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How to Make Photos Black and White With a Splash of Color: A GIMP Photo Tutorial

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about pet care, science, travel, and gardening.

What's black and white and red all over?

What's black and white and red all over?

Get This Cool Photo Effect for Free

Any photo can be turned into a stunning piece of art by using selective colorization. By downloading the free GIMP photo editing software, anyone can convert a photo to black and white, then selectively colorize a desired section of the photo. All it takes is the use of layers and a careful application of the eraser tool!

A video tutorial is included at the end of the article to aid new GIMP users with finding the proper Layer window and editing tools.

The duplicated image on top of the original image: layer window open.

The duplicated image on top of the original image: layer window open.

Create Layers for Selective Photo Colorization

Step 1: Choose a Photo

  1. Choose a photo in your directory.
  2. Select "file."
  3. Select "open."

Step 2: Open the Layer Window/Create a New Layer

  1. Go to "windows" and select "dockable dialogs."
  2. From the dockable dialogs tab, select "layers." A layers window will appear superimposed on your photo.
  3. Click the white folded paper icon in the lower left corner of the layer window to "create a new layer." The default setting of transparency is fine.
  4. Click "OK" and a new layer will appear in the window layer.

Step 3: Duplicate the Image

  1. Go to the "image" tab and select "duplicate."
  2. A duplicate of your photo will appear in a new window.
The layered black and white image. Note the background layer is still in color.

The layered black and white image. Note the background layer is still in color.

Layering a Black and White Image

Step 4: Desaturate the Duplicate Image

  1. Click on the duplicate image.
  2. Go to the "colors" tab and select "desaturate." There will be three options for desaturating the image: based on lightness, luminosity, or an average of both. Choose the method which creates the most appealing black-and-white image.
  3. Copy the Black-and-White Duplicate Image. Click on "edit" and choose "copy."
  4. Return to the original, color image.
  5. Click on the new layer in the layer window, and paste the black and white image into the new layer.
  6. Click on the small anchor icon to anchor the black and white layer to the color layer.
  7. The original image will now appear black and white.

The duplicate black and white image will not be used again. Return to the original, color image.

Erasing some color into the black-and-white layer.

Erasing some color into the black-and-white layer.

Step 5: Add Color to the Black and White Photo

  1. Go to the tool window, and select the "eraser" tool. Modify the size of the eraser tool with the "scale" sliding toggle on the bottom of the toolbox window.
  2. Erase the areas of the photo that will become colorized. As you move the eraser, you will see the color appear.

Don't fret if the eraser goes outside of the area: simply select "anti-erase" at the bottom of the toolbox and you will be able to return any stray lines to the black and white scheme.

If the area you are trying to colorize is a difficult shape, use the magnifying glass tool to zoom in on the area. This will help keep the colorization confined to a solitary object.

Viola! The completed photo.

Viola! The completed photo.

Step 6: Save the Image

  1. Merge down the layers: When the colorization process is complete, go to "layer" and select "merge down." This will bind the layers together.
  2. Save the file (under the "file" tab). Select "save as" and rename the file, so that the original image will not be replaced. GIMP will indicate you must export the image to save it: simply click OK and select the file quality to be 100%.

Now You Can Impress Your Friends!

Use your new fancy photo on Facebook, or in a digital scrapbook page. The result is very impressive, and gives an artistic edge to any photograph!

Black and White Photos With Color: GIMP Tutorial Video

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Leah Lefler


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on July 23, 2018:

I have really enjoyed colorizing a few of our family photos! I use Gimp, not Photoshop, since Gimp is free to use. I'm glad it helped you, David!

David White on July 23, 2018:

it's a great post about how to make photos black and white with a splash of color on photoshop. Thanks for sharing with us.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 07, 2016:

Thank you, bryanmatthew! I hope you have fun editing pictures this way!

Bryan Mathew from Hawaii on March 31, 2016:

Great Article...I appreciate your way to explain things so easily and efficiently. .

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 08, 2014:

It can be a bit tricky to get the color to stay "within the lines" when using the eraser.. I tend to use the zoom feature on the tool bar to be able to see very clearly! I hope you are able to make wonderful photos, kerlund74!

kerlund74 from Sweden on March 08, 2014:

Great tips! I hate jsed photoshop for the same thing, but I think it is a bit tricky to mark and so on.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 25, 2013:

I absolutely love GIMP, epsonoko. I use it as my main photo editor. I like this technique (the black/white/color), as it can really make an object stand out in the image.

epsonok0 on October 25, 2013:

This is also how to erase a background into another image. Or vice versa. Very good tutorial and great video to go with it. I have had gimp for a while but this explains it more than other tutorials.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 26, 2012:

I really like GIMP, Darrylmdavis. It is a great program - a little difficult to "get the hang of," but once you have the basics down, you can do a lot with it! I REALLY like the fact that it is free!

Darrylmdavis from Brussels, Belgium on November 25, 2012:

Nifty hub...thanks for sharing. Nice to know there's life beyond Photoshop ;-)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 07, 2012:

Hi Laura! It is a fairly simple technique - I don't have photoshop but the idea is roughly the same: overlay a black and white layer on top of a color layer, then erase the areas of the B&W layer that you want to be in color. Good luck! I hope you get some amazing shots!

Laura Tykarski from Pittsburgh PA on June 07, 2012:

This was a wonderfully helpful hub...I have been experimenting with photo-shopping for the past several months and I love this effect. I can't wait to give it a shot...ahem no pun intended.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 30, 2012:

Hmm.. that's strange. It should save as a .jpg image. Did you download GIMP, or try to use an online version of it? I have downloaded it, and save pictures as .jpg or .png files to my computer with no problems. I print them out or post them to Facebook, or just store them on the computer.

Zoe on May 30, 2012:

Sorry, my bad...I did the edit and it looks great. It just won't save as a file to my pc, it basically shows up as a link to Gimp, so I can't use it for screensavers or anything.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 30, 2012:

Hi Zoe, what can't you see? You should be able to see the photo in this article on just your PC. If you want to do actual editing via this method, you'll need to get GIMP (it's free).

Zoe on May 30, 2012:

Is it just my pc or can it only be viewed via Gimp?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 19, 2012:

Thanks, dappledesigns! It is a fun technique to use on photos. I need to print the picture of my son out (the one with him holding the candy apple). They make cool wall art!

dappledesigns from In Limbo between New England and the Midwest on January 19, 2012:

great hub! I have a few photos that I am planning to try this out.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 30, 2011:

I really have a bit of "tweaking" to do in the new year. I've been so busy with Christmas (two small boys in our house) - I'm going to set up JING as soon as I get the boys back to school next week. $15 is pretty reasonable, and it would make much better videos for my hubs.

Eddie Carrara from New Hampshire on December 30, 2011:

I was thinking about spending the $15 myself as soon as I need that type of software, heck, I spend more then that on coffee for the Keurig in a week, lol. I have the free software and I love it, it sit's at the top of your screen at all times and I can take a screen shot pic or video of anything on the monitor, then it save it to my picture files, it very cool, and I think you'll like it. Your welcome :)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 30, 2011:

Hi Eddie - thanks for the tip about JING. I need to make a screenshot video for this article, along with several other GIMP tutorials. I'll have to check it out - it would be worth the $15 to add the voice-over. Thanks for the heads-up!

Eddie Carrara from New Hampshire on December 30, 2011:

Hello leahlefler, thank you for sharing these tip and the link to the free software. I have a tip for you too. I noticed you used a video recorder for the video, JING is free screenshot software and if you upgrade to pro you can add voice if you have a microphone. For pro it's only $15 a year, I have basic JING, it easy to use and I use it for taking snapshots of the screen, I love it, I thought you might like to use it for you tutorials because you can also create videos. Just go to Voted up and useful :)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 09, 2011:

Thanks, collegatariat! It can definitely be overused, so people should carefully choose the photos they want to apply the effect to. I usually try to pick photos with one object that will look striking when it is the only item in color (like the candy apple my son is holding). A lot of photos don't lend themselves to this technique, but it can be a stunning effect for certain pictures!

collegatariat on December 09, 2011:

I love this technique! If it's not overused, it's a great way to make special photos "pop". Thanks for sharing!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 18, 2011:

The effect is really fun to do - and it isn't difficult! Thanks for the comment, art purses.

art purses on October 17, 2011:

That was interesting- I always wondered how to do that.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 24, 2011:

Vikram, I hope you managed to get some wonderful pictures! There are some amazing things you can do with GIMP!

vikram on September 24, 2011:

loved it

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 20, 2011:

It is a wonderful alternative, and entirely free to download and try. I love GIMP, though I know some people find it more cumbersome that Photoshop.

Victor Mavedzenge from Oakland, California on September 20, 2011:

Great alternative to photoshop

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 23, 2011:

This really comes in handy for scrapbooking! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Cashbackshopper on August 23, 2011:

Great Tutorial and great snap shots. Thanks for sharing

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 20, 2011:

I hope you have fun with it! I really love the special effects (especially for scrapbooking).

Movie Master from United Kingdom on June 19, 2011:

I'm really looking forward to playing with this, great thank you voted up!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 09, 2011:

Thanks, Nicole! It is really easy (once you've practiced it a few times). GIMP is a free program, too, so you don't have to spend any money to get great photos!

Nicole378 from Lubbock on June 09, 2011:

I've wondered how to do that, very cool!

Vishaaa from Somewhere on this earth.. on April 29, 2011:

I tried it.. It turned to an amazing picture. Thank you. Voted up.

mysisters on April 12, 2011:

Great Hub. I have always loved the look of this. I have never heard of this program before. Thank you for provided the tutorial on how to do this.

Lynn S. Murphy on April 06, 2011:

this is terrific and i will be checking it out. tfs! voted up!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2011:

I edited the article to include the "save as" information. Another option is to work on a duplicate of the original photo so you don't accidentally save the new file over the original.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2011:

Aman, when you edit the picture to do any effect, save it under a different file name (for instance, re-label the picture as "black-white-color" and then the file name). If you select "save," it will replace the original image. If you select "save as" and rename the file, it will be saved as a new image and your original file will be safe.

Aman on March 06, 2011:

Thanks for the tutorial leah

I used this effect to make some wonderful pictures but after i saved them i found that my original pictures have lost and replaced by the edited ones

why is it so ??

please help

Mike Outdoors from Somewhere in Canada on February 27, 2011:

Very helpful for open source GIMP does a lot.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 07, 2011:

Have fun playing! There are a lot of neat effects that can be done with GIMP!

Richard Bivins from Charleston, SC on February 07, 2011:

This is a great tutorial. Thank you. I'm going to go start playing

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 07, 2011:

I hope it helps! GIMP can be a fun program - I didn't realize schools were using it. Good luck with your future class!

ThoughtfulSpot from PA on February 06, 2011:

So glad this popped up! I just found out I'm going to need to use GIMP for an upcoming class, and I had never even heard it before. Then I logged on here and up comes your hub! Serendipity at its finest. I'll be bookmarking and coming back next quarter. Thank you!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 06, 2011:

The instructions would apply to photoshop, though I am sure the format of that program is a little different! I am going to add a video tutorial at some point - I just have to break out the flipcam!

Debby Bruck on February 06, 2011:

Nice. Rate up. I've never heard of this program. You were able to answer all my questions in the comment section. Seems like these instructions would apply to PhotoShop, too. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

YellowClipper on February 06, 2011:

I've never actually worked with GIMP, I came across it for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I was looking to do some graphics work. I've been struggling along with Macromedia Fireworks for years, but it seems to lack functionality, or maybe I just don't know how to use it properly. I think I'll give GIMP a try and see what else it can do!

SaMaD on February 05, 2011:

Excellent tutorial

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 04, 2011:

The layers dialog in GIMP can be confusing, too. I find it easiest to open up the layers window and do almost everything from there! I'm used to it now, but when I was first figuring out GIMP... let's just say it was a little frustrating!

mstopvega on February 03, 2011:

Excellent tutorial. Thank you for the link to the free software as well!

Checking out your other tutorials. Thanks!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 03, 2011:

Thanks, leahlefler,

I'm pretty familiar with PhotoShop, but it is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of program. Fairly easy and "almost" intuitive to learn the basics, such as sharpen, adjust contrast, color/hue/saturation etc.

But move on to LAYERS, and, OMG! You need an engineering degree to figure it out. I have yet to do so, despite carefully following the instructions in my "PhotoShop for Dummies" book!

Esther Shamsunder from Bangalore,India on February 03, 2011:

Bookmarked for later use. Thanks for sharing! This is really useful for me.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 03, 2011:

GIMP is a stand-alone photo editor - it is free to download, so you can always try it and then uninstall it if you like photoshop better. I've heard that photoshop is easier and more intuitive to learn, but I don't have that program so I can't give my personal opinion on the matter.

I've never done video editing, but I would guess it is done in a similar manner!

marcofratelli from Australia on February 03, 2011:

Way cool! I was wondering how they did that. I wonder if it's a similar method for video, like I've seen on TV.

TajSingh from United Kingdom on February 03, 2011:

This is a great photo effect! Thanks for the tutorial.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 02, 2011:

OK, wow. I'm still struggling (and mostly failing, except with type layers for captioning), to master layers in Photo Shop.

Is this a stand-alone software, or does it work with or alongside Photo Shop. Or, is this something I could equally do within PhotoShop (if I knew how)??

Fascinating, and I will bookmark. Voted up & useful.

FrugalGal on February 02, 2011:

Gimp is one of my favorite programs. I started with Photoshop and think Gimp is every bit as powerful and easy to use. And you can't beat the price.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 01, 2011:

We don't have Photoshop, but GIMP is a similar tool (in capability). GIMP has a learning curve, though: from what I understand, PS is more intuitive.

s.wilson on February 01, 2011:

Great tutorial. I have been toying with the idea of switching from Photoshop, and tutorials like these will definitely make it easier!

erthfrend from Florida on February 01, 2011:

That B&W photo with the red apple is AMAZING! Definitely an interesting way to make a photo incredible! Thanks for sharing!

Kim Harris on February 01, 2011:

Great pics! And thanks for taking the time to break it down step by step. I had some trouble downloading gmp without downloading a bunch of other junk, and had to uninstall it. Will have to check back for instructions when I'm ready to use it, so bookmarking. Thanks, Leah.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 01, 2011:

They do have a version for Mac:

I am not sure if the program setup is the same, but the principles should be. Get a photo, duplicate and desaturate it, paste it into a new layer on top of the color photo, anchor it, and erase the areas you want in color. Hopefully the Mac version isn't too different from the PC version!

Dink96 from Phoenix, AZ on January 31, 2011:

Can this be downloaded to Mac as well? Great hub! Have bookmarked for further play.

Karen Ray from Oklahoma on January 31, 2011:

Woohoo! Thank You! I've been dying to know how to do this.

Don Simkovich from Pasadena, CA on January 31, 2011:

Wow! This is great! One color in the black and white looks so amazing.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 31, 2011:

It can be fun (and it is an easy way to impress your friends)! Have fun playing with photos!

BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on January 31, 2011:

Love this and need it - thanks a million! Will bookmark. Yay!

Rated up!

Annie May on January 31, 2011:

Love it I've always wondered how they do this.Looks like I'll be spending even more time glued to the laptop.

dranieri on January 31, 2011:

Great info!

CennyWenny from Washington on January 31, 2011:

Thanks a lot for this, I've played around with GIMP but good tutorials are so helpful!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 29, 2011:

Thanks! I am still new to hubpages, so I have several GIMP hubs in the wings. Hopefully I'll get a few more up over the next week or so!

Anthony Goodley from Sheridan, WY on January 29, 2011:

Nice helpful hub, thanks. I been using GIMP for many years. It is a very powerful program and I'm always discovering something new it can do.

I'll be looking over your other GIMP hubs for new ideas.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 28, 2011:

It definitely needs to be used with moderation: when every single photo is doctored in this way, it becomes a bit "too much." The user needs to pick a photo suitable for this effect, too: there needs to be a bright object as the center of attention. It is a great supplement to scrapbooking (and other uses), though.

fstop57 on January 28, 2011:

Great tut, I would just add it's an effect that needs to be used in moderation. Also for anyone struggling with the GIMP there is a version - Gimpshop - that mimicks the user experience of photoshop and can be a lot easier for those used PS.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 27, 2011:

There are so many cool effects: I mainly use it to edit photos of my children, but it is as powerful as photoshop (and much, much cheaper). I think the learning curve scares a lot of people off. When I was learning the program, I focused on learning to do one effect (it took me a while to figure out the layers tool to do this effect). After I learned this technique, the others were a piece of cake!

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on January 27, 2011:

I have only just heard about GIMP and am very impressed. Bookmarking this so I can keep coming back to it, thanks Leah and welcome to hubpages.

dobster1 on January 27, 2011:

This is great!

I use OpenSuse which comes by default with Gimp (the Image Manipulation Program:). It can be a little frustrating at first, I admit. After reading your hub, it is starting to clear up!

michifus on January 26, 2011:

Thank! I always wondered how they did that!

Raylene Wall from Alberta, Canada on January 26, 2011:

I've been trying to use GIMP more to its full capabilities (I know it can do more than I've been doing with it) and found this hub very helpful. It's a cool program - I just need to figure out how best to use it! THANKS!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 26, 2011:

I'm a big fan of The GIMP, too (obviously)! LoosingIt: give it a try! Once you get used to using the layers window, it will become second nature. There are a lot of neat photo effects that can be done with GIMP!

LoosingIt on January 26, 2011:

These are very detailed yet seemingly simple instructions. I usually wouldn't bother to try such complicated effects, but after reading your article I think I may give it a go.Wish me luck!

neabug32 from United States on January 26, 2011:

This is a very helpful tutorial. Thank you so much for sharing in detail how to use GIMP. Great hub! Keep up the great work!

kookoo88 from Cripple Creek on January 26, 2011:

This is great. :) I love GIMP. I've made all my book covers with it.

WoodsmensPost from Arizona on January 26, 2011:

Another great hub using Gimp. I had read this one the other day but because I saw it in the Hubpages weekly sent to my email, I decided to come back and visit again. Helpful as always, I love Gimp and still use it almost daily :) WP

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 26, 2011:

Thanks! I have several GIMP hubs: some are easier than others, but once you get the hang of the layers window, it gets easier (almost all the effects are applied to a new layer of the photo).

cmahan on January 26, 2011:

Thank you so much for this! The first time I downloaded GIMP was in 2005. I quickly became frustrated and went on to use Photoshop. I heard GIMP went through some changes, so I downloaded it (after the purchase of a new laptop) again with the idea to get back into making graphics and such. Then, I found a How To book...but who has the time for that when we are busy reading and writing hubs? This is a great hub and I plan to return!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 23, 2011:

Oh, akirchner- I'm so sorry your dog is gone. We are planning on getting a dog this year, and that is the part I absolutely dread. Dogs are members of the family. I love the look of black and white (and sepia tone), too. Thanks for the compliment!

Ivorwen from Hither and Yonder on January 23, 2011:

Thank you so much for writing this! I have accomplished the same effects through another method, but it is much more difficult!

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on January 23, 2011:

Awesome pics, Leah - I love doing black and white and have such a cool one of one of my favorite dogs. I always like to look back on him in the black and white photo and remember him. It seems more 'appropriate' somehow since he passed away a year or so ago and it gave the photo such a beautiful 'feel'.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 20, 2011:

I'm working on a few more. It took me a while to figure out the software, but if I can do it, anyone can! I need to go back over my digital scrapbooking one to reformat it: the steps are written out with too many instructions and not enough screenshots. I also want to put in tutorials for sepia-tone, frames, logos, etc.

Crewman6 on January 19, 2011:

I agree; and well-written tutorials like yours make the learning curve a whole lot more manageable. I'll be watching for more... (hint, hint?)

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 19, 2011:

It can be overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it, the learning curve is well worth it!

Crewman6 on January 19, 2011:

Great tutorial. I appreciate the help, sometimes GIMP seems like a lot more software than I can cope with!