Golden Age Line Illustration:
How Can I Colorize Black & White Art?

Many examples of free Golden Age line illustration are black and white. Let's say you like the drawing but want to use it with color. How can this be done quickly and effectively in Photoshop?

One way to colorize black and white art by simply adding colors behind the image is shown below. In our Golden Age Galleries you can find other examples of black and white line illustration.


This sample is a vintage black & white line illustration created in 1914.

Black and white line drawing

If the image MODE is GRAYSCALE, change it to RGB. (RGB works for Web use. You can change to CMYK color later for use in print.) Next, in the LAYERS Pallette, double click the BACKGROUND LAYER to unlock it, then name the new layer "Line Art." Change the layer mode from NORMAL to MULTIPLY.

Create a new layer, name it "Color,"leave it in the default NORMAL mode, and move it beneath the Line Art layer. The line drawing is now floating on its own layer above a blank transparent background.

Next, using the BRIGHTNESS/CONTRAST sliders, lighten the Line Art layer so it appears gray.

Like this:

Black and white line drawing adjusted

Then, using COLOR BALANCE, increase red and yellow to make the line art a rich dark red or a color of your choice. You can leave it black if you like, but adding color to the line makes the illustration richer.

Add a new layer behind the Line Art layer and call it "Color." Leave it in the default NORMAL mode.

Black and white line drawing colorized

Now, using the BRUSH tool, you can paint colors behind the line art. This is easy if you have a drawing tablet. Or, if don't have a drawing tablet, you can use the MAGIC WAND to select parts of the line art one at a time, adding color with the Fill tool. If you use this method, be sure to add the fill color to the Color layer rather than the Line Art layer.

Black and white line drawing

If you use the BRUSH tool, you don't have to be precise since the line art will cover your mistakes. This is how the Color layer appears with the line art hidden.

Black and white line drawing

Next, add color to the background using the FILL tool. In this example we are making a poster incorporating the original vintage illustration, so the canvas size equals the final size of the poster.

Black and white line drawing

By adding new type layers and color panel layers, the finished poster emerges. By having each element on a separate layer, you can adjust the color of each layer with the HUE/SATURATION sliders and create endless color variations.

Black and white line drawing

The colorized version of the black and white Golden Age line illustration and its color layer can be used on alternate layouts or for other projects.

Black and white line drawing

Below is another example of black line art converted to color using the technique described above.

Black and white line drawing

Parts of the drawing are placed on separate layers and colorized individually.

Colorized layer of black line drawing

Each layer a different color with transparent backgrounds.

Combined layers of line art

With color background and type added, the simple black line drawing has a new, fresh, look.

Colorized black and white line drawing of Tunis.

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