Colorize Black & White Photos in GIMP


Introduction: Colorize Black & White Photos in GIMP

In this instructable I will show you how to Colorize a black and white photo with a splash of color using GIMP. For those who don't know GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.

I don't know about everyone else but, I think its hard to find tutorials for anything other than Photoshop. Not to knock Photoshop or anything. Photoshop is really nice if you can cough up the money for it. So I went the less expensive route.

With just a few easy steps I will show you how to use the clone tool to add color to a black and white photo.

Be sure to save your photo under a new name so that you don't mess up your original.

What you will need:
1. The latest version of GIMP.
2. A color photo
3. Steady mouse hand

Step 1: Start Gimp and Desaturate

First open your copy of GIMP.

Then open a color photo of your choice. Be sure to "Save as" before you modify the photo. I named my photo "flowerblackandwhite" Once opened, select "Colors" from the drop down menu and choose "Desaturate". This will convert your photo into shades of gray.

Step 2: Open a Second Copy of Photo

Now open another copy of the same photo. You should have two photos open, one in black and white and another of the same photo in color. You should save this photo as "flowercolor". This way we ensure that the original remains unmodified.

Step 3: Selecting the Source to Clone From

From the main GIMP tool bar select the "clone tool". It looks like a rubber stamper.

Then press and hold down the "Ctrl" button and select an area on the color photo that will be easy to find on your black and white copy. This area should be in a spot you would like to add color to your black and white copy.

I always try to find a spot in the photo that is easy to pick out so that I will have a good reference point to start from for the next step.

Step 4: Using the Clone Tool

Now switch to the black and white photo. In your tool bar adjust the brush size by changing the scale until you have a brush size that is adequate for the area your working with.

Now go to the same exact spot on this photo that you selected in the color photo. Click and hold down the left mouse button and use it like you would with the paint tool. I try to go around the edges of the object I want to colorize first just in case I have to start over.

If you don't start at the same spot you selected in the color photo it will not align properly and you will have to undo and try again until you find the right spot. This is not always easy.

Step 5: Touching Up the Edges

If you do happen to get out of bounds around the edges its an easy fix.

Goto your color photo and "dsaturate" the image. Then hold down the "Ctrl" button to select a new area. This area should be outside of the place you colorized in the black and white photo.

Now go back to the photo where you were over on the edges and find the new spot that you just selected on the color image. Then begin to touch up the edges just like you were doing before but, now your taking the color out.

Step 6: All Finished

This is what your end result should look like.
Have fun with this.

Please if you have any questions or tips, feel free to comment. I am by no means a professional in photo editing but, if you have trouble getting any of this to work please let me know and I will do my best to help you any way I can. Thank you for viewing my Instrucable, please don't forget to vote



    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest
    • Oil Contest

      Oil Contest
    • Clocks Contest

      Clocks Contest

    22 Discussions

    i have only just begun to use any sort of photo manipulation tools.. I have recently
    took some pictures of my friends Sons wedding, i used a technique to
    make the background black & white and re-colorize the bride. it was a
    great end result. I want to try to get a shot of when they left the
    church and everyone threw the confetti...i want to make the shot black
    and white but then change the color of the individual confetti pieces.
    How do i change their color? (they are already mostly white so using the
    technique from before wont work) I think it will be quite a long
    process but how do i make them, blue, red, pink,yellow etc. please

    1. The title is really inappropriate. I’m looking for a guide on how to colorize a black-and-white photo, not make a hybrid B&W/color photo from a full-color photo.

    2. An easier way to do a hybrid like this would be to make two layers – a desaturated copy on top of the original – and then just erase from the B&W layer where you want to be colored.

    That's cool, I didn't know that you could clone from one image to another.

    It might be faster/easier to select a contiguous region by color, keep adding & selecting until you have the whole area you want to stay colored, then invert and desaturate the rest.

    1 reply

    I haven't tried the other method but using this method I made one of these photos in a couple of minutes...

    The title of the ible is very misleading. Should be "Make color-accent photos in GIMP".
    You are not colorizing a black and white photo, you are desaturating a photo and resaturating only parts of it.
    Colorizing a black and white photo means having a black and white photo and manualy "painting" it with a color overlay.

    1 reply

    Finally! Something I can do with GIMP! I love it...I use Linux at haome so its cool...first results;


    This was great! But I want to save the image so that I can email it and upload it. It is just showing a pic of the gimp. I can download it but I still cant upload it like a photo.. Do you know how to do this?

    1 reply

    I mostly save my pictures in the form of a jpeg. Before you can do this you must first flatten the image under the Layer controls and then save image as a jpeg. Try this and see if it doesn't work better for you.

    I think this would be much easier using layer masks

    Take your image and duplicate the layer. Desaturate the copy and an make sure it is the top most layer. Now painting in the layer mask with black reveals the colored part of the image below. No guessing and cloning required. If you reveal too much out side of your area of interest simply switch to white to cover it up.

    1 reply

    You are very right, that method is a more simplistic approach. That was actually going to be my next tutorial. I just never found the time to do another one. Plus I kind of lost interest in the contest I had entered it in to. Thank you for your input.

    wow, thanks - it's always nice to see some good GIMP stuff!

    i can't wait to try this.

    Nice simple clear. Good tute. Gets my vote and I am even IN this contest too!

    Hey thanks man this is awesome . here is my pic. i still need a little practice

    black and white fish.JPG
    1 reply

    Wow. That turned out pretty good. There is another way to get the same effect that I think is a little easier. I may do another instructable on how others can do that way to. Be sure to check back.