Hand Colouring

Hand Colored Print

Hand Colored Print

I recently posted a hand colored print on eBay and began to wonder how these were made. So, you know me, I got online and started searching for information. Here’s some info that I found on WikiPedia about hand coloring.

Hand-colouring refers to any of a number of methods of manually adding colour to a black-and-white photograph or other image to heighten its realism. Typically, water-colours, oils and other paints or dyes are applied to the image surface using brushes, fingers, cotton swabs or airbrushes. Some photographic genres, particularly landscapes and portraits, have been more often hand-coloured than others, and hand-coloured photographs have been popular enough that some firms specialised in producing them.

There were three mediums used to create hand coloring:

  1. Dyes   When hand-colouring with dyes, a weak solution of dyes was preferred, and colours were built up with repeated washes rather than being applied all at once. The approach was to stain or dye the print rather than to paint it.
  2. Water-colours   Water-colours had the virtue of being more permanent than dyes, but they were less transparent and so more likely to obscure details. Hand-colouring with water-colours required the use of a medium to prevent the colours from drying with a dull and lifeless finish. Before the paint could be applied, the surface of the print had to be primed so that the colours would not be repelled. Since different pigments have varying degrees of transparency, the choice of colours had to be considered carefully. The more transparent pigments were preferred, since they ensured greater visibility of the photographic image.
  3. Oils     The use of oils was particularly a professional practice, as the conventions and techniques involved demanded knowledge of drawing and painting. When hand-colouring with oils, the approach was more often to use the photographic image simply as a base for a painted image. As with water-colours, the choice of oil colours was governed by the relative transparency of the pigments. It was necessary to size the print first to prevent absorption of the colours into the paper.

Hand-coloured photographs often combined these media, with dyes, water-colours and oils in turn being used to different effect in different parts of the image. Whichever medium was used, the main tools to apply colour were the brush and fingertip. Often the dabbing finger was covered to ensure that no fingerprints were left on the image.

Today there has been a resurgence of interest in hand coloring using photoshop and scans of old black and white photographs.  There are a number of tutorials on how to do this.


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