For years, production companies have used expensive techniques to color old black and white films. But now AI is putting this capability in the hands of everyday users, allowing you to add color to old family photos, historical images or black and white video frames in seconds.
It works like this: A developer inserts a large number of color images into a neural network, which is the AI language for software modeled on brain function. Over time, the software learns to recognize different objects and determine their probable colors.
These algorithms are built into online services and software that you can download and run on a computer. At their best, they produce results that appear to add color to old photos as if by magic.
In this article, we look at some easy-to-use coloring tools, which you can try for free if you want to add color to black and white photos.
This free and open source software uses an artificial intelligence technique known as Generative Adversarial Networks, in which a second neural network, dubbed “critical” or “discriminator”, helps teach the first to produce better images. The results are impressive: portraits, indoors and outdoors all appear in lifelike color.
It’s one of the best coloring tools we’ve tested, but gaining full access to its capabilities will be a challenge for everyday users. It runs on Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution, and requires a fair amount of technical know-how if you want to install it on your computer. (Learn more about Ubuntu in our guide comparing Debian, Ubuntu, and Linux Mint .)
For the rest of us, lead developer Jason Antic has created a website where you can upload black and white images and then download the colorful result. The main drawback is that the photos are resized to a maximum of 800 pixels in both directions.
If you want to remove the size limits, another option is Google Colab, an online service that allows you to run code written in the Python language. The Antic Github page contains links to Colab notebooks for three versions of DeOldify, including the default “art” version.
Press a series of buttons to run the code, enter a URL that links to the black and white image, and wait a while for the software to generate a colored version.
If you want to color an image on your computer, you will need to upload it to an image hosting site like Flickr or Imgur. The whole process might seem daunting at first, but it’s not all that difficult. And the GitHub page links to a video tutorial with detailed instructions.
If you’d rather not address the issue, many other developers have incorporated DeOldify into their apps with friendlier user interfaces. A couple of these are described below.
2. MyHeritage in color
MyHeritage, an online genealogy service, offers an enhanced version of DeOldify as part of its $ 199 / year maximum subscription plan. The company has licensed the technology to Antic, which describes it as the best version of its software. Our tests confirm this.
Related: Best Free Genealogy Websites to Use
For example, a photo of California’s Big Sur had a slight blue cast when colored in the previous version, but it looks much better in this one. After coloring the image, you can perform a second operation to make it sharper.
The coloring alone doesn’t justify a $ 199 / year subscription, but the app is a small part of MyHeritage, which allows you to create private websites where you can trace your family tree. You can try the coloring software for free on up to 10 photos.
Visit: MyHeritage In Color
3. Image colorizer
This might be your best option if you want DeOldify quality in a simple user interface without a big price tag. It is available as a free cloud-based service and as a free app for Android and iOS devices.
The developer also offers Picture Colorizer, a Windows app that combines coloring with scratch removal and other image processing features. A Mac version is currently in beta.
The cloud-based service has a simple drag-and-drop interface and allows you to color photos up to a maximum resolution of 3000 × 3000 pixels.
It’s not 100% clear that the software is based on DeOldify, but it appears that it is. In all of our test images, the programs generated identical results.
Download: Image Colorizer for Android | iOS (free)
Download: Picture Colorizer ($ 29.95, with free trial available)
4. ColorSurprise AI Pixbim
This easy-to-use desktop software combines AI-based coloring with image processing features that allow you to adjust color temperature, intensity, contrast and gamma. The software also provides a brush tool in case you want to correct areas that have been incorrectly colored. You can color the images individually or in batches.
The results are impressive and stack up favorably on DeOldify.
ColorSurprise is available on macOS and Windows. It’s a little expensive at $ 79.99, but you can download a free trial version that places watermarks on saved images.
Download: ColorSurprise ($ 79.99, with free trial available)
5. Colorization of the algorithm image
This online microservice, hosted by AI provider Algorithmia, is based on the Colorful Image Colorization project by researchers Richard Zhang, Phillip Isola, and Alexei Efros.
Compared to DeOldify, the software is a mixed bag, working fine on some images but not on others.
For example, in our image of Big Sur, parts of the beach appeared red and other parts of green foliage were colored brown. The developers freely acknowledge these problems on the project’s Github page.
Visit: Algorithmia Image Colorization
6. Movavi Photo Editor
This entry-level photo editing program includes an AI-based coloring tool. In our tests, it didn’t work like the other software in this roundup. The colors in some photos were muted, and in the portraits we tested some areas of the subjects’ skin looked discolored.
Related: Lesser Known Free Online Image Editing Tools
On the other hand, Movavi Photo Editor offers a number of other image editing features, including noise reduction, background removal, skin smoothing, and many special effects filters. It’s worth considering if you want a complete and affordable photo editing tool. But if you just need the coloring, you should look elsewhere.
Download: Movavi Photo Editor for Windows | macOS ($ 44.95, with free trial available)
Add a pop of color to your photos
None of these AI coloring tools are perfect, but the best ones generate images that are realistic enough that you never believe the photos were taken in black and white.
And even if the colors are slightly dull, you can use image editing software like Adobe Photoshop to tweak the results or even replace one color with another.
Do we have a preference? The MyHeritage app, based on an advanced version of DeOldify, produces the best results, but it’s not worth the $ 199 / year price tag unless you want to use the service’s other genealogy features.
So, taking everything into consideration, we’ll give a nod to Image Colorizer, which offers DeOldify’s coloring quality in multiple easy-to-use packages, including the free cloud-based version.
Whichever instrument you choose, you now have a great opportunity to rummage through old family albums or historical archives and bring the past back to life.