Clive R. Haynes FRPS

Since the dawn of photography, artists and photographers alike have sought to instil their own interpretation of colour and tone into the scene. Perhaps, originally, economy and the relative difficulty of colour photography were the motivation for hand-tinting. Whatever the reason, the fact is that hand-tinting can lead to many satisfying and subtly different pictures. No one need by enslaved by the colour existing in the original scene, for the whole picture or a section of it may be altered to present a more satisfactory representation of the subject.

With the advent of DI many more possibilities are made available.

Monochrome pictures can be tinted and toned to give a wide variety of subtle nuances and moods. One can combine a whole range of tinting and toning techniques to weave a blend of hue and wash of colour across the scene. Remember that if you are tinting a monochrome image, you will need to either scan as RGB or change the mode from Greyscale to RGB. (Do this via Image > Mode > RGB Color).

For those just beginning to experiment with hand-tinting using Photoshop, I begin with some general notes about brushes and their selection.


Mouse or Pen & Tablet?

Without doubt the best and most natural method of working is with the pen and tablet – it’s just like working with a natural brush and is both easy and intuitive. Unlike the mouse, the pen is pressure sensitive – which means the harder one presses upon the pad, the broader or denser the paint upon the ‘page’. The pen can also be sensitive to the angle of use and so perform just like a real airbrush. As 'Wacom' is probably the most widely used pen & tablet combination, I'll refer to this throughout.

Which brush tool to choose – ‘Airbrush, Paintbrush or Pencil?

Each tool presents different opportunities.


This performs something like a real airbrush, however the important thing to remember is that with successive coverings, performed without removing the tool from the image (so it’s all one long stroke) the intensity of the colour will build as the same area is covered more than once.

Airbrush Pressure

The Pressure box on the Options Bar sets the strength of the stroke rated in %. When used in combination with the 'Brush Dynamics' > Pressure > Stylus, the use of the airbrush becomes more sublte, taking longer to build density.

The pressure related sensitivity may be turned on and off by ticking / unticking 'Stylus' in the 'Pressure' box in 'Brush Dynamics'.

By ticking the 'Color' box in 'Brush Dynamics', the brush can be made to fade / paint between the chosen foreground and background colours with some interesting results. The fading is governed by stylus pressure.


This tool is similar to the Airbrush and edges may be soft or hard. Repeated coverings over the same area without releasing the tool do not result in increased saturation. However, by releasing and re-applying successive brush strokes, this will increase the covering/saturation - just like a real brush.

Ticking the 'Wet Edges' box on the Options Bar will give a wet-defined edge to the brush strokes you make should you require it.


The Pencil is available by dragging-out from the Paintbrush icon on the Tool bar (or by Shift + B, this toggles between the Paintbrush and the Pencil).

The pencil tends to be a little less subtle than the two brushes mentioned above. The edges are hard. It performs similarly to 'Paintbrush'. However options of opacity, stylus size and colour are available performing as in 'Paintbrush'. For 'Auto Erase' see below.

Common Options related to the three brushes above - available from the Brush Dynamics (Square Box and brush icon to the right of the Options bar). Note: The Brush Dynamics box presents many combinations. It's worth experimenting with various values and pre-sets to discover how each one operates.


Size - 'Off' - The brush size remains as chosen

Size - 'Fade' - The brush size will fade like a comet-tail in a number of 'steps' as numerically selected

Size - 'Stylus' - The brush stroke size will vary according to the pressure exerted by the Wacom pen

Pressure - 'Off' - the stroke from Wacom pen is not pressure sensitive

Pressure - 'Fade' - The stroke fades away in a number of 'steps', as numerically selected

Pressure - 'Stylus' - the stroke from Wacom pen is pressure sensitive - see note above about 'Airbrush Pressure'.

Color - 'Off' - Regard this as the 'normal' setting for use

Color 'Fade' - Stylus Pressure ticked, colour changes more subtly between F/G and B/G

Color - 'Stylus' - The colour changes between F/G and B/G colours with stylus / pen pressure


Size - 'Off' - The brush size remains as chosen

Size - Fade - The brush size will fade like a comet-tail in a number of 'steps' as numerically selected

Size - Colour' - The brush stroke size will vary according to the pressure exerted by the Wacom pen

Opacity 'Off' - The Opacity chosen in the Opacity box rated in % with no pen pressure sensitivity

Opacity - 'Fade' - The opacity will fade in a number of 'steps', as numerically selected

Opacity 'Stylus' - depending on stylus / pen pressure, the intensity changes to the maximum as set in the 'Opacity box', rated in %

Color - 'Off' - Regard this as the 'normal' setting for use

Color 'Fade' - Stylus Pressure ticked, colour changes more subtly between F/G and B/G

Color - 'Stylus' - The colour changes between F/G and B/G colours with stylus / pen pressure


Functions are similar to Paintbrush but with hard edges. It does however have the 'Auto Erase' option, which if ticked, paints F/G colour over B/G colour. This only works if you begin the stroke within an area where there is paint already. Unlike the other two brushes, the Pencil maintains a dead centre cross hair at all times (inside the outline of the brush selected. This may be difficult to se with some of the textured brushes).

'Fade' / 'Steps' Option

This is available for all three of the above and if selected, determines the fade-out or comet-trail-like appearance of the stroke you make over the image area. To use, enter a value in the Fade/Steps box. In actual practice, for hand-tinting, I rarely use this function.

Brush size

It's essential to have knowledge of how large an area is covered by the brush tool in use, therefore ensure that both 'Brush Size' and 'Precise' options are selected in the Display & Cursors preference. This is found under File > Preferences > Display & Cursors. Set Painting Cursors to 'Brush Size' and Other Cursors to 'Precise'.

Making Your Own Brush

Remember that you can make a brush shape and size to your own specification that includes such things as 'Hardness' and 'Angle'.

Click on the top right arrow in Brush Options and follow the simple dialogue box.

Deleting a Brush or Brushes

A quick method is to select the brush you wish to delete and by holding down the 'Alt Gr' key to the right of the space bar, scissors appear and this will cut-out / delete the brush. Repeated clicks will delete a whole series - so watch out!

Alternatively you can choose the 'Delete Brush' option, by clicking on the4 arrow again in the Brush Options box and choosing 'Delete Brush'.

Extra Ranges and Fancy Shaped Brushes

These can be loaded from within Photoshop.

Click on the drop down arrow to the right of the Brush Size icon at the top left of the Options Bar. From the Brush Size menu that appears click on the top right 'fly-out' arrow, from the list that now appears, choose 'Load Brushes' and a list will be shown. Successively select and load the ones you want - all sorts to choose from.

Preserving Transparency

This option is useful if you do not wish to apply 'paint' to an area of the image that is 'transparent'. This can only apply to a layer that is not Background. To retain transparency, simply click in the tick box to the left of the little chequered square towards the top of the Layers palette (V6) or click / tick the box towards the top of the Layers palette, labelled 'Preserve Transparency (V5 / V5.5). See more about the use of this function, when painting on a layer below.

Brush tool not working?

If you discover your brush tool is not functioning, it could be that the 'Fade' is selected and the 'steps' have been inadvertently set to 1 or some other very low figure.

The other common reason for a nonfunctional tool is that a 'selection' has been left running (perhaps 'hidden'). Use Ctrl + D to remove an unwanted 'selection'.

Check the 'Preserve Transparency' Lock tick box in the Layers Palette. If 'ticked' the brush will not paint in an empty (no pixels area), this could be the case if you have a new, empty layer. See above and a further note below.



The secret of success is to be subtle in your application of colour and to gradually build up the depth of saturation you require.

When starting, most people choose a colour and a convenient brush and begin painting with the Brush Options 'Blend Mode' set at Normal. This will undoubtedly work, however, for better results choose either Color or Overlay as the blend mode. To make this choice click on the downward arrow near the top left-hand corner of the Brush Options palette (it'll probably have 'Normal' in the small box) and from the list choose 'color' - it's near the bottom, or 'Overlay' - a few down from the top. (These are blend modes by the way and you can have lots of interesting explorations with these).

Color or Overlay modes are much more appropriate for our use as they retain the luminance (black & white) information from the image and do not paint-out either full black or full white. In this way, a good sense of grey scale is preserved together with crisp whites and full blacks.

Which to choose - Color or Overlay Blend mode?

One is not better than the other. They are not the same either as each will render the colour slightly differently. Experiment with your chosen image to discover which is the most appropitae to use. You can have different layers set to different blend modes.

Remember - Painting in Normal mode will paint over and obscure the black & white component of the image.

New Layers for Painting

Having scanned in the image, create a New Layer upon which to apply the paint. This has the advantage of not corrupting the original and enables the Opacity of the paint layer to be altered if necessary. This new Layer needs to be set to 'Color' or 'Overlay' (blend mode), just like the brush (see above). However, once painting on a layer, the brush mode can remain set to 'normal' - the layer mode is making the blend mode work. Note: leaving the brush set to 'Color' or 'Overlay' is OK should you do so.

Colour or Overlay blend mode? They work equally welll. Some images benefit from one or the other, you'll need to experiment to determine which is the most suitable for the image in question.

About Preserving transparency .......... This is Important

For 'normal painting' using a separate layer for the colour, keep the 'Preserve Transparency' box unticked in the Layers Options palette.

NB Should 'Preserve Transparency' be ticked, on your colour tinting layer, then your brush will be inoperative. However should you wish to paint only on an area already painted, then ticking the 'Preserve Transparency' box will only allow you paint where a previous paint stroke has been made. This has implications where precision is required.

Want to Paint in Dead Straight Lines?

Should you need to do this, hold down the Shift Key as you paint.

OK So Far?

When you are satisfied with a stage in your work, create another layer for the next session/area of paint and so on. In this way subtle changes of layer opacity between layers can be made. And a whole layer may be deleted if a particular effect is not pleasing (we all make mistakes!).

The layers can also be individually adjusted by the application of Layer Masks/Adjustment Layers/Clipping Groups etc allowing yet more variations and artistry. The blend mode of each layer can also be set to give yet more options as the layers interact with one another.

Selecting Your Colour.

When clicking on either Foreground or Backround colour to reveal the Colour Picker dialogue box one is presented with several choices about display. The dialogue box presents a square with the cursor at the selected colour, however it can be displayed in the following ways. H = Hue, S = Saturation, B = Brightness, R = Red, G = Green and B = Blue. Don't be surprised if either R, G or B gives an unlikely range of colours as it all depends upon where the colour cursor has been positioned. I find the two most useful options to be either H or B but it depends upon how you prefer to work.

Making Your Very Own Palette of Colours

Either increase the canvas size with a white background chosen to give a white border or open a new (blank) image file, again ensuring the background is white. Paint sweeps of different colours into the area, overlapping and mingling them with different pressures/opacities. Use the Smudge Tool too to mix and blend the colours. This creates your own mixing palette. Use the Eyedropper tool to select the colours you need and paint away. This is quicker than choosing the F/G or B/G route or Colour / Swatches palettes etc - and you get to use your own special blends.

If you need a specific colour reference from another image, simply open it and use the Eyedropper tool to sample it.

Working the Paint on the Image

Build up large blocks of colour - don't worry if you overpaint the limits of the area - as the paint has its own layer(s), this can be corrected later (by using a layer mask).

Remember that rarely are whole areas of colour simply one colour, each will have nuances of brightness, saturation and hue. Mingle other colours very subtly in amongst the initial set you've chosen. Take bricks and stone as examples, these contain a wealth of small changes in hue - so echo this and include overlays of other colours to render the work more convincing.

Knowing when to stop is important, one brushstroke too many can ruin a fine image - if you're uncertain, save different versions of the image as you near conclusion.

Hand-tinting is often even more effective when combined with a background wash of gentle tone. Go to Toning and Duotones for more info.

Toning Techniques
Layer Mask V6 / V7
Know-How Contents
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