B/W Layer 101 Add colour back in

This is the fourth in a ‘beginners’ series of posts regarding one of the most flexible Adjustment Layers available in most post processing applications – The Black/White Adjustment Layer.

In this post we will be discussing how to go beyond a straightforward conversion and add some of the original colours back in and again. The process is quite straightforward

    • Load an image
    • Duplicate it
    • Create a Black White Adjustment Layer – refer to Part 1 if you need to recap how
    • Finalise the tone and quality of the Black/White image
    • Make sure the Black White Adjustment Layer is selected
    • Select the area to bring colour back into (see notes below on selections). For this post we used the simple Rectangular Tool
    • mask iconAdd a mask to the Black White Adjustment Layer
    • mask channels
      To help you see the extent of the mask go to the Channels drop-down and switch on the mask colour (Black & White 1 Mask). With masks, Black (and the mask colour itself) show where the mask protects the image from modification and White shows where it is enabled.

      • As you can see, to get the colour within the selected area requires inverting the mask. This is achieved in the Layers panel – select the mask and press (Cntrl or Cmd I).
      • You can modify the mask (with or without the mask colour switched on) by ‘painting’ with black (add to it) or white (remove from it) respectively.

red mask

Showing mask before inversion and effect on the image.



after invertion


After switching off the mask colour and inverting the mask we now have a black / white image with colours showing. As we have used a rectangular selection the edges are very sharp but by painting with black or white we can be more selective regarding what parts of the image are coloured.


modified result

Showing the modified mask and its’ effect on the image.




To add colour back into a portion of your image you need to select where you want it to go, this requires you to make a selection – there are many selection tools but some of the more common ones are:

  • Rectangular / Elliptical Marquee Tools: For rectangular / Elliptical selections.
  • Lasso / Polygonal Lasso / Magnetic Lasso Tools:  To create free-form selections.
  • Quick Selection / Magic Wand: Best for selecting areas with clearly defined edges.

To detail the many options and processes around selections is really beyond the scope of this post and there are many authoritative pages on-line. The University of Michigan and University Library Illinois both have good ‘starter’ pages and there’s a ‘starter’ video here. If you want to go beyond the ‘starter’ level there are literally 1000’s of pages and videos !

If you have any actions, presets, tips, worked examples  you would be happy to contribute and help others off to a good start with their photo processing, pay your knowledge forward !

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