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How to Colorize/Paint a Black & White Photo in Photoshop


This tutorial is for showing you how to create an old fashioned colorized photo from an original Black and White image. I’ll show you how to take a standard B&W photo and make it look like an artist went in and painted over it giving it that soft vintage painted look and feel. This tutorial was created using Photoshop CS, however filters used should be available in Photoshop 7.0.

After: after

Step 1: Open a picture that you wish to colorize. For this I’ve already pre-applied my illustration filters to it – so the end result of my picture will look different than if you use a standard photo, mine will look more “painted.” (Sorry no tutorial is available on how I make the photos look illustrated.)


Step 2: Duplicate Layer: Image>Duplicate


Step 3: Apply Skin Color

For Caucasian skin tone I usually select a color around DCC688 – it’s got a lot of grey tones mixed in it and isn’t overly brightly obnoxiously peachy or pink. Simply take your paintbrush, use a standard circle brush and fill in all areas where the skin is showing – including hairline where a part would show through.

Note: The great thing w/ colorizing B&W photos is that you already have the natural grey undercoating for shadows. Whenever portrait artists paint they’ll usually mix the “flesh” tones w/ various greys or greens to create the shadows. For the photos that step has already been done for you.


Your finished pic should look like this. Don’t worry too much about going over lines because you can clean them up in the next step.


Step 4: Applying Filter. Double click on the duplicated layer in your Layer Palette. This will bring up your Layer Style Selection.  Under Blending Options Default, change the Blend mode to COLOR.


Select OK – this is the result. If you went out of the lines, just erase them away.


Step 5: Painting the Dress: Create a new layer. Erase out the skin tone. Select the color you wish to use for the dress and paint it just like you did in step 3.

Since you’ve duplicated the skin tone layer, the COLOR filter is already applied so that you can see the exact results that you’ll be trying to achieve. I didn’t bother applying any other colors to the dress since silk is very sheer in its color.

Note: Each time you duplicate a layer w/ any section that already been painted that will add another layer of paint which will eventually allow you to lose your initial layer of shadows if you keep them all applied. So at this time we want to get rid of the skin.


Step 6: Painting Hair: Depending on how much highlighting there is in the photo I use either 2-3 different colors for painting hair. First duplicate layer and create a new layer. If you duplicate the dress layer you probably will want to erase out the dress. I also turned off the dress layer just so I wouldn’t be distracted by the blue.

For Lois here, I’m using 3 different colors for hair. Pick a dark color for the shadows of the hair and painted only the shadows.


Next I moved directly up my color palette and picked a middle range color that I applied to the mid-tone areas on the hair. This is done on the same hair layer. With the mid-tone color I also filled in eyebrows.


Finally the highlights need to be filled in. Select a very light version of the color tone that you’re working in from the same page and apply it to all remaining exposed bright areas AND lightly brush it over the rest of the head to give the hair an overall cohesive feel to the overall tone.


Step 7: Lips & Flower: Duplicate layer. Find a mid tone pink and apply to lips and flower.

Note any sections where the initial image is pure white, the color filter will NOT display any color.


Step 8: Applying Blush and body blush. Go down to your skin layer and duplicate it. This time you’re going to now make your flesh a little richer and creamier looking by duplicating it, so don’t erase the skin paint. Take a light pink color and brush some on at the cheekbones and at several places over the face and body for highlighting. I applied it to areas where there were shadows to give some extra depth to the color there.


The next part is critical for blending the colors. First take your Blur tool (teardrop) set it to 100% hover your mouse over the areas where you’ve applied the pink and press down on your button. If you keep holding down the mouse button tool will sit and keep shuffling out the colors and blend them together and will blur out the harsher lines that you applied for the color.


When you see that the lines aren’t as harsh anymore, click on your eraser and reduce it to low Opacity & Flow (in my case I used 17% and the set flow to 14%.) Then brush the eraser over the pink areas until you see faint traces of the color and they look nicely blended.



You can repeat the similar process to the background at this time if you want to. Simply Save a PSD copy for any corrections you might need to make in the future and then save as a JPG image.


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