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Can you turn an old black and white photo into color?


Old black and white photos can capture special memories and moments in time. However, color photos often feel more vibrant, lively, and closer to how we remember the actual events. Thankfully, technology has advanced to the point where it’s now possible to add color back into old black and white photos through digital colorization.

In this article, we’ll look at the different methods you can use to colorize old photos, the technological advancements that have made this possible, tips for getting the best results, and services that can help you revitalize your old family photos. With some simple steps, you can bring new life to vintage black and white images.

A Brief History of Photo Colorization

The process of adding color back into monochrome photos is known as photo colorization. This technique became popular in the 1980s as personal computers started to become common in households. Software programs like Adobe Photoshop began offering specialized tools that allowed users to manually colorize photos.

However, the process was extremely tedious. Artists would have to color each part of the photo pixel by pixel. It could take hours or even days to colorize a single image. This manual approach also required artistic skill and knowledge of colors, lighting, shadows, and textures to achieve a realistic effect.

In the 2000s, digital colorization advanced substantially thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence. Computer algorithms were developed that could analyze the content of an image and apply colors much faster and more accurately than a human. This automatic approach made colorizing old photos far more accessible and practical for regular people to do at home.

Today, our smartphone apps leverage powerful AI to colorize photos in just seconds with a simple tap. Meanwhile, graphic designers use sophisticated software tools like Photoshop and DeOldify to produce strikingly realistic colorizations for historic images. The technology has improved enormously while also becoming easy enough for anyone to utilize.

How Does AI Photo Colorization Work?

AI photo colorization relies on deep learning algorithms that have been trained on millions of color images. The AI studies relationships between colors, textures, objects, shadows, lighting, and other elements in the sample photos. It learns to recognize patterns that can help predict appropriate color information.

When you provide the AI with a new black and white photo, it utilizes what it learned to analyze the grayscale image. It looks for textures and shapes that it recognizes from its training. This cues the algorithm on what colors would likely exist in those areas.

However, since multiple color possibilities could match a gray pixel, the AI also incorporates context. It considers what colors would logically fit the surrounding pixels and the overall scene based on the patterns it observed. This contextual reasoning enables it to generate colors that look natural and realistic.

The AI doesn’t always get it perfect on the first try. But many colorization tools let you make tweaks and adjustments until you get colors that you’re satisfied with. Overall, this automatic approach powered by deep learning produces colorized photos that would be extremely difficult to recreate manually.

Tips for Preparing Your Photos

To get optimal colorization results, it helps to start with the highest quality photo possible. Here are some tips for preparing your old black and white photos:

– Scan the original photo at a high resolution if you only have a physical print. This captures the most detail for the AI to analyze.

– Remove any stains, creases, or other damage on the original using photo editing tools before colorizing. This prevents the AI from mistaking damage for legitimate details.

– Adjust the brightness, contrast, and sharpness of the photo if needed so all elements are clearly visible. The AI relies on distinguishing fine details and textures.

– Crop out any notes, dates, or borders on the photo so the AI focuses entirely on the image content.

– If the photo contains family, research the hair and eye colors of the people so you can help guide the AI or make adjustments after.

Putting in effort to prep your photos will enable you to achieve more convincing, vibrant colorizations.

Online Colorization Services

If you don’t have experience with photo editing software, the easiest option is using an online AI colorization tool. Here are some top services that deliver great results with minimal effort:

DeepAI: This free tool lets you upload a photo to their website and colorize it almost instantly. It provides a side-by-side before and after view so you can compare the original black and white version with the new colorful version. You can download the colorized photo or further refine it in their editor. Another free online service that produces colorized photos in seconds right in your browser. It also retains the original so you can toggle between both versions. Provides additional options like selecting a custom background color if desired.

MyHeritage: This genealogy research site offers a free colorization tool powered by AI. It’s designed for nostalgic old family photos. You need to create a free account first. It brings photos to life by automatically adding color, sharpening image quality, and upscaling resolution.

These services offer effortless colorization in just a few clicks. They work best for casual everyday photos. For optimal control and quality, downloading software tools is a better choice.

Colorization Software

For professional-level colorizing of vintage or historic photos, your best option is using advanced graphics and photo editing tools like:

Adobe Photoshop: The AI-powered Image Colorization tool in Photoshop can produce astonishingly realistic colorizations. It takes more work to mask regions and sample colors, but the control pays off in final image quality.

DeOldify: This free, open-source package uses deep learning to colorize and restore old images. It’s geared more toward programmers but they offer a Colab notebook that makes it accessible to anyone. The AI capabilities are very impressive.

AKVIS Coloriage: A dedicated colorization program with an intuitive interface for quickly revitalizing black and white photos. Works as a Photoshop or Lightroom plugin too. Provides different presets and lets you selectively apply color to regions.

Colorize Photos: An affordable app available on Mac and iOS. It utilizes AI to automatically generate colorizations. Includes tools for manually retouching colors, contrast, brightness, saturation, and more. Saves your progress so you can perfect the image over time.

The learning curve is higher with desktop software but they enable you to have full creative control over the colorizing process. This makes them ideal for restoring very special vintage photographs that you want to display.

Tips for Realistic Colorization

The AI algorithms do an amazing job applying suitable colors to old photos. However, you can take steps to enhance the realism and make the colorized photos look their absolute best:

– Leave some areas black and white. Selectively colorizing just the main subjects often looks more convincing than full colorization.

– Use historical references to research accurate colors for items like clothing, cars, buildings, etc. Don’t rely solely on AI guesses.

– Adjust the brightness, saturation, and color balance to match the scene lighting and aesthetic of the original era.

– Carefully colorize any skin exposed with natural tones. Use some soft textures and variations so skin doesn’t look flat and artificial.

– Manually refine details like hair, eyes, clothing patterns, and landscapes for a perfect finish. The AI won’t always capture fine distinctions.

– Add simulated film grain to make the final image match the vintage look of the original photo medium.

– Compare to the original and make sure you’re preserving the emotion and intention of the black and white version.

With some thoughtful enhancements and a quality source photo, you can achieve colorization results that look like they were originally taken in full color. The AI just provides the starting point but a human touch adds the final polish.

Before and After Colorization Examples

To see the transformative power of photo colorization, here are some amazing before and after examples with the original black and white version alongside the completed colorized image:

Original B&W Photo Colorized Version
Black and white photo of woman Colorized photo of woman
Black and white landscape photo Colorized landscape photo
Black and white city street photo Colorized city street photo

It’s amazing how adding color can make these photos look like they’re from a completely different era. The color brings them to life and makes the people, places, and activities much more relatable and vivid.


Breathing new life into beloved vintage photos with color can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Modern AI technology has made the colorization process easy and accessible for anyone to revive their old family albums or historic black and white images.

With a quality digital scan, user-friendly software tools, and some artistic adjustments, you can produce colorized photos that look stunningly realistic and natural. It provides a magical glimpse into how the original moment would have appeared in full color.

While AI handles much of the intensive color work, human creativity, research, and attention to detail are still essential to finalizing the photos. Combining AI capabilities with human expertise enables beautiful colorization results that do justice to your precious memories and historic photographs. Give it a try – you may rediscover old photos in an exciting new light.