Black-and-white photos have a unique dreamlike quality, but sometimes converting them to full color can help a new generation relate to their family histories better.
But how does someone even start to colorize black-and-white photos?
Many folks try adding color to black-and-white images using specialized software, but this can be time-consuming – not to mention the steep learning curve that many of these programs have! Others might opt for a quick and dirty solution, using AI machine learning to add color to an original image. However, there’s a considerable margin for error when using these AI-powered free online apps, which can leave your original black-and-white photo looking worse for wear.
So if you’re looking for a fast and reliable way to colorize black-and-white photos, consider working with a professional. Image Restoration Center can perfect, polish, and colorize your pictures in a flash.
But if you want to achieve those rich color photos yourself, then read on.
Why Colorize Photos?
Most people colorize black-and-white photos because they want the extra oomph a vivid splash of color can add. But there are other reasons to put an old picture through the photo colorization process, too.
The most common reason people convert an old image into a color photo is that they want to refresh old memories and make them feel new again. On the other hand, some people may just want to make an original photo seem a little more creative by adding solid color to certain parts of their monochrome pictures – like adding a brilliant splash of color to a flower, contrasting its black-and-white background.
Option 1: Colorize Images Using Adobe Photoshop
Professionals and amateurs alike use an assortment of free and paid apps to colorize photos, but Adobe Photoshop is one of the most popular choices across the board. Here’s how you can convert your old photo in Photoshop with enough time, patience, and technical know-how.
Step 1: Scan Your Black-And-White Pictures And Open Them In Photoshop
First thing’s first: prepare your old photos for colorization. You can scan or snap an image of the photograph, but make sure all the details are clear and well-lit. Once you’re ready, simply open up your black-and-white photos in Photoshop to get started.
Step 2: Use The Quick Selection Tool To Isolate The Background
Once you have your photo opened up and in your Photoshop workspace, make a new layer. Any adjustments you make at this stage don’t directly impact the photo – making further adjustments will be much easier down the line.
When you’ve successfully added a new adjustment layer, use the quick selection tool to isolate your background. This will select anything in your photo with the same color. However, if your image has a complicated background, you may want to use the polygonal selection or lasso tool and adjust as you go instead.
Step 3: Create A Solid Color Fill Layer
The next step to bringing your old photos back to life is to add a new solid color adjustment layer. As the name suggests, this adds a solid color within the bounds of your selection.
You may notice that after making a solid color adjustment layer, you’ll be able to tweak and choose a shade pretty easily. But there’s one problem: it covers up everything underneath it! It’s part of the process, and the next step will fix this issue.
Step 4: Change The Blend Mode From Normal To Overlay
Now that you’ve added color to your picture using the fill layer technique, you have a giant block of color instead of a perfectly colorized image. Luckily, this is easily correctable!
Change the blending mode on your layer from “normal” to “overlay”, and the bold swath of pigment will transform into a light application of pink or any other color you’ve chosen.
Step 5: Fix And Smooth Any Color Imperfections
Even when you carefully select all the edges and create new layers for each color, you can make mistakes. Luckily, a photo editing app like Photoshop makes fixing this incredibly simple.
Navigate to the layer with color bleed or imperfections and use the erase tool to brush away all the excess color – it’s that easy! With this trick, you can colorize black-and-white photos and make them look almost professional.
Step 6: Use The Same Method For Faces And Skin
The key to proper photo colorization is getting organized, and Photoshop excels at separating colors into layers for later editing. Whether you’re colorizing skin, hair, or eyes, the method is the same as we’ve outlined so far. To recap:
- Create a new layer.
- Select the areas you want to colorize. (Make sure they’re generally the same shade!)
- Add the color you desire with a fill.
- Change the overlay type.
You can even use a combination of the brush tool and a layer mask for more accurate – albeit time-consuming – results.
Step 7: Use The Brush Tool To Paint Over Gaps
Now that you’ve gotten a general idea of how to colorize your images, you can continue using the method we’ve outlined until your old photo is bursting with color. But you’re not done yet.
When you add color to your image, you can adjust it for better results. For example, we recommend using the brush tool to make fine-tuned adjustments and cover any spots you’ve missed.
Step 8: Adjust Shadows, Highlights, And Overall Contrast
There are two ways to adjust the light/dark balance of your image in Photoshop. The first is using a black-and-white adjustment layer to fix the entire image quickly, but this may not always give you the exact results you want.
If you have the time and general understanding of light and photography, you can manually brush on the light and dark areas with the dodge and burn tools, respectively. This can add an additional layer of dimension and contrast to skin, enhance your images’ overall quality, and generally give your photo that extra pop beyond adding new color.
Option 2: Add Color With Artificial Intelligence
When you want to colorize your black-and-white photo fast, your best bet is running your image through a free AI service. But do colorized images from machine learning-powered AI programs actually measure up to doing it yourself or enlisting a professional’s help? Let’s find out.
How It Works
Online AI programs automatically colorize images through something called deep learning. This involves “training” the AI on pairs of images, with the black-and-white version alongside its colorized counterpart.
Deep learning seeks to emulate human learning through repeated exposure, but it takes a long time for machines to understand how to color black-and-white photos accurately. Even then, different AI systems follow specific deep learning algorithms, meaning that they analyze your source image differently.
As a result, automatically colorized photos can be hit or miss, and there are no channels to request revisions or leave feedback. In short: it may be fast, but the results are inconsistent.
Automatically Colorizing Your Images: The Results
You may be thinking, “what’s the harm in getting my image colorized by an AI?” You’re probably considering how much it’s going to save you in money and time – and, for the most part, you’d be right. However, AI colorization programs just don’t cut it when you want consistent high-quality results.
AI colorizers confuse clear boundaries between colors, resulting in a muddy technicolor mix that just isn’t good enough for printing and displaying. You may save time and money, but you’ll also receive a garbled, not-so-polished result.
Option 3: Get Them Professionally Done
Colorizing a black-and-white image can be truly transformative when done correctly. Because of this, many folks try to do it themselves and either colorize their photos in Adobe Photoshop or use free AI software, but both can be imperfect solutions to a simple problem. That’s where the professionals come in.
Studios like Image Restoration Center have decades of experience colorizing, restoring, and perfecting photos. Specialized photo studios have state-of-the-art technology and experts that actually know how to use it. That means world-class results without all the grunt work on your end.
Skip the lines, the DIY struggle, and the weird results from AI software – get it done right the first time through a professional like Image Restoration Center.