Dramatic Black and White Effect

Create a Dramatic Black and White Effect

Mostly black and white with a hint of color revealed is one of the most popular effects. It gives your images a dramatic tone. And, it’s incredibly easy to accomplish.

Layers, Layer Mask, and the Brush Tool are used in this tutorial.

Step 1

Open the image to which you would like to add the black and white effect.

Step 2

Duplicate the Background Layer by choosing Edit > Duplicate. In the Layers palette, double-click the layer name to rename it “Black and White.”

Step 3

Apply the black and white effect: With the Black and White layer selected, choose Image > Desaturate.

Step 4

Add a Layer Mask by choosing Layer > Add Layer Mask from the main Menu.

Step 5

It’s time for the fun part—revealing some color!

Select a brush color and preset:

  1. Click the color box in the Tool Options bar. The Colors palette appears.
  2. In the Colors palette, pick the color black.
  3. Click the Show Brushes button in the Tool Options bar to bring up the Brushes palette.
  4. Double-click the Brush preset to make the Brush Settings visible.
  5. In the Brush Settings, drag the slider for Diameter roughly to 8 points and the Hardness slider to around 65%.

Viewing the image at the pixel level will help you to maintain precision as you paint. Choose View > Zoom In to zoom in until you see the relevant details. Then, start painting with the Brush Tool and see how the color image reveals itself.

Tip: Hold down the Spacebar key to temporarily switch to the Hand Tool, so you can click and drag the image to another area.

Paint to reveal the entire object, and you are done!


Tutorial Comments

  1. Pauline -

    I am following the instructions on the tutorial for chameleon effect but each time I attempt to reveal color it comes out as black.?

  2. Flo -

    Make sure you click on the mask before you paint in black. The mask (on the right) should have a blue frame around it when selected.

  3. George -

    So, the black dress which is really red underneath, is revealed red again by painting it black. OK, roger that.

  4. Chris -

    @George, for masks what is colored black is hidden while white color is shown. In this case it is the black and white effect which is “hidden” (or simply stated “not used”) with black, thus “hiding” the black and white effect and allowing the red dress to show.

  5. Angus -

    After desaturating the image, this example then requires 3 steps: 1) Add Layer Mask, 2) Choose the cold black, and then 3) Use the Brush. Why not simply use the Eraser on the desaturated image?

  6. Ausra -


    The Mask helps you erase the parts non-destructively. If you’ve erased the part which you did not want, you can use the white color Brush Tool to hide it again.

  7. Michael -

    Hi, I followed perfectly until step 4, but whatever I do then, the brush only makes parts black, not colorful. I have three layers on top of each other, not the two next to each other as shown. What’s the difference and what could be the cause? Thanks

  8. Ausra -

    Hi Michael,

    You should add Layer Mask as explained in Step 4 and click on it to select. Selected layer mask has a blue highlight around its thumbnail. Then start painting.

  9. Christoph -

    I can’t find a way to have full opacity with only one mouse click. I have to click multiple times on the same spot to hide that spot entirely.

    Can someone tell me how I can only use one click for full black opacity on the layer mask?

  10. Christoph -

    One second after I posted the question, I say the opacity slider on the upper left corner. I set this to 100% and now it works. Thanks anyways :)

  11. Susan -

    I am having great time with my pictures but when I try to correct a mistake using the white brush nothing happens. I must be missing a step but can’t for the life of me figure out what.

  12. Ausra -


    In the Tool Options bar, check if the Brush Opacity is set to 100% and if you have the layer mask thumbnail selected. It should be highlighted in blue just as in a Step 4.

  13. Alexandros.P -

    Hello, i would like to ask if we want some area to put it back in black and white how could be done? reverse

  14. Alexandros.P -

    I am sorry, already posted

    Ausra – February 9th, 2012 at 7:24 am
    The Mask helps you erase the parts non-destructively. If you’ve erased the part which you did not want, you can use the white color Brush Tool to hide it again.

  15. adelle -

    I followed these steps exactly but every time i try to reveal the color it paints other parts of the picture on top of where im painting. For example i was working with a picture of a little girl in a pile of leaves and it started painting the leaves over the area. What did i do wrong? I followed the steps exactly and i made sure that the mask layer was selected.

  16. Ausra -

    @adelle, check the brush preset settings. I suspect you have a brush preset selected that scatters the brush strokes over the area.

  17. john -

    following the directions here, but when i start to paint I get a grey and white checkerboard, no color or black. what am I doing wrong?

  18. Ausra -

    @ john, seems like you’ve selected the background layer. Look at Step 5, the upper layer mask thumbnail should be selected.

  19. Frank Gebhardt -

    Hi guys, in Pixelmator 2.2 this is a lot easier. Use the Paint Selection tool for the red dress. Then in the layer tool use “cut and paste as layer. Select the background layer and desaturate. done :)

  20. Andrew -

    I’ve followed all the instructions and it works, but the color comes back very dull where I color in. How do I correct this?

  21. Ausra -

    @Andrew, Step 5 you should choose color black, perhaps you chosen a dark grey instead of black. Also, check the Opacity setting for the duplicated layer. It should be 100%.

  22. Doug -

    Hi Pixelmator,
    After looking at your tutorials I am convinced that Pixelmator is the photo software for my iMac and me.

  23. Ausra -

    Hey Doug,

    Glad you liked Pixelmator!

  24. Mike -

    When I click on black & white a box which a color circle appears when I click ok, it reverts back to color and won’t let me Desaturate. What am I doing wrong?

  25. Ausra -

    @Mike, check if the layer thumbnail is highlighted in blue in the Layers palette. You might be desaturating the Layer Mask you added.

  26. Roz -

    Have just tried this & it was so easy! I’ve just started a photography course & love black & white with a splash of colour. Thanks so much for the tutorials.

  27. chuck -

    i just did this and it worked perfectly. this app is awesome.

  28. john -

    when I try to desaturate the layer, the layer shows as a black and white checkerboard rather than the picture in black and white. I’m following the steps outlined above. What’s the problem?

  29. Ausra -

    @john, it might be a bug. Can you email us the details at bugs@pixelmator.com? Thanks!

  30. Ed -

    Hi pixelmator,
    Question, is it possible to make the rest of the photo – the non highlighted areas – a darker shade of black

  31. Ausra -

    @Ed, you should be able. Use the color adjustment tools for that, like Curves or Levels.

  32. Gerald -

    Can I do the same with the Ipad version?

  33. Ausra -

    @Gerald, Yes, you can but using different techniques, because Pixelmator for iPad doesn’t support Layer masks yet.

  34. LINDA -

    I select layer,new layer, empty layer, but I cant get a window to opens howing the layer, what am I doing wrong??How do I bring the brushes up to use?

  35. tomek -

    or… you could just use eraser on the black and whit layer. life would be so much easier that way

  36. Ikanarat -

    Hi, had so much fun with this tutorial. Please advise on how to convert a B & W of my father in WWII into colour. I’m looking at getting the skin tones looking right. Many thanks.

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