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Digital Coloring Part II - Adobe Photoshop 7

By Chris Arlidge

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The Render
(Part 2- Coloring Line for comics art in Photoshop)

In this tutorial we will learn how to use Adobe Photoshop to render line art like they do in the comics. The following procedure is not the only way its done, but it is one of the methods used by professionals. This tutorial unlike previous versions of my Photoshop coloring tutorial is done almost entirely in the channels. If using this method is not the thing for you can use layers instead, but I strongly recommend that you give this way a try. It's more friendly on your file size and memory and it teaches you some important fundamentals about the ever so important channels in Adobe Photoshop.

This tutorial assumes you already have prepared your line art in a specific manner so if you haven't done so yet you need to click here to view the tutorial that deals with Preparing Line Art.

Download some line art to practice with

Foreground and Background Palette
Drop in the base color

Step 1 -Add in a base color.

This tutorial is not about painting a background, but its always good to give yourself soemthing to work with, it may help establish mood and color scheme...this doestn have to be written in may change later (as you will see in this tutorial). So for now I make the foreground color a darker blue and in the RGB Channel (select that channel) and press alt+backspace to fill the entire area. You will notice your line art remains untouched.


Channels palette

At this stage your channels should look something like mine to the left.

Polygonal Lasso Tool
Lasso tool Options Bar

Step 2 - Begin making selections for the Flat Colors

We need to create the 'Flats'. These will help divide our different color areas. It's important to do this part carefully - even though it seems like the easiest step, its actually quite important. To begin selecting areas choose your selection tool, I prefer the Polygonal Lasso Tool, but some people may use the pen tool or even the normal lasso tool. I do not recommend using the magic wand at this stage.

Now you want to switch the 'anti-aliasing' option off in the Lasso tool options. This option is located in different spots in different versions, screen shot from the horizontal tool options bar in Photoshop 7. Make sure 'feather' is set to zero as well. Hover over the Images to see what they refer to.

TIP: remember to save often and if you want, save incrementally as I do - adding a number to the end of the file name to show its progression.

Select an area for base color

Step 3 - Begin Flatting

Selecting along the middle of the line art is ideal (John has made his art work very easy to work with as you can see he has nice thick lines).

Base Colors Filled

Step 4 - Fill Selections

We are still working in the RGB channel. Once you have an area selected drop in a base color for that part using the Paint Bucket Tool (G) with a color of your choice. I like to go with darker colors as the flat colors tend to end up being my shadow areas color. Continue selecting and filling areas, keep the fills tight you don't what any color of one section showing anywhere in another.

TIP: get to know your shortcuts in Adobe Photoshop. Theycan be real time savers. ALT + BACKSPACE will do the same as the paint bucket tool by filling a selected area withthe foreground color.


At this point your channels should look something like mine to the left.

Flats Channel backed up

Step 5 - Back up your flats.

We are going to create another alpha channel like we did for the lLine art except here we are going to store our flats in case we need them later for selections.

Okay this part might seem tricky but its quite straight forward. Select one of the channels (either R,G, or B not RGB) make a copy of that 'channel'. To do this press ctrl+a, then ctrl+c. This step selects the contents of the channel then copies it into memory. Now by clicking on the new channel icon at the bottom of the palette, or by using the fly out menu arrow on the top right select 'New channel'. Then with that new channel selected press ctrl+v. After all that, your channels should look like mine below.

This will make life so much easier, I love Adobe Photoshop :)


Step 6 - Getting back to the RGB Channel

When we created the new channel the visibility by default turned off on all the other channels so click on the RGB channel again and then click the visibility icon beside the Line Art channel to get back into business. Your line art and 'colored' flat colors should now be visible again.

Hue Adjusted
Hue Adjustment palette

Step 7 - Hue adjustment

This step is optional of course. As is usually the case I see changes that need to be made to the colors I chose for the flats. In this case I want the skin tones a little darker. Using the magic wand (w) I select the skin areas and apply a Hue Adjustment (ctrl+h) and slide the lightness slider to the left. Feel free to experiment with the saturation and hue sliders at this point if you want, but in this case I simply decreased the lightness a tad.


Step 8 -Selecting an area for lighting.

One of the hardest things about coloring line art in my opinion and is something I struggle with is knowing what lighting to use and how to apply it. I try to read the line art for obvious tell tale signs of where the light is strongest or what direction its coming from. Some things you may wish to look for in the line art is the line weight...a good inker will indicate an area further away from the light with a heavier line than one that is closer. Remember as well, that light temperature and color can affect the highlight color as well.

One thing you can do to help with rendering is take an object and place it on a flat surface then using a flashlite or other strong light source move in, out and around it seeing how it reacts and the cast shadows it makes, etc.

Select Area for Highlites

In the figure to the left I have begun by selecting the arms only, again using the magic wand. If you get other areas selected in this process as can often be the case you can go in with the Lasso tool (L) and while holding the alt key - remove sections that are highlighted that you don't want. We are still working on the RGB channel. That's right, we are going to render this guy all on one layer (that's why we have undos and the history palette, and the backed up flats). No safety net of layers! Lets keep the file size manageable.

First highlight put in
Picking a highlight coor in the HSB Palette.jpg

Step 9 - Add general Highlight

I used the Radial Gradient Tool, and selected the foreground to transparent option as indicated in the screen shot below. Layer mode is set to Normal. Some people use screen or even dodge modes, but I am not ready to do that at this stage so I just picked a hue that is higher on the HSB display, by grabbing the Eyedropper (I) and selecting the base color of the arm's skin tone then bring in up the HSB dialogue by clicking on the foreground color in the Tools palette. You can see the slight increase in volume by the subtle gradation of tones when I stroked the gradient across the selection. I did this going from the point closes to the light sources to furthest. This might take some practice so don't get frustrated, just keep trying.

First Stage highlights complete.

Step 10 - Selective Highlighting

Keep making selections and applying the gradient to areas you want highlighted, keep in mind your trying to represent 3 dimensions so look for areas that will have cast shadow and don't select those areas. This will help define your shadows more. In the figure below I have continued with he uniform and glove.

TIP: For softer edges to your selections try usng photoshop's 'feather' feature..Ctrl+Alt+D and choose 3-5 pixels or whatever you feel is good.

Begin Second Stage Highlights

Step 11 - Second stage highlights

Now that we have our lighting direction figured out and a general lighting applied to the figure we can begin refining the highs by adding more on top of previous ones. In the figure below I have added a selection to the baseball cap, and doing the same thing as before with selecting a higher more saturated color, I will apply the radial gradient to this selection for a more pronounced highlight. If you don't like using the Gradient tool feel free to use the airbrush at 0% hardness, you will have to play with opacity and size settings.


I continue to add highlights based on, trying my best to keep them consistent in value ( First pic on the left). Then I begin doing the same with the skin tones ( 2nd pic).

Third Stage highlights

Step 12 - Third Stage highlights

Yep more highlights...and we won't be done here either (at least not for this pic, but you could stop here with the highlights if you so desire). Going back over the areas we did previously, with slightly smaller selections, and an even lighter hue, its time to add more highlights. This gradual contraction of selections is sometimes referred to as 'cuts' but I am quite sure every colorist has a different method for accomplishing this effect, this is just how I like to do it.

Adding some Secondary lights

Step 13 - Adding Secondary Light

This step is optional. Secondary lighting and reflected ligh can make a color job much more interesting, it wasn't really needed here but I added it for illustration. Taking a light blue and making selections along the opposite edge of the primary light source, I added in very lightly - a blue cast using the airbrush. Be careful not to over do it here. Secondary lights or reflected light should be very subtle, unless of course you are dealing with some really whacky and dramatic lighting!

Background selected
HSB Palette

Step 14 -Changing the hue of the Background.

This step is optional. At this stage I am not happy with the background color, yeah it happens. So now we get to use our back up flats channel to select the background and change its hue. Once you have gone to the Backup flats channel and selected the background using the magic wand (w), you will want to restore the visibility back the way we did way back in Step 6. Then with the RGB channel selected bring up the Hue/Saturation/Brightness dialogue (ctrl+u). Click on the 'Colorize' box and then adjust the Hue and saturation levels to your satisfaction.

Final Render!

Step 15 - Adding Final Highlights and Corrections

Well if I haven't lost you up to this point, this is probably where its going to happen, because what is about to happen here is me 'correcting' mistakes I made with the render up to this point, as well as adding some 'dodged' final highlights for that extra shiny feel. In order to do this final highlight step set your tool (either the airbrush or gradient) to Color Dodge Mode, and select (using the Eyedropper (I)) the base color from the area you wish to highlight and then fly at it. In this next step I added a gradient to the background just after I finished the changing of its hues. I did this with the background still selected. I then added some final dodged highlights, and made some corrections to the shadow areas and reflected light on the face.

TIP: It may help to think about the coloring as 'building up' the highlights one layer at a time.


Step 16 - Apply the line art

This step is essential to package up your image and this step is also necessary if you wish to add special effects that cover the line art, like glows, etc. Bring up a selection of the lineart channel by Ctrl + Clicking on it. Invert the selection (Ctrl +Shift + I) then in the RGB channel fill the selection with Black (Alt + Backspace if the foreground color is black already).


Step 17 - Delete the Line Art Channel.

Now that you have applied the line art you need to delete the lineart channel and any other channels you are not going to use. Drag the channels(s) to the trash icon or right click and select 'delete channel'. Now if you want you can go and add glows or glints or whatever you like...have fun and experiment!

Step 18 - Save File

You might want to save your file at this point under a different name, just in case you decide to go back into it later.

(Lineart generously by John Rauch Jr.

Thank you taking the time to read this tutorial/article, and I hope it helped you in some way.

This tutorial was created by Chris Arlidge of, if you have questions about this tutorial visit the Steel Dolphin Creative - Art and Design Forums: