How to Use Selective Color in GIMP


You can use GIMP -- a free photo manipulation and graphic design program -- to create dramatic effects by turning a color photograph to black-and-white except for objects or regions that you choose. This process, called "selective coloring," takes a few steps but is simple to learn.

Things You'll Need

  • GIMP free image editing software
  • Digital file of photo
  • Launch GIMP and open your photo by selecting "Open" from the "File" tab on the menu bar and selecting the file. The toolbox window should open automatically in GIMP.

  • Select "Duplicate Layer" from the "Layer" tab on the menu bar; this will make an exact copy of the image directly over it; picture two identical photos in a stack of which you can only see the top one.

  • Select "Desaturate" from the "Colors" tab on the menu bar. A popup window will open; try selecting each of the grayscale options in the dialog to see which looks best (the image will preview for you in the main window). Select an option and click "OK."

  • Select "Mask" from the "Layer" tab on the menu bar, then select "Add Layer Mask" from the dropdown menu. A dialog will appear; select "White (full opacity)" and click "OK." The mask sits between the two images in our imaginary stack of photos; cutting a "hole" in this mask will allow parts of the bottom picture to show through to the top.

  • Select the Paintbrush tool from the Toolbox; the Painbrush box will open underneath it. Select black as the foreground color.

  • Paint with black over the parts of the black-and-white image you want in color from the color beneath. The black parts will make the "holes" in the mask allowing the bottom image to show through. As you paint, you will see the color image appear. Work carefully around the edges and change the brush size as necessary to get into the small areas. If you color too much, paint on the mask with white to hide areas again.

  • Choose "Flatten Image" from the "Image" tab in the menu bar to combine the layers into a single picture. Save your new selectively colored image with a new filename.

Tips & Warnings

  • Other tools than the paintbrush might work better in some situations; the pencil is good for tight areas, and you can outline areas and fill them with the bucket tool.

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