Using Photoshop For Old Photo Restoration: A Complete Guide

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Full photo restoration can be time-consuming, but it can also be extremely rewarding.

If you’re looking for restoration how-to’s, your search is over! In this tutorial, we’ll walk you through the process of old photo restoration using Adobe Photoshop. Even if you’re a beginner, these steps will help you enhance images without breaking a sweat.

But just in case you’re pressed for time (or if you want an expert touch), you can also leave it to pro editors. Head over to our order page now to make an inquiry! Our skilled team will colorize and restore old vintage photos and bring them back to life.


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Photoshop Tools For Restoring Old Photos

Before we get into the tutorial, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the tools you can use on Photoshop CC. You can activate these tools by clicking their icons on the toolbox window. If you need a visual, you can check out a YouTube video or two to help you out!

Keep in mind that your toolbox window will differ depending on what mode you’re using. Switch to the Expert mode to see all the available tools you can use for the photo restoration process.

Here are some tools you’ll be using:

  • Clone Stamp: The clone tool paints an image using a sample. It can be used to duplicate objects and remove imperfections or marks.
  • Spot healing brush: This is designed to remove spots and unwanted objects, similar to the patch tool.
  • Smart brush tool: This creates tonal and hue adjustments to specific parts of a photo. This is useful for removing scratches and other types of damage.
  • Elliptical marquee: This selects an area in your image in a circular shape.
  • Burn tool: This darkens areas of a certain image to bring out details.

Photoshop: Old Photo Restoration Tutorial

The best part of using Adobe Photoshop for old photo restoration is that it preserves the original image. You can make all the enhancements on your computer, and then share them on social media without touching the physical photo. You can also print the photographs as many times as you like.

Here are the basic steps for how to restore an old photo:

Step 1: Scan The Image

Step 1 is to gather old photos that need enhancement. You can start with family photos that have tears, scratches, or faded colors. You can even choose to colorize black and white images.

Once you’ve gathered all the pictures you want to restore, scan the images. Read here to learn on the best format to scan photos. You can visit a local service provider in case you don’t have a scanner at home. You may also take a picture of the photo with a high-definition camera, but scanned images will always have higher quality.

Step 2: Prepare And Crop The Image

Once you have a scanned copy of the old photos, open the digital file on Adobe Photoshop. You may need to do a bit of image rotation before starting.

Then, use the crop tool in Photoshop to cut the image to the size you need it to be. Make sure to set the resolution to at least 300dpi, so that the image will have the exact length and width you want once you decide to reprint the photo.

If the resolution is lower than 300, then the image size will be smaller once reprinted. If the resolution is higher than that, then the image size will be bigger.

It’s best to go with standard photo print sizes so that you won’t have trouble looking for a picture frame for your photos later on.

Here are some of the sizes you can choose from:

  • 4 x 6
  • 5 x 7
  • 8 x 10
  • 10 x 13
  • 10 x 20
  • 11 x 14
  • 16 x 20
  • 18 x 24
  • 20 x 24
  • 20 x 30

Step 3: Create A New Layer

When you open an image on Photoshop, the original file will be on what’s called the “Background” layer. It’s best not to edit the Background layer directly so that you can revert changes or check the original image after making adjustments. Instead, create a new layer on top of it and work on that.

Look for the layers panel on Photoshop. Drag the Background layer to the copy layer icon at the bottom and rename it. Once you’re done, you can hide the background layer by clicking on the “eye” icon.

Photoshop interface duplicating a layer

Step 4: Repair Tears And Other Damage

If your photo is torn into different pieces, don’t worry. You can easily patch these photos in Photoshop.

Use the lasso tool to select each piece and copy-paste them into separate layers. Then, put the pieces together. Create a new layer and use the Clone Stamp tool to cover any parts that are missing.

Using The Clone Stamp Tool In Photoshop To Restore Old Photographs
Lassoo Tool Photoshop Restore
Repairing Torn Photos Using Photoshop

Step 5: Remove Dust And Scratches

Cleaning up the image is the simplest way to restore old and damaged photos. On the Filter pane on the taskbar, you’ll find the Noise Option. Under this, click on Dust & Scratches.

Next, open a pop-up window and increase the Radius and Threshold levels. Make adjustments until the photo looks cleaner. 

If there are still several defects left, create a new layer and use the spot healing brush to paint over the remaining flaws.

Removing Scratches & Noise From The Photograph Using Photograph
Removing Scratches & Noise From The Photograph Using Photograph

Step 6: Do A Bit Of Noise Reduction

Noise refers to grainy details in photographs that obscure details. With Photoshop, you can easily correct these flaws and sharpen the image.

On the Filter panel, you should see the Noise Reduction tool to adjust and remove noise. Don’t overuse the tool to avoid making the image look unnatural!

Make sure to zoom in and out to check for any missing details.


Step 7: Improve Tone And Vibrancy

To restore faded color photos in Photoshop, you only need to do some simple color corrections. In the Adjustments tab on your taskbar, you should see three options:

  • Auto tone
  • Auto contrast
  • Auto color

These automatic tools may give you the effect you need without having to manually adjust contrast and levels yourself.

Step 8: Do Some Color Correction

If you want to enhance and restore an old photo further, try adjusting the levels. This color correction technique is useful if your image is too yellowish, which is common for old photographs.

Start by selecting the levels adjustment tool below the layer. You should also see it appear in your Photoshop panels. 

Click the RGB icon and it will show the red, green, and blue channels to choose from. This will help you remove the color cast of the image you’re working with.

If the photo is in sepia, add a black and white adjustment layer.


Step 9: Colorize The Image

Colorizing is optional, but it’s one of the best ways you can enhance an image using Photoshop.

There are several techniques you can use to accomplish this task. Feel free to choose among the following:

Use A Brush With Solid Color Adjustment Layers

This technique is quite similar to painting over an actual photo. Add a solid color adjustment layer for every part of the photo you want to paint, then change the blending mode to Color so the details of the original image remain visible.

Use a brush to paint over the part of the image you want to colorize. Change to a tinier brush size if you’re painting small areas. Don’t forget to add a separate layer for each aspect of the photo you’re painting, so you can easily delete or make adjustments!

Use The Quick Selection Tool With Solid Color Layers

Same with other techniques, you’ll need to create a new layer to colorize photos using this method. Then, use the Quick Selection tool to outline areas you want to fill. Afterward, you can use the Refine Edge button to make sure you’ve selected the right areas.

Once you’ve selected the area you want to fill, add a solid color fill layer with the blend mode to Color. Then, add fill in the areas to your liking.

One tip for this method is using the Quick Mask mode to remove areas you don’t want to paint. This is useful for small details like eyes.


Use Curve Adjustment Layers

The most simple method is by adding a Curve adjustment layer. Pick the shade you want on the pop-up window for curve adjustment then use the brush to paint.

Step 10: Add A Vignette

Adding a vignette darkens the borders of the image, allowing the subject to shine and become the center of attention.

To create a vignette, use the elliptical marquee tool at about 200 px size. Then, select the subject then choose Select > Invert selection. This will allow you to highlight everything around the subject.


Finally, create a new layer using your selection. Then, adjust this layer’s levels by choosing cmd+L. You can also use the Burn tool to darken this portion of your image.


Step 11: Save The Image

Once you’re satisfied with your work, save the image.

Note that saving in an image format like .jpg and .png will merge layers. You can save a separate .PSD file so that you can make additional edits later on if you wish to.

Tips For Old Photo Restoration In Photoshop

Before you begin to restore damaged photos following the steps from our tutorial, read the tips below. They’ll help make the process easier and simpler.

Use A Graphics Tablet

If you want to restore old photos regularly, it might be a good idea to invest in a graphics tablet to use with your editing laptop. This will give you more control as you’re painting over the images.

Use Keyboard Shortcuts

Learning how to use keyboard shortcuts can cut your working time significantly. As you Photoshop old family photos, keyboard shortcuts will easily allow you to change the Blend Mode of the painting tool.

Don’t Just Go With Your Gut

If you’re restoring historical photographs, it’s best to research rather than just going with your gut. For example, you can check other images to see what colors public figures used to wear.

Don’t Just Go With Your Gut

Painting over photos of people can be tough, but you don’t have to rely on your imagination. Check other photos to get a clue on how the final result is supposed to look.

For example, when you’re painting over skin, you might have to add different undertones like pink, blue, or yellow. Try looking for a reference photo of a person that would have a similar skin tone then replicate the look.

Hire A Pro To Restore Old Photos Now

Photo editing isn’t a simple task, but you can learn how to do it by following the steps in our tutorial. With consistent practice, you can make an old photograph look like it was taken yesterday.

Still, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. If you’re looking for a photo restoration service, Image Restoration Center should be your top pick. Our pro editors will restore old family photos at highly reasonable rates.

The best part is that the entire process can be done online. Why go through all the trouble of looking for local shops when you can just send us an online request and have the restored photo right to your door? It’s that easy and convenient!


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