Home > Color Correction, Photoshop Tips/Tricks > The 1 minute colorization.

The 1 minute colorization.


Although I am not typically a fan of colorized images, sometimes clients either want the service or an image just works well for colorization.

This method takes some of the pain out of doing colorization, sometimes also called selective colorization. Generally it would be done with a single object or one or two color tones across a B&W or sepia tone image. Here I will show how to do it to one or two colors quickly and even allow for tweaking of each color independently for more creative uses.

First I will start with this photo of a flower girl in a pretty pink polka dot dress.

Before Image for Colorization

Before Image for Colorization

Overall it is a bright colorful image but I want to try and bring out the pink polka dots to make them stand out.
But before we jump straight to the desaturate function to neutralize the image, if you are using a newer version of Photoshop, I suggest using the B&W Adjustment Layer. This is a non-destructive layer leaving the color in the background image (we need that later) and it allows for further adjustments later. Go ahead and create the B&W adjustment layer over the Background layer. This brings up a dialog box of sliders. Typically the “Auto” settings work just fine but you may want to experiment with the sliders to see what works best for the image. Right now we don’t need to worry about how the areas that will be colorized look in B&W. If you desire a sepia tone look, you can activate the “Tint” button and set the sliders to your desired sepia look.

After B&W and Brightness/Contrast Layers

After B&W and Brightness/Contrast Layers

The next step is optional, but if the B&W image looks dark or flat and lacking contrast, you an add a Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer over the B&W layer and tweak the look of the now B&W image independently. (Often images need a little boost in brightness and contrast when neutralized.) Of course people using older versions of Photoshop can use your preferred method of making the image B&W but duplicate the Background layer first so it remains full color.

Now that we have the image neutralized, it should look a little bit like the example to the right.

Now go ahead and drag the full color Background layer to the New Layer button to duplicate that layer and place the duplicate at the top of the layer stack. This will be what we use for the colorization of one color or color range. With that layer set to active, under the Select menu, choose Color Range which brings up a display of what areas will be selected as well as the eye dropper tool. Using the dropper tool, sample the color you wish to show through. (Using the + and – Eye Dropper tools you can add or subtract colors as well.) The “Fuzziness” slider expands the area that the color selection affects, you may want to experiment with that to get the desired effect.

Select -> Color Range

Select -> Color Range

When you are done with that, press OK and it will create a selection over the image. What we want to do now is use that selection as a layer mask to hide all of the color except what we want to show through. With the top full color layer still active, press the Layer Mask button (between the FX button and the Adjustment Layers button). This should automatically change the selection into a mask which hides everything but our selected color range. If it hides the color you want selected and everything else shows through, you can invert that layer mask by selecting it and using Image -> Adjustments -> Invert. While we are working on the layer mask layer, we can go ahead and add some additional color back into the image for added effect. Using the brush tool set to a large diameter and the edge softness at 100%, I am going to “paint” with white over her cheeks on the layer mask. This will reveal her pretty pink cheeks and look more custom. If you mess up, just press X to invert the color to black and paint again. Also if the Color Range selection captured color in areas that you do not want colorized, you can also use the black and white paintbrushes on the layer mask to clean up those areas you need manually but always check your work at 100% magnification.

With Selective Colorization

With Selective Colorization

Now the image should look a little something like this. And it should not have taken long to get to this point. We can either leave this alone, flatten the layers and save it as a new file OR if we want, we can go into multiple colors. If you want multiple selective colors, say in this case I want to bring back the green grass with the pink polka dots just for the example. Go ahead and drag the Background layer to the New Layer button as you did before and bring that to the top of the layer stack as before. Using the steps above for the Select -> Color Range, go ahead and pick the green grass and click OK. On that layer, go ahead create the layer mask which will reveal the green and hide everything else.

Layer Stack

Layer Stack

Now that we have the Background layer, B&W Layer, Brightness / Contrast Layer and two layers for selective color with layer masks, the layer stack will look a little bit like this.

Now a few people may ask, why duplicate the background layer? Why not just do the layer mask on the B&W Adjustment Layer instead? Well, doing each color on it’s own layer allows for individual adjustment of each color and mask without causing problems with other layers. This way, perhaps I want to make the pink polka dots blue. I can do that without causing the green grass to go rust red. Perhaps I want to partly desaturate the green grass, I can adjust the layer opacity for just the grass and keep the full color of the dress. Or I can even change the blending mode for each layer for different effects. (Using the Color blending mode sometimes looks better than Normal blending mode.)

Just remember one thing, use selective colorization sparingly. It is very easy to misuse and abuse. But this guide should help make it a lot easier to do quickly. (You could even create an action for yourself if you want to make some of the steps even quicker.) Here is the final finished image.

With Dual Colorization

With Dual Colorization

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