by Weston Maggio

How to Colorize Black and White Photos with Photoshop and a Wacom Tablet

The process of colorizing black and white photos is not overly difficult, but it does take a bit of imagination -- and in some cases even a little research. Depending on the image, you may be able to take some creative liberties in choosing the colors that you'll apply to your image. If working on family photos, ask relatives for accounts of the people and places in photos. Pay particular attention to clothes, hair and eye color. If working on historical images, look for references that would suggest how things looked “back then”. Uniforms, especially those from the military, are well documented.

If you’ve ever painted with watercolors, the colorization process is quite similar: Starting in Adobe Photoshop with light or low opacity colors, you brush on additional color, building up deeper tones. Using a pressure sensitive pen makes this exceptionally easy. Using the grayscale image as a guide, the process almost feels like working on a coloring book. Depending on the level of detail that you are going for, you can work with a minimal color palette, or numerous shades.

Watch the following tutorial to learn how to colorize a black and white photo. It's a lot of fun, and with a little practice the results can be quite rewarding.

Quick Step-by-Step Process

  • Ensure that your color mode is set to RGB.
  • Make necessary contrast adjustments.
  • Repair any blemishes or imperfections in the image.
  • Utilize Solid Color Adjustment Layers whose blend mode is set to Color.
  • Use a Soft Round brush tip to start and adjust hardness as needed.
  • Set Brush Opacity as needed. Be mindful of highlights and shadows.
  • Gently paint around the edges of areas that you wish to fill with color.
  • Adjusting the hardness of the brush tip as needed
  • Use the Lasso tool and Fill command to fill large areas.
  • Opt/Alt + Clicking the layer mask thumbnail shows/hides the mask
  • Lower layer opacity to soften colors.
  • Organize layers using Layer Groups.

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