Black & White Colorized Effect

It’s doubly or maybe even triply retro, and everyone’s asking me how it’s done. So at long last, here’s how to apply that “hand-colored” look to your digital or scanned photos.

The Finished Product
The Finished Product

*note* – This tutorial requires Photoshop. You could try to adapt the steps to Paint Shop Pro or the Gimp with plugins. Here’s how to take your full color digital photos, convert them to black and white or sepia, then _easily_ “colorize” them for that oh so retro look. When I apply this look, I usually do it because I want to:

– Simplify an overly-busy background while making the subject stand out

– Emphasize part of a picture

– Unify a group of unrelated photos

– Draw your eyes away from overly-tricky editing (Like the time I erased the top of my niece’s head off an otherwise perfect snapshot from my sister’s wedding. I pretty much had to re-draw that part of her husband’s shirt, but by drawing your attention to just the colored flowers, you wouldn’t notice.)

In any case, I start with a full color picture I like.

Before any edits - these are my kids playing with bubbles
Before any edits - these are my kids playing with bubbles

I crop, adjust levels, sharpen, and do whatever I need to do to bring the picture as close to perfect as I can get it. If you need help with those items, there are a million tutorials that’ll tell you how. Also, depending on the look you’re going for, you can increase the saturation on the picture a little bit at this point. I did here, because I wanted the bubble colors to really stand out.

Cropped, edited to remove a few things I didn't like, etcetera
Cropped, edited to remove a few things I didn't like, etcetera

The easiest colorization technique, in my opinion, is to use a photo that already has some pretty good color in the subject, switch it to black and white, then, rather than re-coloring, you simply mask (hide) the black and white effect where you want the color to show through. Don’t let the term “Mask” scare you. I would say un-black and white but that just sounds weird.

To convert the photo to “black and white”, open it in Photoshop and go to Layers / New Fill Layer / Solid Color / and change the mode to Color before clicking okay. If you play with the colors a bit here you can see the possibilities for fun with Color are endless! I’m working on warhol-esque picture of my kids in bright colors for their bedroom wall. But that’s a story for another day. For now, type either “CCCCCC” in the #box at the bottom for plain black and white, or you can use “E0D2C8” for a faint sepia. Feel free to adjust the color to your liking, just remember that for the show-through color to stand out, you’ll need some sort of contrast between it and the overall color.

Converted to sepia
Converted to sepia

Now open your layers palette (Window / Layers). You’ll notice your color layer has a thumbnail (mini picture of the layer) with color in it linked next to a white thumbnail, called the Layer Mask Thumbnail. Click on the white block to select it.

Layer Mask Thumbnail
Layer Mask Thumbnail

Whoah, did your whole picture just get a red tint? No worries, that’s just there to help you see the mask better. Or if you didn’t see the red tint, don’t worry either. Just grab a paintbrush in the size and shape you like, change the color to black (yes, black) and start painting where you want the colored picture underneath to show through. If you make a mistake, simply erase it with white.

I chose this picture tonight (while I’m waiting on laundry) because the bubbles I want to colorize are round and therefore really easy to fix up this way. Aren’t I lazy? I could have chosen a better pic but this one’s good for learning. If you want to practice with this picture you can. These are my kids playing with a bubble machine we gave my daughter for her birthday & I thought the bubbles might look cool this way.

Once you’ve masked all the areas you want color showing through, click on your main layer again (to get rid of the rubylith red tinted mask-helper if you’ve got that on) and vioalla! You’ve got a cute, colorized looking picture.

But are some of the bubbles too red??
But are some of the bubbles too red??

But wait! Suppose some of the colorized parts are TOO colorized, or maybe just the wrong color? As in the case of these bubbles in front of Mary’s shirt – they’re just too red for the rest of the picture if you ask me. Simply create yet another colorized layer underneath the b&w / sepia layer (so click on the background layer, then click Layers / New Layer) and this time, just use your paint in the colors of your choice to get the effect you want. In this case, I got extra tricky and cloned the bubble colors I liked using the clone stamp tool set to “all layers” Whatever works, right?

The Finished Product
The Finished Product

Save a layered copy (in case you decide to play with it more later) and also save a jpg. And that’s that. Have fun!

7 thoughts on “Black & White Colorized Effect

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s