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How to color black and white photos to give them new life

The story is recorded in black and white, but digital photo editing techniques help us imagine a color past. And with a little artificial intelligence, or some Photoshop maneuvering, you don't have to be Peter Jackson to color your story. Although when filling an old color photo in Photoshop you will have greater control over what color each object adopts, applications such as Colorize or Photoshop Elements offer options to color black and white photos for those who do not have time or do not master Photoshop.

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The easy and relaxed way to color a black and white photo

Thanks to artificial intelligence, manually coloring a photo is not the only option. As technology advances, more and more applications, both mobile and desktop, include the option to color an old photo. Colorize (iOS), Colorize Images (Android) and Photoshop Elements are some of the best applications to do this.

Colorize is an iOS application that uses artificial intelligence to color photos. After importing the photographs, one touch converts the image to color. You can download and try it for free, but it requires a subscription or an individual payment per image to download the new version of the photo.

Colorize Images is a similar application, from another developer, for Android users. The download is free, although it requires a payment per image or a subscription to save the colored photos.

To color your photos on a desktop computer, Photoshop Elements added a coloring tool that works with artificial intelligence with a few clicks. In addition to coloring the photo, Elements offers a handful of different options so you can choose the result that looks best.

Google Photos has also promoted a coloring tool, although it does not launch a non-beta version yet.

How to color a black and white photo with Adobe Photoshop

Do you need more control over the process? Photoshop offers you that control. It took a few hours to color these boyfriends of the past, but the truth is that it was a lot of fun.

1. Make sure the image is in CMYK.

To start, make sure your photo is in CMYK and not in grayscale mode. Go to Image > Mode and choose CMYK color.

2. Select an object with a single color.

Coloring black and white photos recolor select and mask 768x768

To color an old photo you need to make selections, one for each color you want to add.

Photoshop has dozens of different ways to make a selection, all are correct, although some options will be simpler than others. A quick way to make selections to color a photo is with the Selection and Mask tool, accessible through Selection > Selection and mask.

Within the Selection and mask window, make your selection with the brush tool, the first one on the toolbar on the left. Then, improve your selection with the Brush to perfect edges, the second of the toolbar. Use the plus or minus symbols at the top to determine if you want an area to enter or exit the selection and adjust the size of your brush as necessary. On the right side, use the smooth and pull sliders to smooth the edges of the selection.

When you are satisfied with your selection, click OK.

3. Create a solid color adjustment layer.

Coloring black and white photos recolor color mode 768x768

Create a solid color adjustment layer for selection. Go to Cap > New fill layer > Solid color, or in the layers panel, click on the adjustment layer cone and choose Solid Color. Select the color you want for that object and click OK. Now your selection should look like a horribly colored object with only a solid color.

Then, in the layer panel choose the color blending mode, click on the menu that says normal by default and choose color from the list of options. With the color mode selected, you will see the gradations of the original photo and the selection will no longer look as if you had filled it with the Paint Bucket tool.

To refine the color, use the opacity option in the layers panel. You can also double-click on the solid color box that is in the adjustment layer within the layer panel to choose a new color for the layer.

An advice: If you have trouble getting the right color, open a photo that has similar colors and use the dropper to take that color.

4. Refine the selection.

Once the object is colored, it will be easier to detect any mistake you made when making the original selection. Since you are using adjustment layers without directly editing the background layer, those errors are easy to correct. With the adjustment layer selected, return to the Selection and mask option to make the necessary corrections. You can also click on the layer mask in the layer panel (the black and white version of the layer) and use a white brush to add it to the selection, or a black brush to subtract it. For semi-transparent objects, reduce the opacity of the brush.

5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for each color of the photo.

The process must be repeated for each color you want to add to the photo. If two objects are the same color as the leaves of the bouquet and the flower on the buttonhole in the sample photo you can add them to the same selection and the same adjustment layer.

6. Adjust the blacks.

Coloring black and white photos recolor curves 768x768

After adding the color, you may need to increase the contrast of the image, especially if it is an old photo. The black areas of the photograph do not need to be selected and colored because, by definition, black lacks color, although if it is an old or scanned photo, blacks may not look quite right.

Select the background layer and then go to Image > Settings > Curves. Choose blacks in the menu to adjust only blacks. Adjust the curve as necessary for your image. In our sample image we clarify the whites and obscure the halftones and the blacks.

When you are satisfied with your settings, save the image as JPEG for sharing or printing. It would also be a good idea to save it as a PSD file, in case you want to return later to make more adjustments. A PSD file keep those adjustment layers intact.

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