How to paint a picture in black and white with Adobe Photoshop


Nowadays, black and white photography is seen as a common topic of artistic photography but not so long ago there was no alternative; meaning that some people had to paid to artists, who using crayon and ink were able color their photos manually. Such process was laborious and expensive, besides being inaccessible to most people. It was not until 1981, where Scottish physicst James Clerk Maxwell confectioned the process that allowed the first picture to be taken with permanent color.

Adobe Photoshop as the versatile tool that it is allows both colorizing old photographs as well as converting images to grayscale and then paint them the required taste. Since there are numerous ways of coloring black and white with Adobe Photoshop, through this article we are going to go through one of the fastest and most effective ways to achieve such effect.


  1. The first step is to open the image using the File> Open route. For this case I chose to work with this a grayscale image of two dogs.


  1. For this time adjustments are going to be applied directly onto the main layer, but we will create new layers further on. Therefore it is necessary to duplicate the original layer in order to avoid losing data. To duplicate the layer you can use the CTRL + J keyboard shortcut after selecting the original image (Background).


  1. Since we are not going to work on new layers, all the adjustment layers for each area you want to assign a color should made by creating a layer with the “Create new adjustment layer” option found at the bottom right of the layers panel. Apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

An adjustment layer applies color and tonal adjustments to your image without permanently changing pixel values, and they also have many characteristics in common with other layers. You can adjust their opacity and blending mode as well as group them to apply the adjustment to specific number of layers. Likewise, you can turn their visibility on and off to apply or preview the effect.


Now, at the “Hue / Saturation” menu displayed you must check the “Colorize” option to give a base color that matches the requirements for the image area we want to work with. Apply the changes to the Hue, Saturation and Lightness parameters.


Note that the adjustment layer is white filled, which must be changed to black with the keyboard shortcut CTRL + I, then start working with the Brush tool with a white color selected on it.


The workflow we are going to apply now will resemble the work done while painting on a canvas.

  1. For painting the puppy select the “Brush Tool (B)”, and apply “Set Foreground Color” to white. An effective shortcut for reset the colors to its main values is to press the “D” key, converting colors back to black and white, and then “X” for swapping colors if needed.


Start by painting the dog at the left of the image. For difficult areas such as edges you should decrease the brush size and zoom into the detail area, considering that there places like eyes where you really ought to use tiny brush sizes.

07PaintPictureBlackWhite 08PaintPictureBlackWhite

In order to spot the areas we have forgotten to paint all you need to do is decrease the Lightness parameter to a minimum at the Hue/Saturation menu, thus missing paint sectors will show up.


  1. Work on the very same fashion for the other dog in the picture, creating a new  “Hue/Saturation” adjustment layer. Rename it as Dog2.


Like we did before, you should find a color for the right dog.


Invert the colors on the adjustment layer like we did for the previous dog with CTRL+I and work your way with the white brush.


  1. Following the same workflow applied to the dogs, adjust the entire environment to match your subjects condition.


Once you feel satisfied with the results you got, save the image via ‘Save as…’ in order to not alter the original photo.


Colors assigned to each adjustment layer can be changed any time in order to improve or adjust the tonality of your image.

If by chance your image has segments that should remain white, they should not be selected as using “Hue/Saturation” as it will change their color.


  1. ADOBE (2013), ADOBE PHOTOSHOP Help and tutorials, link [] visited as of 2015-09-07.
  2. ADOBE (2014), Adobe® Photoshop® CC Help, link [] visited as of 2015-09-07.
  3. Colorear Fotos Antiguas en Blanco y Negro – Photoshop CS6, link [] visited as of 2015-09-07.

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