Colorization Effects

Colorization Effects

There are about a million different ways to add cool color effects to your images, whether those images are black and white, color, or effects processed. Actually, I've never had time to count the ways, but you can divide them into two major techniques: Layer Blend Modes and Brush-on Blend Modes. I'm sure that a little imagination on your part will give you ideas on how to modify and combine these into many other different looks. Traditional toning techniques, such as sepia and duotone are covered later in this chapter. The three techniques discussed here are:

  • Hand-coloring or tinting

  • Color Layer overlays

  • Pattern overlays

Once again, as is typical in this chapter, you should start by copying all your layers and merging them into one. We'll apply these effects to that merged layer or its derivatives to keep the original state of your image intact.

Hand-Coloring or Tinting

This is done in traditional photography by chemically sepia-toning a print that's been made intentionally less contrasty than usual because the application of colors tends to give us a darker impression of that image. In case you can't already guess, I'm going to show you the Photoshop equivalent of how to do that same thing. These same techniques can be applied to many different types and looks of images. You could, for instance, use a cross-processed effect (see the "Cross Processing" section later in this chapter) and then intentionally add to the somewhat bizarre look by painting with the brush in any of the Blend Modes. Anyway, back to reality. In the tradition of this book, Figure shows you a standard black and white interpretation of an image and the result of sepia toning and hand-tinting it. To hand-color an image:

Figure. One of the advantages of hand tinting is that you can make anything any color you like. There's also a mood of surrealism or fantasy.

  1. Merge and Duplicate your channels according to the routine in the "Organizing Your Layers to Apply Effects" section at the beginning of this chapter.

  2. From the Layer palette, choose a Channel Mixer adjustment layer. When the Channel Mixer dialog appears, click to check the Monochrome box. Then use the sliders to get the tonal mix you want.

  3. Now you want to lower the contrast just slightly, so that the upcoming sepia tone won't mix too strongly with the colors. From the Layers palette, choose a Curves adjustment layer. Click to place a dot in the lower portion of the curve diagonal and then press the up arrow keys several times until the shadows are as light as you'd like them to be. You can see the image and the curve I used for it in Figure.

    Figure. You may want to adjust the tones in the monochrome interpretation of the file with a Curves adjustment layer.

  4. Select the merged layer and the two adjustment layers you just created and make a new merged copy of that layer at the top of the stack by pressing Cmd/Ctrl-Opt/Alt-E. This is the layer you're going to sepia tone.

  5. Choose ImagePhoto Filter. The Photo Filter dialog, seen in Figure, appears. From the Filter menu, choose Sepia. If you check the Preview button and drag the Density slider, you can watch the image until it attains the density you want. When you're there, click OK.

    Figure. As you can see, the Density slider was moved up to create the level of sepia color that you see in this image.


    This filter can be used to tone your image in any color of the rainbow. Click the Color radio button and then the Color Swatch. Use the Color Picker to pick any color or shade you like. The rest of the procedure is the same as described here.

  6. Choose ImageSwatches so that you can keep the Swatches palette handy for quickly picking color.

  7. Choose the Brush tool. In its Options bar, choose Color from the Blend menu. Of course, if you want to see some really interesting and bizarre effects, you could choose some of the other modes. What the heck, it's your picture and your time, right?

  8. Choose the colors that are appropriate for a particular area of the photo and paint them in. You'll have a much easier time of it if you have a pressure-sensitive pad, such as the Wacom Graphire. Don't be afraid to take liberties to gain effect.


If you create a new Burn and Dodge layer (neutral gray fill in Overlay mode) above your image, you will have an easier time lightening and darkening areas of the image as you try putting in the colors.

Color Layer Overlays

Some of the most delicious effects can be created simply by placing colors on an empty layer and then using Blend Modes to have them affect the original layer. If you're interested in photographic illustration, seriously consider the possibilities in this one effect. The illustration in Figure shows one simple technique that can be used with myriad variations.

Figure. The original image is on the left. On the right, the two colors of brush strokes were made on a transparent layer, blended with the Gaussian Blur filter, and the layer was placed in Hue Blend Mode.

Here's how the image you see on the right in Figure was created from the original you see on the left:

  1. I clicked the New Layer icon in the Layers palette to make a new layer above the original. (If it took several layers to make your original, make a composite layer and start from there.)

  2. I made a fairly large brush and selected foreground and background colors that I felt could convey the feeling of an imaginary sunrise or sunset. I made a shape I liked of the first color, then switched the colors (press X) and filled the empty area with the Paint Bucket tool. I could also have filled with a gradient for a somewhat different effect.

  3. I choose FilterGaussian Blur and cranked the slider all the way to the right, then clicked OK. As you can see, this made the two colors blend smoothly over a wide area.

  4. All that remained was to pick the right blending mode. That choice is rarely the same for any two layers, given the difference in the color and content of the two layers. In this case, the mode I chose was Hue.

  5. I was really happy with the result, but couldn't stop experimenting. So I made another copy of the original layer. Then I used SelectFigure. These are the settings I used for the Outer Glow Layer Style used on the layer that contained the silhouette of the branches.


Nik Color Efex is a third-party filter that will automatically create hundreds of color effects that you can use with your images. This software comes with some Wacom tablets, but they can be purchased separately as well. If you want to check it out for yourself, download a free trial copy

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