20. As shown in the third figure, the picture should be in pink. We are going to use this color to tint the background of the photo and the tips of the little girl.

Step 10: 10. Take a Snapshot As Described in Step 5.

Picture of 10. Take a Snapshot As Described in Step 5.


Step 11: Open Color/Balance Window Again and Set New Parameters.

Picture of Open Color/Balance Window Again and Set New Parameters.

Change “Cyan” to -80, “Magenta” to 85 and “Yellow” to -95 and the picture should be like the second figure. We are going to use this color to tint the girl's hair later.

Step 12: Take a Snapshot As Described in Step 5.

Picture of Take a Snapshot As Described in Step 5.

Step 13: Click the Check Box Before “Snapshot 2” and Select “Snapshot 3”.

Picture of Click the Check Box Before “Snapshot 2” and Select “Snapshot 3”.

You will see a little brush appear in the check box. This little brush will allow you to use “Snapshot 2” as a source to draw on “Snapshot 3”. It basically means you can use Snapshot2’s setting to color part of the “Snapshot 3”.

Step 14: Use Brush to Tint the Little Girl’ Skin.

Picture of Use Brush to Tint the Little Girl’ Skin.

When tinting, you can set up the style of the brush in the top brush panel. You are able to set the size, the opacity, and other properties of the brush, as shown in the second figure. Choose an appropriate brush when tinting. It may takes a few time for starters to successfully separate the background and the edge of the girl's body. However, in the history panel, you are able to redo any previous actions. As a result, don't worry about make mistakes. Just keep trying and it will be fine!

Step 15: Check the Checkbox Before “Snapshot4” and Use That As a Source to Tint Little Girl’s Hair.

Picture of Check the Checkbox Before “Snapshot4” and Use That As a Source to Tint Little Girl’s Hair.

Step 16: Check the Checkbox Before “Snapshot3” and Use That As a Source to Tint Little Girl’s Tips and Cheeks.

Picture of Check the Checkbox Before “Snapshot3” and Use That As a Source to Tint Little Girl’s Tips and Cheeks.

Recommendation: Use small brush, for example size 20 and 70% Opacity, to tint girl’s tips. Use large brush like size 100 and 50% Opacity to powder the girl’s cheek. You can also adjust the properties of brush according to your opinion.

Step 17: Open Hue/Saturation Window to Change Some Parameters.

Picture of Open Hue/Saturation Window to Change Some Parameters.

Change the Saturation to 30 and the color should be much deeper, as shown in the third figure. 

It is kind of difficult to explain what Hue/Saturation filter does. After I looked it up online, I got the following answer.

The Hue filter lets you adjust the hue of an entire image. Hue is the color reflected from or transmitted through an object. It is measured as a location on the standard color wheel. A positive value indicates clockwise rotation, a negative value counter-clockwise rotation. Values range from -180 to +180.

The Saturation filter, sometimes called chroma, deals with the strength or purity of a color. Saturation represents the amount of gray in proportion to the hue. Values range from -100 (percentage of desaturation, duller colors) to +100 (percentage of saturation increase).

Source:http://www.movavi.com/videoeditor/filters/hue.html

Once you have reached this part, you are almost done! Let's export our image file from Photoshop.

Step 18: Save the Picture to Your Disk.

Picture of Save the Picture to Your Disk.

Go to File => Save As

Choose the place you want to save the file to. Then in the drop-down list of “Format”, select the type of file you would like it to be. Finally, click “Save” and your hot fresh color photo is just coming out. 

Step 19: Congratulations! You Have Finished Coloring This Black and White Photo!

Picture of Congratulations! You Have Finished Coloring This Black and White Photo!

Congratulations! You have finished coloring the black and white photo, successfully made the little cute girl looks more lively lovable. You are free to share it with others!  It looks so much different from the original black and white photo even only three color are used.
The light becomes brighter and the the eyes of little girl is shining. Even the smell of perfume seems to spread through the air. Colors makes the world better.

Although it is an easy task, it should give you a basic concept of how to use Adobe Photoshop to color a photo. As time goes on, Photoshop is getting better and better. It keeps offering new functions to public by updating new versions. In the future, I am sure that there will be more convenient functions coming out for people to color black and white photos.



Step 20: Trouble Shooting

Picture of Trouble Shooting


From some readers' feed back, I am aware that some of them have problem with the step 7. When they tried to adjust the brightness and contrast of the "Cyan" Channel, they pressed icon in the "Adjustments" panel and a window like the second picture showed up. After they adjusted the parameter, the picture became the same as shown in the third figure.  The photo showed a lot brighter but there was no change in the color. 

Explanation: The function in the "Adjustment" panel works for all the channels here. When you adjust the Brightness/Contrast through the function in the "Adjustment" panel, you are basically changing the brightness and contrast of the black and white photo rather than the Cyan Layer.  Only by changing the the intensity of the Channel components can we produce a new color other than black and white.

Solution: To solve this problem, just follow the instruction in the step 7 : Go to the menu on the top.  Choose Image=>Adjustments=> Brightness/Contrast.  This function only works for the current Channel.

Comments

saeedsama made it! (author)2016-07-17

hi.please colorized my B/W photo.thank you very much

RebekkaJ1 (author)saeedsama2017-11-18

I hope this is what u were looking for.

edwardblack619 made it! (author)saeedsama2017-07-27

Here yah go free work

LulithaG (author)saeedsama2016-10-16

did you colorized?

PenMar (author)2014-10-03

Black and white was not just popular in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. There was no color film available for amature use until the early 1950s.

CarolTheArtist (author)PenMar2016-08-18

Actually, i have color slides that my father took during WW2 in europe - he was a cannoneer and was in England a few months before D-Day, which he then was part of. His slides have maintained more color than i even thought possible considering the years that have passed. we just scanned them this past year and it's pretty amazing. He also took BW while there but the slides are all color.

PenMar (author)CarolTheArtist2016-08-18

That is amazing! I had no idea color film was available that early. Perhaps it was available, but somewhat expensive for the general population? Thanks for that information.

ColinD48 (author)PenMar2017-02-07

Movies made in technicolor have kept their colour better than any other brand. Colour film has been available for a long time but it was just too expensive in the early days.

AnargyaS made it! (author)2017-01-16

BOOM!!
Harry Truman 1897

LulithaG (author)2016-10-16

buhaaaaaaaaaaa.... did you see this ?

jlbrown56 (author)2016-08-15

Do you have certain recipes for eye colors etc, blue eyes

CarolTheArtist made it! (author)jlbrown562016-08-18

The best way i to pick the right color for eyes is to find a color photo with eyes the color that you want. Open that photo up in photoshop and use your 'color picker' that looks kind of like a tiny eyedropper to pick the color of the eye you like on the sample photo. just click on it with the eyedropper/picker. Keep in mind that a typical eye has many many colors, so if you try to make the whole iris that color it will look like something from a horror movie like 'Children of the Damned', haha. This is not as big a deal with very dark eyes, but for light blue eyes it's just a little tricky. Then capture that color, which you'll find in the lower left of your screen, at the bottom of the tool bar. those two boxes have foreground color (upper left) and background color (lower right). double click on the foreground color and a screen will open up showing that color in a color picking diagram/sample. down at the bottom you see the formula for that color. You can either just copy the computer color (see final image, down at the bottom of the screen) with a command C and then paste it into your active document, OR you can simply write down the CMYK numbers for your use on the actual project. Hope this helps.

saeedsama (author)2016-07-17

my email is :saeed.naghavi.1367@gmail.com

Bruce Huninghake (author)2016-05-19

I got stuck on Step 13 where you're to use Snapshot 2 as a source to draw on Snapshot 3. I tried multiple times but each time the brush automatically picked up the colors that were in my Foreground/Background color palette box, not the colors from the Snapshot. Any advice?

MarkZ26 (author)Bruce Huninghake2016-05-31

Use the history brush tool, not the brush tool

AlexS5 (author)2014-09-30

The brush does not pick up the proper color from snapshot 2

Bruce Huninghake (author)AlexS52016-05-19

I have Photoshop 6 (CC6) and experienced the same problem – the brush picks up the colors that are in the Foreground/Background color palette box, not the colors from the Shapshot. Did you ever figure this out? Did anyone else?

TheinzawM (author)2016-05-11

tks a lot yr tutorial

BillH69 (author)2015-12-26

Thank you for a very useful tutorial. :)

BillH69 (author)2015-12-26

There were no black and white photos in the early 19th century.

KokomT (author)2015-10-18

Hello all, is there someone that can give me advise... I have Photoshop 2014 and PS Elements 11. I don't know what I've done but in both programs I can't use my clone tool... when I try and click on what needs to be cloned I get a pic on top of another pic so every time I move the clone tool the top pic moves too. So my clone tool is more or less useless this way. Is there anyone that can tell me what I might of done to make it this way and is there anyone that can tell me how to fix it... Thank you so much in advance..

PatM22 made it! (author)2015-09-20

colorized arnold

syed hasam (author)2015-07-13

KarambirV (author)2015-06-14

Step 14 fails...since color value is below 0

GyörgyR (author)2015-05-18

This step is absolutely blurry for me! With what I should do? I just paintin red lines.. o.O

AdelF (author)2015-03-03

seghirm (author)2014-11-14

paulj1 (author)2014-07-31

Hi

Does this work with older B & w photos ? I've seen tutorials using photos that were originally colour & just made into B & W for similar process...

AntonBuldakov (author)2013-06-18

Все равно очень круто!!!Спасибо за пост!

际夏 (author)AntonBuldakov2013-06-19

Try to use google translate to understand this. Thank you anyway

Uncle Kudzu (author)2013-06-19

Very well done! I had no idea that Black & White could be colorized using CMYK. I will certainly experiment with this technique. Thanks for sharing!

际夏 (author)Uncle Kudzu2013-06-19

Yeah, it's kind of simple skills. I actually have several good examples. However, this instruction is my English class assignment,so it has too much details in introduction and conclusion.

ToyMaker (author)2013-06-19

Wow! that is really neat. Is there a similar process in GIMP? Because it's a LOT cheaper than Adobe PS.

际夏 (author)ToyMaker2013-06-19

Oh.. I haven't use GIMP before. I use Adobe PS because some computer labs in my school have that. Also the Adobe Photoshop gives you 30 days trial. You may experience with CS5 and CS6, added up to 60 days.

Macflame (author)2013-06-19

Many thanks for sharing. For twenty minutes work the result is very good. I shall give this a go and try to 'tweak' it a bit.

onemoroni1 (author)2013-06-18

Although I'm a confirmed B/W aficionado I like what you have done.

samalert (author)2013-06-18

Topic was nice but outcome is not very great. Frankly speaking the image is very oversaturated. And on some places it looked all washed.

samalert (author)2013-06-18

Topic was nice but outcome is not very great. Frankly speaking the image is very oversaturated. And on some places it looked all washed.

mh76dk (author)2013-06-17

those cheeks seem a little too much on the pink side to me (almost like bruises from someone holding a hand over her mouth). this being a somewhat artsy picture it may be intentional or not relevant though. Other than that little cosmetic issue it is a nice result and i am sure the guide is usefull for those who need to do this.

际夏 (author)mh76dk2013-06-17

Thanks for your advise. Actually I am taking a English class which require me to write a Instruction as an assignment, that's why you see me providing so much details. I did not spend much time on the graphic stuff. I agree that the final product is not so good. However, I believe it shows clear steps and if you spend enough time and get familiar with the procedures, you will get perfect photos.

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