How to colorize a photo in 5 minutes

Following on from my graffiti tutorial, I put together another video to show how easy it is to colorize your photos for free using GIMP rather than Photoshop.

This is a really quick effect to put together, but can produce fantastic results. I hope you can spare a few minutes to watch the video (ok, it’s 7 minutes long!):

Otherwise here are the highlights:

Step 1 Create a B&W version of your photo
The easiest way to do this is by creating a new copy of the image and simply setting the Image->Mode settings to Grayscale. You can then copy the B&W photo back into the original photo as a new layer.

Step 2 Add Layer Mask
The layer mask (with Full Opacity) allows you to cut holes in the B&W layer to reveal the color layer underneath. It can be found under Layer->Mask->Add Layer Mask, or by right-clicking the relevant layer.

Step 3 Cut out the Layer Mask Using the Scissors Select Tool
The Scissors Select Tool allows you to select irregular shapes easily. This is as simple as joining dots around the area you want to colorize. Make sure you have set the background color to BLACK when you delete the selected area, otherwise the color layer doesn’t appear!

Step 4 Use the Airbrush tool
Finish colorizing any small areas by using the airbrush tool. Just in case the Scissor tool didn’t select the right areas, you can use the airbrush to correct any mistakes. I use a hardness of 75 to correct any errors quickly.

Step 5 Sit back and enjoy your finished photo
Well done! You should have successfully colored your photo. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to do this in less than 5 minutes. Good luck…

Check out my ‘How to Colorize a Photo using GIMP’ video and add any comments you have below. I’d be particularly interested in hearing if you guys prefer video tutorials or the written word. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can…

31 thoughts on “How to colorize a photo in 5 minutes

    • You can create a colour layer in GIMP, but need a base colour that is used for colouring the photo. This is a little more work, but is certainly possible. I’ll take a look and see if I can do a short tutorial on that.

  1. Great tutorial! I find things much easier/more efficient to do in GIMP than in Photoshop, this included.
    Instead of using the Intelligent Scissors, it might be even easier to use the Foreground Select tool. All you have to do is trace a rough boundary around the object you want to select, roughly paint over a section of the object, and press Enter. In this case, a line from the girl’s head to the bottom of her dress should be enough.
    After that, you can fix the selection if you need to using the QuickMask.

    • I can certainly say that doing this task was pretty easy, but I think with any tool, there will be a learning curve as photo editing can be quite involved.

      At least with Gimp, it’s free, so you don’t have to spend anything and then struggle trying to use it.

      I would give it a go and take a look at some guides on Gimp for doing the sort of editing you want.

      What sort of editing are you planning to do?

      • I am looking at programmes in which I may be able to manipulate photos and downloaded jpg images for book covers, so I would be wanting to add font as well. I recognise that it is best to purchase software for this but I was thinking of trying out some of the free software first to see if it was something that I could actually do.

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