Colorizing Photos

With image editing apps, you have entirely new possibilities with black-and-white pictures. Pixelmator offers a magical yet simple way to turn black and white images into little colorful wonders.

Layers, Quick Mask Mode, the Gradient Tool, the Polygonal Lasso Tool, the Brush Tool and the Colorize feature are used in this tutorial.

Step 1

Open a black and white image you want to colorize.

Step 2

Make the black and white image a little more intense. Here’s how:

  1. Duplicate the background layer by choosing Edit > Duplicate. Rename the newly created layer “Burning.”
  2. Click to select the Burn Tool in the Tools palette. In the Brushes palette (View > Show Brushes), select a soft, mid-sized brush preset.
  3. Now, drag over the desired area to add contrast between light and dark areas. If the image is already too dark, use the Dodge Tool to lighten some areas.

Step 3

The secret to colorizing black-and-white images is to select and apply color to the right elements. Quick Mask Mode will help you do just that.

  1. Enter Quick Mask Mode by choosing Edit > Edit in Quick Mask Mode.
  2. Quick Mask Mode lets you paint a selection in an image by using black and white colors. Choose black and white linear gradient in the Gradients palette.
  3. Next, using the linear gradient, drag from the bottom to the top of the canvas. By doing this while in Quick Mask Mode, you will be able to select the lower portion of the image
  4. When you're happy with how the gradient looks, turn off Quick Mask Mode by choosing Edit > Edit in Quick Mask Mode again. The faded area now shows up as a selection.

Next, duplicate the selected area into a new layer. Choose Edit > Duplicate. Rename this layer “The Sea.”

Step 4

Start colorizing and see how gradually your black and white image turns colorful. With the newest layer selected, double-click the Colorize thumbnail in the Effects Browser. Spin the knob around the color wheel to see how colors change. Stop when color looks perfect and click OK to apply.

Step 5

Select the “Burning” layer and repeat steps 3 and 4. This time, select, duplicate and add color to the top portion of the image by reversing the gradient direction in Step 3. Rename the new layer with the duplicate selection “The Sky” and move it above the other layers.

Step 6

The colorized image will look more interesting and natural if you select and colorize various elements. To do that, select the layer named “Burning” again and repeat steps 3 and 4 to colorize the mountains in the center of the image.

Step 7

It's possible to introduce color even more precisely into a smaller portion of the colorized image. Click on the “Burning” layer in the Layers palette one more time to select the middle part of the image.

  1. Choose Edit > Edit in Quick Mask Mode.
  2. Now, create a new gradient in the Gradients palette, setting the two end color stops to white and the middle color stop to black. Use the image below as a reference. If you need help creating a new gradient, click here.
  3. Apply the gradient to the middle portion of the image. Because you're in a Quick Mask Mode, you'll see the black portion of the gradient appear as a dark red area in the center of the canvas.
  4. To apply the precise colorizing effect only to the sea, use the white Brush Tool to carefully paint out the parts of the image you don't want to select.
  5. Once you are done selecting, choose Edit > Edit in Quick Mask mode to quit Quick Mask Mode.
  6. To select only the horizon, choose Edit > Invert Selection.
  7. Next, duplicate the selected area as a new layer by choosing Edit > Duplicate. Rename the layer “Horizon.”

Step 8

As in Step 4, colorize the “Horizon” layer using the Colorize color adjustment.

Once you are happy with the color, click OK. Next, reduce the opacity of the layer to 60% in the Layers palette.

Step 9

To make the color of the horizon even more vibrant, duplicate the “Horizon” layer by choosing Edit > Duplicate. With the duplicated layer selected, click to select the Polygonal Lasso Tool in the Tools palette. Select the mountain area and choose Edit > Clear.

Step 10

There is one more tiny detail that’ll make the image even more realistic. Select the “Burning” layer again and follow steps 3 and 4 to select, duplicate and then colorize the top right corner. Use the image below as a reference.

Step 11

Finally, group all of the colorized layers into one group. This helps to reduce the clutter in the Layers palette. Once everything is tidy, let’s add some final touches to the image:

  1. Create a new layer by clicking the Add button (+) in the Layers palette. Rename it to “Gradient.”
  2. Click to select the Gradient Tool in the Tools palette.
  3. Create a new radial gradient by setting the two end color stops to transparent and the middle color stop to white.
  4. Click and drag on the sunlight to enhance it. Reduce the Opacity of the Gradient layer to roughly 28% and you are done!


Tutorial Comments

  1. Tony

    Not only a great product (Pixelmator) but great tutorials too!

  2. Giuseppina

    Why colorize doesn’t work till the end? After the first 2 step (sea and sky) nothing else happened. I’ve tried to close and restart again the process but all the time it stopped to work after the first 2 step: can somebody tell me why?

  3. Ausra

    @ Giuseppina,

    Have you duplicated layers? Do you have those layers selected? This is an advanced level tutorial, if you’d like to try something easier, try our basic or intermediate tutorials.

  4. Randolph

    I am having an issue with the colorizing photo aspect. Through the colorize effect, it is only applying one color as I rotate the colorize wheel it only applies yellow, or purple etc. It doesn’t apply to the varying colors in the picture. Any advice?

  5. Ausra

    @Randolph, try playing with the Saturation setting as well.

  6. Toshiyori

    In “Quick Mask Mode” I select the B&W Gradient, drag it from bottom to top of canvas, it is a sweeping arc, how does this separate the sea from the remaining picture ?

  7. Andrius (Pixelmator Team)

    After you have used the gradient on the mask, you can click Edit > Edit in Quick Mask Mode to exit Quick Mask Mode and then duplicate the selection into a new layer by clicking Edit > Duplicate. At this point, the selection will be separated into a new new layer – make sure to apply the Colorize effect onto this newly created layer.

  8. Toshiyori

    After painting a section of an image in “Quick Mask Mode B&W & exit, I duplicate it & name it. I then colorize it using “Effects Browser”. I return to “Burning” layer & repeat the above except I paint another section using another B&W, exit duplicate & name.
    With the new name at the top of the layer palate & highlighted I return to effects browser, rotate the wheel, the entire scene changes color. This sequence I have been trying different ways to isolate each segment, no luck, any suggestions ?

  9. Andrius (Pixelmator Team)

    Toshiyori, it sounds like you may not have selected the areas correctly in Quick Mask Mode. Have you tried hiding all the layers in your image except the one you’re editing? When you do that, do you see the entire original image or a specific area?

  10. Toshiyori

    Yes I do, I tried as you suggested. I am practicing using three flowers. No problem with “Left Flower”, then duplicate, “Center Flower”, again, no problem then “Right Flower” and in “Colorizing” all three respond. And yes, when hiding all other layers I see all the original outlined as “Specific Areas”.

  11. Toshiyori

    Question: your Tutorial Step 3 states: “using the linear gradient, drag from the bottom to the top of the canvas. By doing this while in Quick Mask Mode, you will be able to select the lower portion of the image”
    This is confusing, I have been using the paint brush tool for this purpose. Is this where I’m going wrong ?

  12. Andrius (Pixelmator Team)

    It is indeed (as we worked out in our email exchange), you should be using the Gradient Tool to get a smooth transition for the selection. Just in case anyone else is curious about this – in Quick Mask Mode, make sure you use the Gradient Tool to paint a selection with a black-to-white gradient. You should then see a smooth transition in the red overlay (from red to transparent).