How to Color Black and White Photos

How to Color Black and White Photos

Learn how to let Photoshop auto-color your black and white images, or add your own colors with a single click, using the Colorize filter in Photoshop 2022!

In this tutorial, I show you how easy it is to add color to a black and white photo using the Colorize filter in Photoshop. Colorize was first introduced as a beta filter back in Photoshop 2021 but has been upgraded to an official feature in Photoshop 2022.

The Colorize filter is one of Photoshop’s Neural Filters. This means it uses machine learning, along with Adobe’s artificial intelligence known as Adobe Sensei, to analyze your black and white image and automatically figure out which colors to use. The initial results are often amazing. And if the colors in some areas don’t look right, the Colorize filter lets you select those areas and choose your own colors with a single click! Let’s see how it works.

To use the Colorize filter, you will need Photoshop 2022 (or later). If you are an existing Creative Cloud subscriber, make sure that your copy of Photoshop is up to date.

Step 1: Open a black and white image

You can follow along by opening any black and white image into Photoshop. It doesn’t need to be an old vintage photo, although colorizing old photos is really what the Colorize filter was designed for.

It also doesn’t need to be completely black and white. This image from Adobe Stock has a sepia tint which would still work fine. But if you do want to convert your image entirely to black and white before you start, I’ll show you a quick way to do it in a moment:

And old black and white photo that will be colorized using the Colorize filter in Photoshop 2022

The original image.

Step 2: Make sure the image is in RGB Color

The Colorize filter makes coloring black and white photos faster and easier than ever. But before we can use it, and to get the best results from the filter, there’s a couple of things we need to do to prepare the original image.

First, the Colorize filter only works with images that are in the RGB color mode. But many black and white photos were saved in Grayscale mode. So to make sure your image is in RGB, go up to the Image menu in the Menu Bar and choose Mode.

If you see a checkmark next to RGB Color, you’re good to go. But if Grayscale is checked, then click on RGB Color to select it:

Making sure the black and white image is in the RGB color mode, not the Grayscale mode

Making sure the image is using RGB color.

You can also view the document’s color mode in the tab at the top:

The document tab in Photoshop showing the current color mode

The document tab showing the current color mode.

Step 3: Boost the contrast if the image is faded

Also, the Colorize filter works best with images that have a good amount of contrast. So if you are working with an old photo that has faded over time, you’ll want to fix the contrast before adding color. And here’s a quick way to do it.

Duplicate the Background layer

In the Layers panel, click on the Background layer and drag it down onto the New Layer icon:

Dragging the Background layer onto the New Layer icon in Photoshop's Layers panel

Dragging the Background layer onto the New Layer icon.

A copy of the layer appears above the original:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the Background copy layer

The copy appears.

Double-click on the copy’s name to highlight it, rename the layer “Contrast”, and then press Enter on a Windows PC, or Return on a Mac, to accept it:

RenaminFg the layer Contrast

Renaming the copy Contrast.

Desaturate the image

If your image has a color tint to it like mine does, and you want to remove it (which can help to improve contrast), then go up to the Image menu, choose Adjustments, and then Desaturate:

Choosing the Desaturate command from Photoshop's Image Adjustments menu

Going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

This removes any color and leaves the image in black and white:

The color tint has been removed from the black and white image

The color tint has been removed from the image.

Related: Create instant high contrast black and white photos!

Choose the Auto Contrast command

Then to increase the contrast, go up to the Image menu and choose Auto Contrast:

Choosing the Auto Contrast command in Photoshop

Going to Image > Auto Contrast.

And here’s my result with Auto Contrast applied:

The black and white image after applying Photoshop's Auto Contrast command

The result after applying Auto Contrast.

If Auto Contrast made some areas too bright or too dark, then before you do anything else, go up to the Edit menu and choose Fade Auto Contrast:

Choosing the Fade Auto Contrast command in Photoshop

Going to Edit > Fade Auto Contrast.

Then lower the Opacity of the Auto Contrast command to fade the effect. But I’ll leave mine at 100 percent:

How to fade Auto Contrast in Photoshop

Fade the contrast if needed by lowering the opacity.

Step 4: Select the Neural Filters

Now that we’re prepared our image, we’re ready to apply the Colorize filter. As I mentioned earlier, Colorize is one of Photoshop’s Neural Filters. So to select it, go up to the Filter menu and choose Neural Filters:

Selecting Neural Filters in Photoshop

Going to Filter > Neural Filters.

This opens the Neural Filters workspace, with the image on the left and the Neural Filters panel on the right:

The image open in Photoshop's Neural Filters panel

The image open in the Neural Filters panel.

If you can’t see your entire image, go to the toolbar along the left of the workspace and double-click on the Hand Tool icon to fit the image on screen:

Double-clicking on the Hand Tool in the Neural Filters toolbar

Double-clicking on the Hand Tool.

Step 5: Download and turn on Colorize

The Neural Filters panel on the right lists all of the filters we can choose from. The official filters are in the Featured section, while the Beta section gives us early access to filters that are still a work in progress. As of Photoshop 2022, Colorize has been upgraded from Beta to Featured.

But before we can use a filter, we first need to download it. So if a cloud icon appears on the right of the Colorize filter’s tab, click the icon to download the filter:

Clicking the cloud icon to download the Colorize filter in Photoshop

Clicking the cloud icon to download the Colorize filter.

Once the filter is downloaded, the cloud icon will turn into a toggle switch. Click it to turn the Colorize filter on:

Turning on the Colorize filter in Photoshop

Turning on the Colorize filter.

The initial colorized image result

Photoshop analyzes the image, and after a few moments, we get a very impressive initial result. Since Colorize uses machine learning, it’s able to detect different elements in the image, like faces, clothing, trees and other objects, and figure out which colors to use.

As we see with my image, Colorize does an amazing job with faces and skin tones. And it also did well with the trees and grass in the background. But other areas, like the coats and hats, need some work:

The initial result from Photoshop's Colorize filter

The initial colorizing effect.

Step 6: Add focal points to edit colors in specific areas

The options for the Colorize filter appear along the right of the Neural Filters panel. And at the top of the column is a smaller preview of the original photo, with no coloring applied. This is where we can select different areas and change the color:

The image preview at the top of the Colorize options in Photoshop

The image preview at the top of the Colorize options.

The Auto Color Image option

But before we start editing colors, I just want to point out the option below the preview called Auto color image. This option is turned on by default, which is why Photoshop goes ahead and colors the image for us. If you turn Auto color image off by unchecking it, the image will revert back to its original black and white. And if you turn the option back on, Photoshop will auto color the image again.

In most cases, you’ll want to leave Auto color image turned on. But if you ever want to color the entire image yourself without using auto color, then start by turning Auto color image off. For this tutorial, I’ll leave it on:

The Auto color image option in Photoshop's Colorize filter

The Auto color image option.

Adding a focal point

To change the color of an object in the image, all we need to do is click on it in the image preview to add a focal point. I want to change the color of the man’s coat, so I’ll click on his coat to add a focal point to that spot:

Adding a focal point to change the color of a specific part of the image.

Adding a focal point to the image.

Choosing a new color

Since this is the first focal point I’ve added, Photoshop automatically opens the Color Picker so I can choose a new color. I’ll choose a shade of brown by setting the Hue (H) value to 30 degrees, the Saturation (S) to 60 percent and the Brightness (B) to 50 percent.

You won’t really know how the color looks until you apply it, so just click OK to close the Color Picker:

Choosing brown from Photoshop's Color Picker

Choosing brown from the Color Picker.

And here we see that the brown looks pretty good, although the color is a bit too saturated:

The color of the man's coat has been changed.

The color of the coat has been changed.

Editing the color

Back in the image preview, the focal point appears as a dot filled with our chosen color. To edit the color and try again, click the color swatch below the image:

Clicking the color swatch to edit the color.

Clicking the color swatch to edit the color.

And then choose a different color, or a different shade of the color, from the Color Picker. I’ll lower the Saturation value from 60 percent down to 40 percent:

Lowering the saturation of the color in Photoshop's Color Picker.

Lowering the saturation of the color.

Then I’ll click OK to close the Color Picker, and now the coat looks better:

The man's color is now less saturated.

The coat is now less saturated.

Moving the focal point

But notice that the color is not being applied to the entire coat evenly. It appears stronger and more saturated around the spot where the focal point was added, but then it fades out as we move farther away. And in some areas, like the top of the coat below the man’s ear, the blue from the auto color effect is still showing through:

The color effect in the coat is uneven.

The color in the coat is uneven.

If I click on my focal point and drag it to a different part of the coat, like the lower left:

Dragging the focal point to a different part of the coat.

Dragging the focal point to a different part of the coat.

Then the more saturated areas of color move along with it. And the top of the coat below his ear and along his shoulder is even less affected by the focal point than it was before:

The area of highest color saturation moves with the focal point

The saturation levels move along with the focal point.

The focal point Size slider

So how do we spread the color out so it affects a wider area? Well you could try changing the size of the focal point using the Size slider next to the color swatch. Drag the slider to the right to increase the size and spread the color outward, or drag to the left to make the focal point smaller and focus the color more on that one spot:

The focal point Size slider in Photoshop's Colorize filter

The focal point Size slider.

But even with the size increased, the color is still not spread out evenly:

Increasing the focal point side did not solve the color uniformity problem

Increasing the size did not solve the color uniformity problem.

So since increasing the size didn’t work, I’ll reset the Size slider back to its default setting, which is just left of center:

Resetting the Size slider location.

Resetting the Size slider’s location.

Adding more focal points

A better way to spread the color out is to simply add more focal points. Each new point will use the same color, so just click to add as many points as needed.

Here I’ve added a total of five focal points to the coat:

Adding more focal points to spread out the color of the coat

Adding more focal points to spread out the color.

And now the coat looks better with the color spread out more evenly:

The result after adding more focal points around the coat

The result after adding more focal points around the coat.

How to copy a focal point

Along with clicking to add new focal points, we can also copy an existing focal point.

I want to make the man’s hat the same color as his coat. So I could click on the hat to add a new point. Or I can hold the Alt key, or the Option key on a Mac, and drag a copy of one of my existing focal points onto the hat:

Dragging a copy of an existing focal point

Dragging a copy of an existing focal point.

And now the hat and the coat are the same color:

The man's hat and coat are now the same color

The hat’s color now matches the coat.

How to delete a focal point

If you need to delete a focal point, click on the point to select it and then click the Delete icon (the minus icon) next to the color swatch.

And if you deleted the point by mistake and want to bring it back, you can undo your last step by pressing Ctrl+Z on a Windows PC or Command+Z on a Mac:

Click the minus icon to delete the selected focal point

Click the minus icon to delete the selected focal point.

How to remove color from an area

Notice how the brown from the coat is bleeding into the man’s tie:

The brown color of the coat is extending into the man's tie

The coat color is extending into other areas, like the tie.

I’m guessing his tie was probably gray. So to remove the color, I’ll click to add a new focal point on his tie:

Adding a new focal point to change the color of the man's tie

Adding a new focal point to the tie.

Then I’ll click the color swatch:

Clicking the color swatch to change the focal point color.

Clicking the color swatch to change the focal point’s color.

And in the Color Picker, I’ll choose gray by lowering the Saturation down to 0 percent. Then I’ll click OK:

Choosing gray by lowering the Saturation to 0 in Photoshop's Color Picker.

Choosing gray by lowering the Saturation to 0.

I’ll add another focal point to the top of the tie, also set to gray, to spread the color out:

Adding a second gray focal point to the tie

Adding a second gray focal point to the tie.

And that looks better. Making the tie gray also cleaned up most of the brown that was bleeding into his shirt:

The brown from the tie has been removed

The brown from the tie has been removed.

Watch for shifting colors

Sometimes, adding a new color to one area causes the color in another area to shift. And looking at the previous image, we see that after adding gray to the tie, the left side of the coat has lost some of its saturation.

So to fix that, I’ll click on one of the existing focal points on the coat to switch my color from gray back to brown:

Selecting a previous focal point to switch colors

Selecting a previous focal point to switch colors.

And then I’ll click to add a few more focal points to the coat:

Adding more focal points to the coat

Adding more focal points the areas with lower saturation.

And now the saturation in restored:

The coat is more evenly colorized once again

The coat is more evenly colorized once again.

Saving other problem areas for later

There are still a few problems though, like in the bottom of the image where the brown from the coat sleeve is bleeding into the background. But rather than trying to fix it with focal points, I’ll show you how to paint away problems like this with the Brush Tool at the end of the tutorial:

A problem with the color that can more easily be fixed later with the Brush Tool

A problem that can more easily be fixed later with the Brush Tool.

Coloring the woman’s coat

I also want to change the color of the woman’s coat. So in the preview image, I’ll click on her coat to add a new focal point:

Adding a new focal point to the woman's coat in Photoshop's Colorize filter

Clicking to add a new focal point to the woman’s coat.

And since I don’t want to use the same color that I used for the man’s coat, I’ll click the color swatch:

Clicking the color swatch to change the color of the woman's coat

Clicking the color swatch.

For her coat, I’ll go with a shade of red by changing the Hue to 0 degrees. I’ll leave the Saturation at 40 percent and the Brightness at 50 percent, and I’ll click OK:

Choosing red for the woman's coat from Photoshop's Color Picker

Choosing red for the woman’s coat.

Of course, I don’t know what the original colors were so I’m just choosing colors that I think look good. And here’s the initial result using a single focal point:

The initial colorize effect on the woman's coat

The initial color effect using one focal point.

Then to spread the color out more evenly, I’ll click to add more focal points to her coat, all set to the same red color. And I’ll add a couple of points to the woman’s hat to make it the same color as the coat:

Adding more focal points to the woman's coat and to her hat

Adding more focal points to the coat and to the hat.

And things are looking good. But again, there are some problems. In the bottom left corner of the image, the red from the coat sleeve is bleeding into the background. But I’ll ignore it for now and I’ll paint that problem away later, after I’m done with the Colorize filter:

The woman's coat and hat are now colorized using Photoshop's Colorize filter

The woman’s coat and hat are now colorized.

Changing the color of the background

Finally, I think the trees and grass in the background look a bit too green for the time of year that this photo was probably taken. So in the preview image, I’ll click on an area of the background to add another new focal point:

Clicking on the trees in the background to add a new focal point.

Clicking on the trees in the background to add a new focal point.

Since I don’t want to color the trees with red, I’ll click the color swatch:

Clicking on the trees in the background to add a new focal point.

Clicking the color swatch.

In the Color Picker, I’ll set the Hue to 50 degrees. I’ll again leave the Saturation and Brightness at the same values, and I’ll click OK:

Choosing a color from the Color Picker for the trees in the background

Choosing a color for the background.

And since a single focal point won’t do much to cover such a wide area, I’ll click all around the background to add multiple points until the color is spread out evenly.

Here we see the brown focal points coloring the man’s coat and hat, the red focal points coloring the woman’s coat and hat, and the muted green focal points coloring the background:

All the focal points coloring the image in Photoshop's Colorize filter

All the focal points coloring the image.

And here is the result:

The result after re-coloring the background.

The result after re-coloring the background.

Step 7: Adjust the overall saturation and color balance

Once you are done editing specific areas with focal points, you can make global changes to the image using the Saturation and Color Balance sliders.

For example, if I wanted to warm up the image, I could drag the Cyan / Red slider a bit towards Red, and the Yellow / Blue slider slightly towards Yellow:

Using the Color Balance sliders in Photoshop's Colorize filter to warm up the image

Shifting the colors more toward red and yellow to warm up the image.

And here’s the result:

The colors in the image now appear warmer

The colors now appear a bit warmer.

Step 8: Add Color Artifact or Noise Reduction if needed

Below the Color Balance sliders are two more sliders. Color artifact reduction can sometimes help to remove or reduce blotchy colors, especially around edges. But it can also lower the saturation, especially if set to high. I’ll leave it at 0.

And the same goes with the Noise Reduction slider which really just softens the overall image. It’s best left at 0 as well:

The Color Artifact Reduction and Noise Reduction sliders in Photoshop's Colorize filter

The Color Artifact Reduction and Noise Reduction sliders.

Step 9: Compare the original image with the colorized version

To compare the colorized version with the original black and white photo, click the Show Original icon in the lower left of the Neural Filters panel:

Clicking the Show Original icon in Photoshop's Colorize filter

Clicking the Show Original icon.

Here is my original black and white version for comparison:

The original black and white image.

The black and white image.

And here is the colorized version:

The colorized black and white image

The colorized image.

Step 10: Output the colorized image

When you’re happy with the colorized version, choose how you want to output the result. There are two main output choices, and the best one to choose will depend on whether or not you have any areas that need to be cleaned up.

The Output option

If everything went great and there are no areas where the color still needs to be touched up, then choose one of the traditional output methods from the Output option at the bottom of the Neural Filters panel.

The best choice is usually New layer which will output the colorized version on its own layer above the original image:

The standard Output options for Photoshop's Colorize filter

The standard Output options.

Output as new color layer

But if you have areas where the color needs to be cleaned up (like I do), then a better choice is to select the Output as new color layer option directly below the Noise reduction slider. This will output only the color itself to a new layer. And as I’ll show you in a moment, this will make it easy to select the colors we need and paint them over any problem areas:

The Output as new color layer option for Photoshop's Colorize filter

The Output as new color layer option.

As soon as you select Output as new color layer, the image will change to show only the colors that you are applying. So don’t worry if things look weird. This is exactly what we want:

Only the color is visible after choosing Out as new color layer in the Colorize filter

Only the colors themselves are visible.

Then click OK to close the Colorize filter and output the result:

Clicking OK to close Photoshop's Colorize filter

Clicking OK to close the Colorize filter.

And back in Photoshop’s main interface, the image appears colorized:

The black and white image colorized with Photoshop's Colorize filter.

The colorized image.

Since I chose the Output as new color layer option, the Layers panel shows the colors on their own layer above the image. And notice that the layer’s blend mode is set to Color so it affects only the colors in the image, not the brightness values:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the colors on a new layer set to the Color blend mode.

The Layers panel showing the colors on a new layer set to the Color blend mode.

How to clean up problem areas with the Brush Tool

Overall, I think my coloring result looks good. But there are some spots where the colors need to be touched up. So here’s how to quickly fix any problems.

Step 1: Select the Eyedropper Tool

First, in the toolbar, select the Eyedropper Tool:

Selecting the Eyedropper Tool in Photoshop's toolbar

Selecting the Eyedropper Tool.

Step 2: Increase the Sample Size

Then in the Options Bar, make sure the Sample Size is set to something other than Point Sample. With Point Sample selected, you’ll grab the color of the exact pixel you click on. But what we usually want is to sample the average color of the area. So set the Sample Size to something larger, like 5×5 Average or 11×11 Average:

Setting the Eyedropper Tool's Sample Size to something larger than Point Sample

Choosing a Sample Size larger than Point Sample.

Step 3: Select the Brush Tool

Then back in the toolbar, select the Brush Tool. We’re going to switch back and forth between the Eyedropper Tool and the Brush Tool, and I’ll show you an easy way to do it in a moment. We’ll use the eyedropper to sample an area of good color from the image, and then we’ll use the brush to paint that color over a problem area:

Selecting the Brush Tool from Photoshop's toolbar

Selecting the Brush Tool.

Step 4: Choose the Soft Round brush

But first, with the Brush Tool active, right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the image to open the Brush Preset picker. Then twirl open the General Brushes group and make sure the Soft Round brush is selected.

You may also want to increase the size of the brush. I’ll set it to around 100 pixels. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) to accept it:

Choosing the Soft Round brush and increasing the brush size

Choosing the Soft Round brush and increasing the brush size.

Step 5: Look for a problem area

Then look for an area in the image that needs to be cleaned up. One area with my image that’s been bothering me from the beginning is the man’s mustache. The left side looks fine but the right side looks red from being oversaturated:

The right side of the man's mustache in the image is too saturated

The right side of his mustache is too saturated.

Step 6: Sample a good color with the Eyedropper Tool

To fix a problem like this, switch to the Eyedropper Tool temporarily by holding the Alt key, or the Option key on a Mac. Then click with the eyedropper on an area of good color to sample it. I’ll click on the left side of his mustache:

Sampling a good color from the left side of the mustache

Sampling a good color from the left side of the mustache.

Step 7: Paint the good color over the problem area

Release the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key to switch back to the Brush Tool. Then paint the good color over the problem area. If you need to change your brush size, press the right bracket key ( ] ) on your keyboard to make the brush larger or the left bracket key ( [ ) to make it smaller.

Here I’m painting the color from the left side of the mustache over the bright red on the right side. And now the mustache looks much better:

Painting over the bright red with the sampled color

Painting over the bright red with the sampled color.

Step 8: Continue cleaning up other areas

The man’s hat also has areas where the saturation is too strong:

The man's hat shows some red blotchiness

The hat shows some red blotchiness.

So I’ll hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) to switch to the Eyedropper Tool and I’ll click on area of good color to sample it:

Sampling a good color from the man's hat

Sampling a good color from the hat.

Then I’ll release Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) to switch back to the Brush Tool and I’ll paint the color over the entire hat:

Painting over the hat to fix the color

Painting over the hat to fix the color.

And the top of his coat below his ear is still showing some blue from the initial auto color. So I’ll click with the eyedropper to sample a brown color from the coat:

Sampling a good color from the man's coat.

Sampling a good color from the coat.

Then I’ll paint that color over the blue area to fix it:

Painting over the part of the coat where the auto color was still showing

Painting over the area where the auto color was still showing.

I’ll quickly make my way around the rest of the image, sampling good colors with the Eyedropper Tool and painting over problems with the Brush Tool. And here, thanks to the Colorize filter and a few manual touch-ups, is my final colorized result:

The final colorized black and white image using Photoshop's Colorize filter.

The final colorized image.

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