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3 easy ways to give your images a timeless hand-tinted look

Added on Wednesday 12th of April 2006 11:29 pm EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Hand-tinted photographs remain a popular and attractive way to display a photo, but actually tinting a print by hand can be a difficult and involved process. Photoshop offers layer blending modes and a few choice tools that make the job a snap. We’ll show you how you can easily achieve a hand-tinted look for your images in Photoshop.


To demonstrate three ways to apply a hand-tinted look to your images, we’ll:

     Identify the types of images best suited for the hand-tinting effect so you can pick the right photo.

     Demonstrate a technique to brush subtle colors onto your images.

     Show you how to desaturate and manipulate your layers to allow the original color to show through.

     Use the power of Photo Filter to add a sepia tint to your tinted image for a more antiquated look.


Long before the invention of color photography, photographers sought to add color to their photos. They did this by coloring or tinting their black-and-white photos with pastels, oil-tints, and gold paints. But even after the development of modern color photography in the mid 1930s, hand-tinted photos have remained a popular way to exhibit photos. By using Photoshop, you can avoid the fuss of actual hand tinting while achieving the same result. We’ll show you three ways to do this, which will enable flexibility and offer you options to achieve different results, as illustrated in Figure A.


A1: Soft Light

A2: Sepia tint


Select a suitable subject

Important to the success of the hand-tined look is applying it to the right subject. Because you apply a tint as generalized color over a black and white or monochromatic background, the content of your photograph should be simple and normal in contrast. People, pets, and landscapes have been the traditional subject matter for hand-tinted photos, and they continue to work well for the technique.

To follow along using our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract the file first_kiss.psd. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.)


Prepare your image

Since two of the three techniques require us to pull color from the original image, we’ll start with a color image. We’ll set up three files from one image to include a desaturated copy of the image as the foundation for all three techniques.  


To prepare the documents:

1.       Launch Photoshop and open First_kiss.psd. Our example is an informal portrait of young love at its finest moment.

2.      Drag the Background layer to the Create A New Layer button create_new at the base of the layers palette to duplicate it; name the new layer Black And White. We’ll use this layer for the black-and-white aspect of our hand-tinted look for all three techniques.

3.      Select Image > Adjustments > Desaturate to remove the color from the Black And White layer, as shown in Figure B.

4.      Choose File > Save As and rename the file First_kiss3.psd.

5.      Repeat step 4 two more times, renaming the files First_kiss2.psd and First_kiss1.psd, respectively, so that First_kiss1.psd is the open active file.

Now we’re ready to begin our first technique.




1. Tint with a soft-light blending mode

One way to produce a hand-tinted look is to create a new layer, select a color for an area of the subject, and then tint the portrait using the Soft Light blending mode. The benefit to this approach is that you can choose any colors you like, and you can adjust the opacity of the brush for greater control of your strokes.


To tint with a soft-light blending mode:

1.       Create a new layer above the Black And White layer, and name it Hand-tinted.

2.      Select Soft Light from the Layers palette’s Blending Mode pop-up menu to set the blending mode for the Hand-tinted layer.

3.      Select the Zoom tool zoom from the Toolbox and zoom into an area of your subject to begin. We’ll start with the boy’s hair.

4.      Choose the Brush tool brush from the Toolbox.

5.      Select the Soft Round 45 pixels brush from the Brush preset picker, or choose a different size that’s comfortable for you.

6.      Set the Foreground color to the color of your choice. For this technique, light pastel colors work best. We’ve selected a light yellow with RGB coordinates of 249-245-207, respectively.

7.      Set the Brush tool’s Opacity to about 25%, and begin to stroke the subject’s hair.


Note: To erase the portions of your tinted layer that you aren’t satisfied with, simply choose the Eraser tool eraser, set the brush size to a diameter that suits your needs, and erase a portion of your tinted image. To minimize the strength of your tinted area, set the Eraser tool’s Opacity to 30% and stroke the area to lighten the effect.


Continue on in this fashion and select different colors for different areas of your image, as we have in Figure C. Keep in mind that you don’t have to fully colorize the image; a subtle tint is what w...


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