Color Correction Software

Scan Correct Color Smooth Texture Reduce Noise Remove Dust Repair Crop

Photos fade over time. Old photos may have weak colors because of the fading. Not only do the colors get weaker, the pigments can fade at different rates. Photos with this problem may look hazy and washed out, and have a yellowish-green or brownish-orange tint to them. When photos fade like this, they can be incredibly difficult to fix manually. Luckily there are a variety of programs that have automatic color correction features. I discuss such features in the sections below.

Color Contenders

Scan Software

Many scan programs can correct the color of scanned images at the time of the scan. If set up to color correct, it only takes the click of a single button to scan a photo, color correct, and save the scanned image to your hard disk. This can save quite a bit of time when scanning a bunch of photos.

The following three scan programs are able to correct color during the scan:

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop has two automatic color correction functions. One is called Auto Color Correction and the other is called Auto Levels. Auto Color works fine on most photos to correct the color balance. If the colors in the photo have shifted badly enough to cause a strong color cast and hazy look to the photo, you may need to perform an Auto Levels. This fixes or partially fixes color-shifted photos. You still may need to do an Auto Color after Auto Levels.

I ran a test with Photoshop Elements 16/2018 on 12 moderately faded to severely faded photos to see which combination of the two functions work best. After comparing and evaluating the image results, I summarized my opinions in the table and paragraphs below.

In the following table, poor means the image looks worse after correction, fair means the image looks about the same or slightly better, good means the image looks significantly better, and excel means the image looks much better. A  yellow  background means minor clipping. Best results in each column are displayed in blue.
Functions baby cake deer dog flod hedg lake pant pick seas slid toys
Auto Color good fair excel fair good excel fair excel good excel fair fair
Auto Color + Auto Levels good good poor fair good excel good good good good good fair
Auto Levels good good poor fair good good good good good good excel fair
Auto Levels + Auto Color good excel poor good excel excel excel excel excel excel good fair
The "deer" photo fared better with just an Auto Color Correction. The extreme fading and over-exposed sky may have been too much for Auto Levels to work correctly. This photo would be beyond difficult to correct manually.

The "slid" photo fared best with just an Auto Levels. The sky may have faded too much for Auto Color to work correctly.

The "toys" photo only had minor improvement after Auto Color and/or Auto Levels. The photo had a torn corner which was pure white and this may have prevented Auto Levels or Auto Color Correction from working correctly. This was easily fixed by manually adjusting the black levels for each color channel.

The "dog" photo was newer and already had excellent contrast. Using Auto Color or Auto Levels resulted in slightly too much contrast making the shadows very dark. This can be fixed by slightly raising the black level and slightly lowering the white level, which has the effect of decreasing the contrast.

Seven photos fared best when using a combination of Auto Levels and Auto Color Correction. When using both Auto Levels and Auto Color Correction, the order is important. Of the seven photos that fared best when using both operations, only one had excellent results when Auto Color Correction was performed first, while all eight had excellent results when Auto Levels was performed first. So, I recommend using Auto Levels before Auto Color Correction.

The Process Multiple Files menu command under the File menu can be used automate color correction on batches of files. Unfortunately, Process Multiple Files performs Auto Color Correction before Auto Levels if both functions are selected. I recommend running Process Multiple Files with Auto Levels first, then running it again with Auto Color Correction.

In addition to automatic color correction features, Photoshop CS6/CC has plenty of manual color correction features, but see the red bullet regarding Photoshop Elements.
Hobbled Elements: While Photoshop Elements 15's filters should work fine at any depth, some tools won't work on 48-bit color images. The Marquee, Lasso, Quick Selection, and most menu commands work. Remove Cast, Magic Wand, Healing Brush Tool, Clone Stamp, and many other tools won't work. Converting your 48-bit image to a 24-bit image to use these tools leaves it open to posterization damage as explained in the Color Depth section of the Info page. Instead of converting your image, consider using another image editor.

Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo is a multi-platform image editor made by Serif that works on Windows or macOS. Like other professional image editors, Affinity Photo has a plethora of powerful tools for editing images. According to Serif, Affinity Photo can work in any color space and supports 32-bit per channel editing. This means it can easily edit 48-bit scanned images (which only use 16 bits per channel).

Affinity Photo has two automatic color correction functions. One is called Auto Colors and the other is called Auto Levels. These functions work similarly to the automatic color correction functions described in the above paragraphs.

Color Contest

This is a test of automatic tools to correct color. I tested one newer photo which was only very slightly yellowed and seven old faded photos from my photo album. Several of the old photos are of my parents and grandparents. I tested various kinds of prints from different periods of time.

Optimal settings were used for the scanning programs. I determined these settings in the settings tests on the Scanning Software page.

For Photoshop Elements, I used a combination of Auto Levels followed by Auto Color Correction. The combination of the two features had consistently good results in my tests. I tested Elements 16 (2017) on macOS 10.12 as well as Elements 6 (2008) on OS X 10.6. The results from Auto Levels and Auto Color Correction on both versions looked identical.

For Affinity Photo, I used Auto Levels followed by Auto Colors.

This test included these programs running on macOS 10.12 unless otherwise noted: Testing was completed in October 2017 and used these settings:

Color Corrected Image Samples

The following are scanned images using the above programs and settings. No tweaks have been applied. For quicker page loading, the original tifs have been downsized and converted into (watermarked) jpegs. While the colors have been converted accurately, clipping is no longer apparent in the jpeg histograms.

The images below are best viewed with this window opened as wide as possible.
birthday cake

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
creek

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
custom

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
dog

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
gray seat

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
pants

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
pickup

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
potato planting

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
shed work

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan
slide

uncorrected original

Photoshop Elements

Affinity Photo

Canon ScanGear

Epson Scan

VueScan

Test Results

To evaluate the above image results, I visually compared all resulting images to each other and to the original print (using a full-spectrum white light). I looked for a correct white balance, removal of any color cast, moderately saturated colors, decent contrast and brightness, and a natural appearance. After analyzing the images, I summarized my opinions in the table and paragraphs below.

 Excellent results  are for images that look dramatically improved after color correction, with little to no clipping.  Great results  are for images that look noticeably improved, with little to no clipping.  Good results  are for images that look slightly or somewhat improved, with moderate to no clipping.  Fair results  are for images that look about the same, or may look better in some ways but worse in other ways, or may have major clipping.  Poor results  are for images that look significantly worse after correction.

Keep in mind that even the best result will usually require a slight tweak such as removing a color cast or adjusting the brightness or contrast.
Description Photoshop
Elements
Affinity
Photo
Canon
ScanGear
Epson Scan VueScan
Cake: My mother's birthday. Severe color shifting & fading, yellow-green cast. dark, weak colors, touch orangish dark, weak colors, green cast dark, weak colors, blue colors now look cyan good brightness, good colors bright & washed out, weak colors, green cast
Creek: Very overcast forest. Newer photo, strong contrast, little if any fading. slightly contrasty, dark shadows, good colors slightly contrasty, slightly greenish slightly contrasty, dark shadows, greenery a bit vivid slightly contrasty, good colors slightly bright, touch greenish
Custom: Belt-driven motorcycle. Faded and slightly yellowed contrasty, good colors (carpet) slightly contrasty, good colors good brightness, weak colors (red pinstripes, reflectors, carpet) good brightness, contrast, and colors slightly bright, bit of an orange cast
Dog: german shepherd and jumbo tennis ball. Newer photo in good shape but yellowed. contrasty (dark shadows and fur), good colors (ball, bush) contrasty, touch greenish contrasty (dark fur, bright wall), a bit vivid (bush) good brightness, contrast, and colors good brightness and contrast, a touch greenish
Gray Seat: Grandpa opening gift. Faded & yellowed, blue dye damage on left. bit contrasty, good colors (paneling, chair top), cast gone bit contrasty, a touch greenish bright highlights (face, shirt), good colors (paneling, chair top) but off-color chair good brightness, a touch greenish slightly bright, a touch greenish
Pants: Work pants & slippers. Dingy. From a 60-second peel-off polaroid. good brightness, bit contrasty, good colors good brightness, bit contrasty, tiny bit greenish highlights too bright, good colors good brightness, tiny bit greenish somewhat bright esp. in shadows, slightly greenish
Pickup: My father and his truck. From an instant polaroid. Greenish-yellow cast. good brightness & contrast & colors good brightness & contrast, tiny bit greenish contrasty (whites too bright), touch greenish (ground near truck) good brightness & contrast & colors slightly weak contrast, slight greenish-blue cast
Potatoes: Grandma planting potatoes. Yellowish but otherwise high quality 35mm print. good brightness but shadows a bit dark, a touch bluish good brightness & contrast, yellowish cast (grass) good brightness, weak colors (clothes, skin) good brightness, bluish cast (grass) a touch bright, yellowish cast (grass)
Shed Work: Grandma & my mom doing yard work. Old blurry polaroid. good brightness, shadows a bit dark, good colors good brightness & contrast, tiny bit greenish contrasty, highlights too bright good brightness, good colors a touch bright, tiny bit greenish
Slide: Slide & yard toy in backyard. Faded, very little contrast. good brightness & contrast, slightly bluish good brightness & contrast, excellent colors good brightness & contrast, slightly bluish, vivid sky good brightness & contrast, orange cast too bright, weak contrast
The "creek" photo already had good contrast. Yet several of the color correction programs increased the contrast of this photo even more. This caused bright highlights or dark shadows in several of the images. For unclipped images, too much contrast can usually be easily fixed by adjusting the levels. The black output slider can be increased to lighten shadows and the white output slider can be decreased to darken highlights.

The two automatic post-scan color correction programs are shown in the second and third columns.
The three scanning programs with automatic color correction are shown in the last three columns.
Color Correction Champions:

During the Scan: Epson Scan had consistently good to excellent results in correcting color, leaving corrected photos with a natural brightness and contrast. It did an outstanding job restoring color to badly color-shifted photos. A few color corrected photos still had a bit of a cast, but this can easily be fixed by adjusting color channel midpoints with the Levels tool.

Post Scan: Photoshop Elements had consistently great to excellent results in correcting color. It did a phenomenal job removing any color cast. Photos often came out a bit contrasty or dark but this can easily be fixed by adjusting the black and white output sliders with the Levels tool. Best results are obtained by selective use of Auto Levels, Auto Color Correct, or both.