How to Change Black & White Pictures to Color

By Theodora Pennypacker
Adobe Photoshop can give color to a black and white picture.

Black and white photographs have traditionally been colorized by a process of hand-coloring. This manual method by which dry pigments were painted onto film was a popular practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Hand-coloring fell out of favor with the introduction of color film in the 1950s, but it endured as a novel technique for reviving antiquated photographs. Today, graphics editing software like Adobe Photoshop offers an easy and convenient solution for colorizing black and white images. The application’s layer and paintbrush features can be used to bring new life to these pictures.

Change a Black & White Picture to Color

Open your black and white image in Photoshop. This can be done in one of two ways. You can right-click on the image’s icon in its saved location and select "Open with ... " then "Photoshop". Alternatively, you can open Photoshop, and open the saved image from the File menu.

Add a new layer to your image. Go to the main menu and select "Layer" then "New" and "Layer."

Name the layer according to which area of the image it will be colorizing. For instance, if you’re going to begin by giving color to the backdrop of your image, label your first layer “backdrop.”

Change the blending mode of your new layer. In the layers palette, click on the drop-down menu and select "Color."

Click on the brush tool in the toolbar and pick a color for your layer. You can adjust the shape, master diameter, and hardness of your brush stroke with drop-down menus at the top of the screen.

Hold down the left button of the mouse to “paint” the area you’re colorizing.

Repeat Steps 2 through 6 to add color to other areas of your image. Don’t be too concerned about coloring within the lines--all the layers can be cleaned up later.

Click on your first layer. From the main menu, under "Image," choose "Adjustments" then "Hue/Saturation." Check the "Colorize" box in the Hue/Saturation window and modify each of the levels to fine-tune the color to its desired appearance.

Repeat Step 8 for each of your layers.

Fix any layers where the color needs to be cleaned up. Select a specific layer and click on the eraser tool on the toolbar. Move the tool over any places where the color has bled outside of the lines. Repeat as necessary on other layers.

Save your completed colorized image.

Tip

When coloring large areas, consider using the paintbucket tool instead of the brush tool. The paintbucket tool will instantaneously color a layer, and it can be a useful tool for “backdrop” layers.

About the Author

Based in New York City, I am an online video producer who has more than five years of experience working in digital media. I specialize in video compression and distribution, video software, online video sharing and portable device use. I received my B.A. in Film Studies in 2005 from Vassar College.