Selectively Colorize Digital Photos

By Steve Bain

Using Corel PHOTO-PAINT®, you can create the popular illusion of black-and-white pictures that feature specific areas of color. This particular technique entails just a few simple steps and enables you to create the effect without permanently altering the original color image. The trick, of course, is to start with a full-color image.

In this brief tutorial, we’ll use a Lens effect to apply – or rather, remove – realistic color in a black-and-white image. The image we’ll be starting with is a color photo (see below) of a rather angry-looking young woman. Although the interface you’ll see here was captured using version 12, this technique can be used with virtually any recent version of Corel PHOTO-PAINT.


  1. Open your color image in Corel PHOTO-PAINT, and decide in advance which area you’d like to colorize. Ideally, the area should be well-defined with crisp focus or color, or both.
  2. Open the Objects docker by choosing Window > Dockers > Objects (Ctrl+F7). By default, the docker lists a single object: Background. At the bottom portion of the docker is a row of buttons. Click the New Lens button (see below).
  3. The New Lens dialog (see below) opens with a list of the available lenses. Choose Hue/Saturation/Lightness, and click OK.
  4. The Hue/Saturation/Lightness dialog opens with a series of options. With Master set as the default channel, slide both the Hue and Saturation sliders to the far left (see below), and click OK to create the lens object. This setting applies a lens with all the color removed from the image, leaving only what appears to be a black-and-white image.
  5. In the Objects docker, a new Lens object appears and is selected by default. In the image window, Zoom to the area you wish to colorize, and choose the Brush Mask Tool (B) from the Mask Tools tool group (see below).
  6. From the Property Bbar, choose a brush shape and size, and carefully paint the area to colorize to create a mask. Use Ctrl to subtract and/or Shift to add to the mask until the entire area is selected. In our example, we’ve masked an area defined by the red lips (see below).
  7. With the area masked, press the Delete key. The masked area is removed from the lens, leaving only the original background image to show through (see below). Choose Mask > Remove to clear the selected mask area. Check the results, and save your image as a Corel PHOTO-PAINT (CPT) file to preserve the objects. 

The finished result is a black-and-white photo in which only the areas you’ve specified feature the original color. In our example (see below), the same procedure applied to the lips was used for the eyes. Now all we need to do is get her to smile!

Although we’ve used the Brush Mask Tool to mask the area, you can use any of the selection tools in Corel PHOTO-PAINT to define it. Using a Lens effect to apply color changes, you can restore the original image by hiding or deleting the Hue/Saturation/Lightness lens from the Objects docker.

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Steve Bain is an award-winning illustrator and designer, and the author of nearly a dozen books, including CorelDRAW 12: The Official Guide.

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