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Thread: Coloring 101 Tutorial

  1. RHughes Guest

    Coloring 101 Tutorial

    Hey guys!

    Not sure if this is where this should go, but that's why they pay mods and admins right? I wrote this tut a couple of years ago, but I thought it might help anyone looking to get their feet wet in digital coloring. I'll throw up a flatting tutorial in another thread as well.

    If you have any questions, just let me know and I'll do my best to help.

    BATMAN vs. CAPTAIN AMERICA Photoshopped

    Howís it done?

    This is my first tutorial, so bear with me if itís total crap.

    The first thing any colorist needs when working is something to color. Am I right? So Iíve selected this Batman/Captain America pic illustrated by George Perez. One of the best pieces of advice I can give when youíre first starting out is to color artwork by someone who knows what theyíre doing. Coloring your friendís crappy artwork and bad anatomy isnít going to do you any favors at all, so I would strongly urge you to stick to pro level work until you have a good grasp what youíre doing.

    Here is the picture that Iíve selected:

    Getting Started

    The first thing to do is to separate the black lines from the white background. I work in layers, so Iíll explain how to separate the lines in that way.

    1. Select the entire picture, then go to the Edit menu and select Cut.
    2. Click on the Channels tab.
    3. In the Channels tab, youíll see a small square icon that looks like a piece of paper with its corner folded. This is the New Channel icon. Click that. You should see a new channel open up in the menu with the name ďAlpha 1Ē assigned to it.
    4. Highlight the Alpha 1 channel, then go to the Edit menu and select Paste. This will paste your art into that Channel.
    5. Press CTRL + I to invert your selection. Your art should now look like a film negative.
    6. Return to your Layer menu by clicking on the Layers tab.
    7. Click on the New Layer icon twice to create two new layers. (The same icon as in the Channels menu, only this one creates a new layer.) After doing this, you should have two empty layers and a white background layer in the Layers menu.
    Note: Layers are just that. Theyíre like transparent sheets of glass laid over top of each other. The top-most layer will have nothing obscuring it, while working in a layer underneath could have things obscured by the layer(s) above it.
    8. Highlight your top-most layer, then go to the Select menu and click on Load Selection. A box with a drop down menu will appear.
    9. Click on the drop down and select your Alpha 1 channel, then click OK. This will load the white space from your Alpha 1 channel as a selection (Called Marching Ants by many, because they look like ants walking in a circle around your selection).
    10. Click on your Paint Bucket tool, and select a color to fill your lineart with. (Usually done with black, but you can go nuts if you like.)
    11. Click anywhere on your page, and the Paint Bucket tool will fill your selection with your chosen color. Youíve now separated your black lineart from the white on your page and placed it on itís own layer. Deselect and youíre ready to start flatting!


    What in the blue hell is flatting? Flatting is a term used to describe filling the page with color to separate different areas of the picture from one another. Huh? I guess to get a handle on why someone would flat a page it would help to know a little bit about this helpful little tool.

    This is the Magic Wand tool. And it selects the entire area of whatever color you click on. So, if you fill an area with red, white, and blue (like weíll be doing with this piece), but only want to work with your blue color, you can use the Magic Wand tool to select your blue area by clicking anywhere in the blue color. The Magic Wand, will wrap the blue area in a selection (Marching Ants) and your tools will only work in that area.

    How does that apply to flatting?
    A lot of colorists find it easier to work with one color at a time. There are a bunch that just jump right in there and start painting digitally, but I work by making selections and working that area before moving on to my next selection. So, flatting my picture will separate the different elements of the picture and allow me to use my Magic Wand to select just the area I want to work in. This saves me time instead use the Polygonal Lasso tool (weíll get to that one) to choose my selections.

    So, how do I flat? First, and foremost, take a few seconds to go and change all of your selection tools and your Paint Bucket tool to suit your needs. There is a little check box that appears in the menu bar at the top of your screen when your tool is selected called Anti-Alias. Make sure that box is unchecked. Having the box checked would cause your colors to blend where they meet another color, and would pretty much defeat the purpose since, your Magic Wand wouldnít pick up the blended colors.

    Now, youíve got your tools set up and youíre ready to go. There are a couple different methods to flatting. If youíre looking to flat for another colorist, then youíre going to be just as concerned with speed as you are with color separation. A lot of colorists donít care what color a picture is flatted with. Their main concern is that the elements are separated. So when youíre flatting, you donít always have to be concerned with getting the ďrightĒ color as much as you do getting a different color than the one next to it.

    One method to flatting that is used is to fill your entire picture with one color and then start separating elements from there. This will speed things up, because you only need to separate the colors. The method I prefer (which is probably why it takes me ages to flat a complex page) is to choose your elements with the Polygonal Lasso tool and filling the area(s) with the base color I plan on using on the page. Itís a lot slower, but Iíve found that it works for me, as I get a better idea of what I want to do on that page with the finished colors. Find a method that works best for you and go to town.

    Start off by selecting the empty layer underneath your lineart layer. This will put all of your flat colors underneath the black lines. Select the Polygonal Lasso tool from your tool bar. Itís the one that looks like this:

    Click a starting point for your selection and begin to work your way around the area. The Polygonal Lasso tool will allow you to create waypoints along the path by clicking wherever you want the path to go, unlike the regular Lasso tool, which works much like drawing a shape around an object and closes itself off after youíve released the mouse button.

    Here Iíve selected the gray portion of Batmanís costume: (You can make multiple selections by pressing the shift button while you set the first waypoint of the next selection. A small plus sign will appear next to the Lasso tool) (Pressing the CTRL button will give you a minus sign and cause the Lasso tool to deselect an area.)

    After youíve made your selections, youíre ready to fill the area with color. You can either use the Paint Bucket tool or the Pencil tool to accomplish this. The Pencil tool works the same way the Brush tool works, but the Pencil is aliased whereas the Brush is not. And, remember, for flatting aliased = good. I use the Paint Bucket tool though, because it is much faster than trying to color it in by hand with the Pencil tool. One click and Iím done.

    Here is the area after filling my selections with my chosen color:

    By hiding the layer with the lineart in it (by clicking on the little eyeball in the Layer menu) you can see that the color is there and that it has a hard edge to it.

    Now we move on to the next color. Here Iíve selected the blue areas in Batmanís costume:

    But wait! Youíve got your selections running into your gray color! Wonít that put the blue color over the gray color?

    So I have! This is where the biggest advantage to flatting with the Paint Bucket tool comes in. Using the Pencil tool, I would have to be careful not to overlap my new color too much with my old color, or Iíd have to take the time to deselect the gray areas that I didnít want to turn blue. (Which isnít all THAT hard when using CTRL + Magic Wand to deselect a color, but you get the point.) But, a single click of the Paint Bucket tool will only paint on top of the color or area that the pointer is on.

    By clicking in the empty area of my selection the Paint Bucket tool will only fill the empty area with my color. And with the aliased edge of my gray color matching up with my aliased edge of my blue color, Iíll get a nice crisp area to be able to select with my Magic Wand later on.

    Itís just lather, rinse, repeat at this point until youíve filled in everything that you want to have flatted. Generally, I fill in the background on a separate layer, like Iíve shown here. This allows me to play around with the background without having to worry about pulling any of my other colors into the background. Itís especially handy to do it that way when working with different effects. Blurring and smudging, amongst other filters can affect the surrounding colors as well as the areas selected, so be aware when youíre using those functions.

    I highlight my Background layer in the Layer menu and then use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select an area. From there I use the Paint Bucket tool to fill in color in my Background layer like so. Iíve hidden the layer with my flat colors to show that it does indeed cover the entire area.

    Once Iíve finished my flats, Iím left with an image that looks like this:

    This is just what the name would suggest. Flat colors underneath my black lineart. No rendering has been done to give it any depth or definition. And Iíve given myself some selectable areas to use my Magic Wand tool on when Iím ready to do the final rendering.

    Here is a close-up to illustrate the different areas. Notice that Capís glove is a different color red than the part of his shield that he is touching. Thatís because Iíve set my Magic Wandís tolerance level to 0, so it will only select the specific color that it is clicked on. If I were to set it at a higher level, it might select both of these colors because it figures itís close enough to what I clicked on. I donít want that though, so I keep it at 0 pretty much all the time.


    Alright, youíve got your flats laid down and youíre ready to get into the good stuff. The rendering! This is where youíll (hopefully) give your picture depth and definition. There are so many factors to consider when youíre approaching a picture that I couldnít possibly name them all. Some of the major ones are lighting, atmosphere, mood, depth, texture, and how one object affects another.

    I generally like to start with the background first to help set my mood and lighting, and then work to the front. This helps you avoid doing a lot of rendering on your characters and foreground where youíve given everything a yellow highlight, only to change your mind and decide that a blue background suits the environment better and have to go and do all of that work over again to render it under a more blue highlight.

    Photoshop has a bunch of filters that are designed to give photos different textures and lighting. The problem is that they are not always the best thing to use for coloring, and usually stick out like a sore thumb. This is why the majority of colorists will work with custom brushes that theyíve either created themselves or found on the internet. Take the time to find or create some brushes that suit your style. It will be worth every second you spend on it. Anything from clouds to fur to rust and fabric can be created convincingly with the right brush, the right color, and the right brush setting.

    First I created some cloud cover to place behind the characters using a couple different cloud brushes. I started with a base color and then adjusted the way my brushes worked by choosing different option in the brush drop down menu and adjusting the opacity.

    After a little playing around, this is what Iíve come up with:

    Here is what the clouds look like with my flat layer visible. Itís important to make sure what youíre doing in the background isnít going to take the focus off of the characters or the story. Remember, the buyer didnít pay to see your pretty colors. They paid to read a good story and see good art. Overpowering the lineart with your color is possible, but itís not recommended and probably wonít be well received.

    This is the reason why I work the background first. I had originally intended to have Batman and Cap in a dark setting with a glow coming up from behind the rock formation to serve as a lightsource. While I was playing around with getting the look right, I stumbled onto the Dissolve setting to my brush and it created an interesting effect that made me thing of burning embers, so I thought, ďWhy not a volcano or something like that?Ē

    Blue clouds donít exactly fit a burning volcano setting, so I went to the Image menu and scrolled down to the Adjustments section. From there I clicked on Hue/Saturation. This allowed me to play around with the Hue and Saturation levels without actually affecting the rendering that was done with my cloud brush. All it did was change the color for me. This is what I came up with:

    With the lineart and flats visible, you can see that it gives the impression that theyíre in the middle of some kind of burning area.

    Quick and easy background for this picture, so itís on to rendering the foreground. I like to create a copy of my flats layer so that I can always go back to it and use the Magic Wand tool if I decide and area Iíve rendered needs more work later on. You can do that by right-clicking in the layer you want to duplicate and choosing Duplicate Layer or you drag that layer to the New Layer icon. Just be careful you donít dump it into the trash. =)

    Here is a sample of my rendering in a selected area. There are many different ways to render your picture. Play around and figure out what your style is. For this Iíve taken a sample of the local color from the background to apply my highlights. This helps to tie the character into the environment around him. Remember, the environment affects how the character or object will look.

    Work your way through the entire picture and viola! Youíre done. Post to web and ask for critiques, then bend over and take them. Just keep in mind that there is ďstyleĒ and then there is ďright and wrongĒ, take the advice that people give you and try to either apply it to this picture or your next one. That and a LOT of practice will help you get a better.

    Take a break from your picture once youíre done, and then go back to it and give it a critical eye yourself. I usually go ahead an post mine for feedback prior to taking a second look, just so I can get as much info as I can before I go back to tweak things here and there, but itís up to you.

    Here is the ďfinalĒ version. Of course, as Iím taking a second look Iím already seeing things that I want to go in and play around with. Fixing things can be great, but another thing youíve got to learn how to do is let go. There comes a time, where you just have to move on to the next picture. All of that depends on you.

    Edit: This is my real final version. I wasn't happy with the saturation levels in the blue on Cap's costume and I wanted to punch up the embers a little.

    Well, there you go. I hope that will help some of you. I had a blast doing this, but man, this is a lot of writing. I should probably be working....

    I think I've barely scratched the surface, so if anyone has any questions, let me know and I'll do what I can to answer them.

  2. ips700 Guest

    Great Post..Newbie here....I would love to do some crossover covers with images as an entry to understand basic photoshopping skills...Unfortunately I dont know where to begin and googling brings up tons and tons of links..Which topics would help me in that?

    To better rephrase my question, if I have to create a fan art cover of Batman and Elektra merged from a sampling of google images what aspects of photoshopping I should understand clearly? Layers? Lighting? Colouring?

    Hope I am being clear in my query..

  3. RHughes Guest

    Okay, let me see if I'm understanding you correctly. You're looking to take two existing images and splice them together into a single image?

    For example:




    Essentially what you would need to understand for this process is how to work in layers, and some of the features of your selection tools. For this image, all I did was "cut out" Batman and Elektra using the magic wand and polygonal lasso tools. I kind of feathered the edges of my selection so that the stray pixels wouldn't stand out too much, then erased everything else. I placed Batman and Elektra each on their own separate layer in Photoshop so that I could move them around and position them where I wanted them without messing with the other. I then just painted in some color into the background layer and added their respective logos using the same methods that I used on the characters. It's crude, but it works.

    Hope that answers your question. If not, let me know and I'll do what I can to help.

  4. ips700 Guest

    Thanks for the replies. Yes. That answers the question....As you mentioned it seems to be a rough approach...Say we want to add three characters, we have to "scrub" the images individually and so on. But if this is the standard approach then not much it should be ok then..

    Another question is what tricks are there to touch up the images so they look uniform. For example, in this case you have chosen two images which have the same feel of pencils (Bruce Timm??). But what if I need to merge images from two different looks like say the below ones...


    Obviously splicing them togeather would look awkward. In such case what we may need to do I guess would be to employ some of the tricks you highlighted in the first post regarding colouring.. Maybe give an uniform tint to the merged image? Or try to rough up the images to give an altogeather new look?
    (What I keep referring as the look is the combined pencils/colors/art of an image)

    What would be the topics to cover on those?

    In the meanwhile I will try to post some image from my side!

    Thanks again for your time.

  5. RHughes Guest

    No problem at all.

    There's actually a couple different ways (actually more than just a couple) you can go about it. You could cut each character out and place them on their own layer and then adjust the Hue/Saturation to try to bring them closer together (probably how I would try to do it), or you could put them both on the same layer and then use adjustment layers to give them a little bit more of a unified look. To get them looking right, you're basically going to be spending a lot of time using the Adjustments functions of Photoshop.

    Repainting them or roughing them up might be something to try as well, but then you get into the issue of messing with the artist's lines and the overall quality of the image. As a colorist, my job is to try to accentuate the artists' work so I might not be inclined to change it up that way as much.
    Last edited by RHughes; Thursday, September 02, 2010 at 09:51 PM.

  6. ips700 Guest

    So this is what I was doing couple of days...I used the same Elekra picture but selected a batman more "red" for smoother merge.

    This is what I come up with a bare ass layer merge...

    Yeah...Damian is going to be pissed...

    So what I need to do is

    --------Clean up the merge at the borders (Any magic tool? Or only pixel by pixel?)
    --------The shadow has to fall on Elekra
    --------Maybe use some imagination to get the Elektra is Silhoutee visible in the

    Any tuts which talk specifically about #1 and #2?
    Since I guess #3 is mostly imagination. I can try to recreate Robin's look on Elekta but without the eyelid domino it will be difficult to show the face(?).

  7. DrRamen Guest

    Great post! This is something I'm very interested in experimenting with.

  8. RHughes Guest

    Good luck! If I can be of any assistance, just let me know.

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