Coloring in Photoshop – Basic Tutorial

Okay folks – back with another tutorial on coloring techniques. Since most creators use Photoshop, I’ve created the tutorial using the program – but, the steps are fairly basic and can be ported over to your artwork software of choice.

Today, I’m going to show you how to color a simple character you’ve drawn and inked. Meet Eddie. He’s going to be one of the stars in my new comic strip coming out in 2012.

Say hello, Eddie.

Great. As you can see, Eddie is a simple character drawn with clean lines in more of a cartoon/weekly strip style. His colors aren’t overly dramatic, but they do give him a life of his own. Here’s how Eddie came to be.

First I drew a rough skeleton (or skellie as I like to call it) to create the basic shape of my character. Then on a new layer, I developed the pencils to give me an idea of Eddie’s basic look.

Then, I ended with a cleaned up version of Eddie. I used varied line weights in ink in order to bring out certain aspects of his body shape. We learned how to do some basic inking in a past tutorial, and some of those techniques apply here (this was inked digitally).

Now, Eddie is ready for coloring – so here’s how you should get set up in your file. You’ll want to create a series of layers to keep all of your work separate. This helps when you only want to modify shading, but don’t want to recolor an entire section all over again, etc.

Eddie’s file consists of 6 important layers (disregard the logo – thats a finishing touch). The background layer should remain white and unlocked, so you can see if there are parts of your flat colors that have not been added in properly – the white will show through!

Then you should have separate layers for your colors (known as flats.) You can have as many layers of flats as you wish – in this tutorial, we’re only going to use one.

Create a layer for your shading, and a layer for your highlights. This will make minor adjustments a lot easier to manage. At the very top of your layers should be your inks. Make sure you’ve locked that layer in so it does not get accidentally drawn over.

Now you’re ready to start coloring!

In order to make color picking easier and to keep consistent throughout your piece, I’d suggest making small swatches of your selected colors on the color layer itself. You can see the basic palette for Eddie’s clothes and skin.

Start filling in the areas using a paintbrush. Remember the days when you sat at the kitchen table and colored in a coloring book? This is the same thing, only now, you can erase those mistakes if you go outside of the lines. Unless you want to be sloppy – be my guest.

If you turn off the ink layer, you can see how the colors look in the layer you’ve been painting.

Fill in all of your areas with solid flats, and add in minor details – as long as they are completely solid blocks of color.

Now, in your ‘darks’ layer or shading layer, change the layer style to Color Burn and set your opacity to 50%. Select a medium grey tone, as this will have the greatest effect on your color underneath. A solid black will make your colours appear muddy.

Now start painting in your shaded areas. Create a sense of depth with your characters. Figure out where your light source is coming from, and plan the position of your shadows according to that. Also, certain body and facial parts protrude a bit, so if you want them to appear to have depth, you need to shade them so your characters don’t look like flat pieces of cardboard.

Here’s what Eddie looks like so far. Not bad. You can see he has a bit more depth than he did with just the flattened color. Now let’s add some highlights to make him look even more solid.

Just like the shading layer, select your highlights layer and set the layer to Color Dodge, with the opacity at 50%. Using the same medium grey as you did with the shading, you’ll subtract from the tint of the color beneath it as you paint in that layer.

Make sure your lighting follows the location of your light source. It will probably be opposite to where you’ve drawn in your shading. You can see how the form has started to develop – Eddie’s arm looks like it has some additional depth now.

Add lighting in areas like the folds of clothing, skin and edges in order to create that feeling of depth and a solid form. Eddie’s looking pretty good now!

Throw in your final details, and you’re done! Not bad – pretty simple to color your characters and give them life! If you’re thinking about adding color to your strip and want your characters to look good in a cartoon style, now you’ve got some easy steps to follow. Enjoy!

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    • There is a method that does not require you to put the color flats under the ink layer or lines. Set your flats layer to multiply.

      What I do over at Willow’s Grove:

      I have my inks & boxes merged into one layer set to normal, I then create a new layer on top of it called flats (if I’m not being lazy, otherwise, most of the time you’ll see it layer (whatever number has been assigned…heh))I then set that layer to multiply and grab the magic wand tool. I then select the sections in the ink layer I want to fill with color, click SELECT|MODIFY|EXPAND and I put the number 5 in the window (I use 5 as I work in 600dpi, if you use 300dpi, 3 or 2 may work bringing the marching ants well under the middle of the inked line), then I make sure the color I want is selected from my swatches and press CTRL+BACKSPACE. Bingo-bango-bongo, wash rinse repeat for each color. I generally go through the entire inked comic one color at a time…for example, I’ll color fill all my uniforms at one pass, skin color the next pass, etc. Whatever color you know is going to be used over several boxes, fill it all together (SHIFT+left click while using the magic wand tool) and it helps speed up coloring flats for me.

  1. When I am using Photoshop Elements for coloring I tend to make all my inks closed so I can use the magic wand tool to color. Then I can select an area modify it to expand by 2 pixels so the color is under the ink line and then fill.

    In full photoshop whether you use this technique or Robin’s, you can set up a function key to do all the steps and save you time.

    • this is what I do, too. I make sure all of the inks are closed by merging my ink layer and my boxes layer (as I have a bunch of box templates depending on the pencils and notations I have on the pencils for the number of boxes needed – example 3 box wide, 5 box 1121(1 box top row, 1 box 2nd row, 2 boxes 3rd row, 1 box bottom row…makes it so much easier to grab a template instead of creating them each time…although I do have a blank template to make custom layouts). Merging these layers guarantees that all inks will be closed so the magic wand tool will be a snap to use.

  2. Great info. I’m a newbie to this coloring thing and up til now I’ve only been working with flat colors. This is going to help me out a lot.

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