Abstract Colour

You can create an abstract colour image from a greyscale image with PaintShop Pro in which you assign colours to replace different grey tones.

In this tutorial we will convert a greyscale image into a colour image - but not your typical colour image - it will be a colour image with a difference!

This really isn't a tutorial for a newbie to PaintShop Pro or someone who lives for the One Step Photo Fix in the Enhance Photo menu.

You need to bring something to the table - imagination, the drive to experiment, patience and time.

The abstract colour technique will always surprise as unexpected combinations work and predicted ones don’t.  don’t be worried about which combinations of images to use – the final image as you chose it is the important one.

Background Information

This tutorial is fun because you'll be using a lot of different PaintShop tools and techniques to create an abstract colour, including ...
  • blending modes
  • layers
  • tone correction adjustments
  • greyscale conversion
If you're at all fuzzy with any of these techniques you can review them at the following links ...
The image you will be working with should have ...
  1. A good pattern or implied pattern.
  2. Good contrast or good contrast after adjusting with Curves.
  3. Not a lot of fuzzy textures
We’re going to generate the colour in our image synthetically from the colour secondaries
  • cyan (blue-green)
  • magenta (pink-purple)
  • yellow
  • with a contribution from black as in printing inks.

abstract colour primary colours

Where the colours overlap, we generate new colours.  A bit more knowledge can be found in

Abstract Colour Step One
Generate a Black and White Image

The image which I chose from a magazine freebie disc was already in B&W, but you may need to convert a colour image.

abstract colour moon original

You need an image with a full range of tones.  The histogram tells you how well the tones are distributed.  My image had the tones skewed to the shadows.

Abstract colour histogram original

using Adjust  >  Brightness and Contrast  >  Curves.  The contrast was adjusted to give a more even histogram.

abstract colour curves adjustment

Curves Adjustment of Black and White Image to increase contrast.

And here's the change in the Histogram

abstract colour adjusted histogram

The order of the first two steps is crucial.  You can perform them in the reverse order, but then the subsequent steps do not work.

Go to Image  > Image Information to check out the status of your image.  What you want is for the image to be 8 bit.  If your image is 16 bit then go to Image > Decrease Colour Depth and select RGB - 8 bits/channel (Ctrl+Shift+R).

Now convert the image to greyscale Image > Greyscale (or use your favourite black and white conversion).

abstract colour adjusted greyscale

Abstract Colour Step Two
More Theory

abstract colour explanation

The top band shows a greyscale image with the full range of tones.  The second band shows what happens to the image when we apply the threshold filter.  If we set the filter to 90, everything below the 90 value becomes value 0 or black and everything above the 90 value becomes 255 or white.

In our B&W image we are going to choose tones, and filter them ‘in’ or ‘out’.

Abstract Colour Step Three

Select your B&W image, and make at least another 4 copies (on the original image - Ctrl-C then Shift-Insert four times - now you've got five).  Decide at which points you want to set the threshold points, then using a fresh copy of the image on each occasion Adjust  >  Brightness and Contrast  > Threshold

using these values
  • 20
  • 80
  • 140
  • 180
  • 230
The moon image was filtered at
  • 20
  • 80
  • 140
  • 180
  • 230
I saved my images using these as their names, so that I could return to them.

Abstract Colour Step Four
Getting Creative

Look back at our theory image (that is the greyscale and threshold conversions).

The fourth and fifth bands show what we are about to attempt, by overlaying two of the images. We can select the tone range between the two values we chose OR exclude the range.  In my demo image, the fourth band shows that only tones between 90 and 156 will be excluded; the fifth band shows the tones between 90 and 156 will be represented.

To do this, decide on the two filtered images for the selection or exclusion, and select one
Edit > Copy.

Select the other image then go back to the baselayer image and Edit > Paste as New Layer.

abstract colour 20 with 80
This 20 filter layered with 80 filter layer.

Set the blend mode to Difference to get the exclusion of 20 to 80.

To get the inclusion of 20 to 80, merge the layer down and select Image > Negative Image.

Repeat this process for the rest of your filters to achieve 3 different images.  Because you are using two images from the four to build a new image each time, you can have six image pair combinations.

1 and 2,   1 and 3,   1 and 4,   2 and 3,   2 and 4,   3 and 4

You’ll also need the black and white original which you started with, since this adjusts the chroma value or saturation of the colour. 

To adjust the contribution to the chroma (that's the K in CYMK), select this black and white image Adjust >  Brightness and Contrast > Curves and choose the RGB option.  Slide the curve to achieve the mix (you may need to do several experiments with the final image to get it as you want it).

abstract colour chroma full adjust
Chroma Full Adjust
abstract colour chroma small adjust
Chroma Small Adjust
abstract colour chroma no adjust
Chroma No Change

Abstract Colour Step Five

abstract colour combine cmyk

With the four images, which you intend to combine, open Image > Combine Channel > Combine from CYMK. 

NOTE:  If it's greyed out then you've done something wrong, probably at the end of Step1.

You should have a colour image.  You can change the colour sequencing by selecting the colour channels from the images in a different order. You can adjust the chroma by redoing the adjustment on the curves in step four.

abstract colour final image1

Clever Stuff
abstract colour edge close up5
No matter how ‘good’ your image, no edge goes from a very low tone to a very high tone over the space of one or two pixels.

It is always a gradation over several pixels.  If you are trying to mask and cut out from an image this always presents a problem, however if you want to be clever and creative, then this is one of the places where you can use this feature to your advantage.

The threshold filter will let you set the place at which you want to set the edge, because the threshold filter makes a defined black (0) into white (255) transition and the edge is fixed by you.

How it works ...

Here's a nice greyscale image of a bridge ...

abstract colour greyscale bridge

An image like this one with strong lines has patterns and implied patterns which you can exploit.

abstract colour threshold

I made some threshold filtered images from the greyscale image using the technique described previously.

The filters were at 20, 32 and 70.

The next step was to set these as edges with Effects > Edge Effects > Find All.

abstract colour edge 32
abstract colur edge 70
abstract colour edge 90
Edge 32
Edge 70
Edge 90

Then to recombine them, and invert the image Image > Negative Image.

abstract colour cmyk bridge

The edges are defined in colour by you.

More Clever Stuff

ac-greyscale wall

You can combine the greyscale image as one of the parts of the CMYK combination.
The greyscale was chosen as the cyan contribution.

abstract colour edges 1
abstract colour edges 2
The magenta contribution The yellow contribution

The K or black contribution was the chroma adjustment which had no value or adjustment.

The final abstract colour image was then inverted as a negative image.

abstract colour greyscale with lines

Yet More Clever Stuff

If you repeat the use of the edge finder on the separate images which contain the edges, the edges become doubled and accentuated.  These take on a slightly different appearance as you take them through the CMYK recombination.

abstract colour double edged

The combinations and re-combinations are endless!

Even More Clever Stuff

To get a greater range of colours and apparent textures, for the next variation on the theme, I made six threshold images of the bridge at 7, 16, 25, 36, 56 and 100.

The edges were found for each of these. Then these images were paired as layers eg 7 with 25.

The upper layer was blended into the lower layer by the Darken blending mode and then merged down.

The three images made from merged pairs were then used with the greyscale image to be made into a CMYK combination.

abstract colour bridge double threshold

Abstract Colour Summary

Let’s review what we’ve covered.

abstract colour technique map

So What Do You Need For The Process?

1.  An image
  • with a pattern or an implied pattern
  • with good contrast or can be adjusted to give a good contrast
  • with defined and separated highlight and shadow areas
  • with not too much fussy texture
2.  Imagination or the drive to experiment

3.  Patience and time.

The technique will always surprise as unexpected combinations work and predicted ones don’t.  Don’t be worried about which combinations of images to use – the final image as you chose it is the important one.  The only real rules to make the final image are ...
  • 4 images to combine in the CYMK step, of which
  • Each must be greyscale, and
  • Each must be RGB 8bit

4.  What do you need to do next?

If this tutorial has whetted your appetite, find an image and try it out for yourself.
  • Keep it simple and be prepared to go back and redo chunks of the process.
  • Save your intermediate and experimental work.
  • Be self critical!

Abstract Colour
Page Links

Background Information

Step One - Greyscale

Step Two -Theory

Step Three

Step Four - Getting Creative

Step Five

Clever Stuff

Yet More Clever Stuff

Even More Clever Stuff


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