Coloring Panels - Tutorial

This is by no means "the" way to color... It's just the way I do it. I really don't expect people to follow this to the bill, in fact, I'd be disappointed if they did. I don't want to start Sly's school of color, or anything. Heck, I don't even color this way all the time. Everyone must find their own ART. That said, I hope you find some useful tricks in here. This is where I'm at after four years of playing with photoshop. I intend to improve and learn new tricks with time, and so should you.

Now that that triteness is out of the way, I use Photoshop 5.5, so if you use a different version, your tools will be slightly (or vastly) different.

Step one: Scan your image and adjust the contrast and levels. Every scanner is different, so adjust to your tastes. There are seven panels on page 14, but we'll be doing this panel in particular for the tutorial. I never do the panels in a particular order, but I always do one at a time.

Now that you have a scan, give yourself another layer, underneath your scanned image. I always make that white, but it's up to you, really.

Now, as seen below, while having the lineart selected, click on "Channels" on the layer tool.

From here, you can "load the selection," using the round dotted tool that I circled there. This, as you can see, will select all the white in this image, provided you have a grayscale image. If you don't it'll select weird things.

Once you've selected, hit the "delete" button. That'll make all the white go away. Deselect the selection (using the marqee or lasso tool, or even right click: deselect). You'll notice that your lines have gotten thin and dinky. No problem.

As seen below, go back to "Layers." In 5.5 the "Preserve Transparancy" option is right there. I know they've moved it in later versions, so ask your Help where it is if you don't know. Now that your transparency is preserved, grab a
nice, big paintbrush at 100% opacity, and color over all your lines with it. Viola, they're back to the way they were, right? Good.

Now it's time for the flatcolor. Various artists have various ways of preserving their color consistency,
but I use little pallete images. I have character pallettes and scene pallettes, and I just pick them up with the eyedropper tool as I need them.

Okay! Now you're going to need a lot of layers between the Background and Lineart layers. It

doesn't really matter how you do it, so long as background and character are on separate layers and so long as you break the character colors up so that they don't overlap. There's a definite exception to the latter rule, but we'll get to it in a minute. The thing you need to note with flatcoloring is where the color meets the lines. I make sure the colors overlap beneath each other (so that there are no spaces) and that they're underneath the lines as well. Since I use pencil art, the lines are gray, and pick up the color beneath them. If you want this same effect for ink art, you'll either have to lower the line opacity, or color the lines as well.
As you can see here, Than's raw leather and Bashirah's markings are on one layer. We'll get back to that. You may also noticed that I've added some lines and details that I missed when I originally drew it. This happens a lot, and little mistakes are easily fixed in photoshop. As for the forested background, it is also on one layer. I like to paint the forests altogether, as it's grown up together. And now I show you how. There are two main lightsources in this panel: the full moon and the camp fire. The main light source is the moon, so we will do our preliminary shading that way. Which is to say, we'll shade as if we were shading full sunlight. There are two major differences between sunlit scenes and moonlit scenes. The first is this: in the sun, things in the distance get lighter, in the moon, things in the distance get darker. Bearing this in mind, we'll start adding shadows to the background. I do the background first because I find it easier to fit the character to the background than the background to the character.

For this kind of scene, shadows are accomplished with two tools: Airbrush and Burn, at the settings shown to the right. We will get into the artistry of the dodge and burn tools in a bit. For now, lets see what we can do with the airbrush. With a green airbrush on mulitply, I've done this:

I've done two other things as well. I've put in some highlights with a pale brown airbrush set at "screen." The other thing I did, because the colors I started with were too light, was darken the entire layer via "Variations," which I will go into further detail further on.

But now it's time to touch on the beauty of dodge and burn. Traditionally, the digital artiste scoffs at these tools, saying only lazy novices use it. I'd venture to say that this is because neither they, nor the novices, understand what the tool actually does. It, at first glance, looks like an easy way to add highlights and lowlights to flatcolor. Well, that is exactly what it is, so long as you understand that the tool also affects the saturation of the color. And so, if you use the burn tool at the default setting only, that being Midtones at 50% exposure, you will find that your shadowy areas are heavily saturated. That's no good, right? Shadows aren't heavily saturated! That's why you also use the burn tool at the Highlights setting and the sponge tool at the Desaturate setting. I encourage you to play with the exposure percentages and settings for each of these tools to get a feel for them and what they do. Because when you do, you can make it look something like this:

This is pretty quick and dirty, but that's the look I'm going for for this panel. For more control over your color selection, I direct you to the paint- and airbrush tools. Remember the blending setting called "multiply"? There are also "dodge" and "burn" settings there. Again, play around with them to get a feel for what they do. CTL-Z is your best friend.

Now then, I said there were two differences between sunlight and moonlight? It's time for the second one. Saturation. Moonlight doesn't have much color it in, and the ambient light from the sky makes things seem blue, right? Something more like this, right?

Easily attained. Here we see "Image" up at the top of the window, yes?

From Image, go to Adjust, and from Adjust, we go to Variations. From here, you can do many lovely little alterations. Here, I merely desaturated, but as you can see, lots of evil little short-cuts abound here.  Then I duplicated the layer and I took my moonlight color (#BAC4FF, but you can make any variation you want) and with Paintbrush, 100% opacity, Color, go over it.

Here, I show how the layer blending looks in the layer window. It says 20% opacity, but I actually used 40%. I use 20% when I do the characters though! Which is what we do now. Dodge and burn, without much caution, because I simply desaturate it with the sponge tool at 30% and add the blue. Wait! I said there was a trick, didn't I? Well, I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag... The secret is...#808080.

I am entirely serious, here. I do the shading in grayscale. For skin, patterns, anything that's supposed to be smooth, and often the entire character for drawn-back shots, I copy the color layer and make a gray duplicate. Then using the dodge-midtone and the burn-highlight tools, I create a grayscale shaded version. What I do after that is so cheatery I really shouldn't call myself an artist...
Once you're done shading, copy the gray layer. Change the blending on the first one to Overlay, and the second one to Multiply. Run the Multiply layer through variations and lighten the highlight a fair bit. Then, adjust the opacities as necessary. Flatten, and do the saturation/color adjustments to match the rest, and you're almost done.

The last step is the firelight. Simply take a golden yellow airbrush with screen or hard light at the blend, and have fun lightening things. Bear in mind to keep the fire-high-lights within the boundary of the shadows, otherwise it'll look over-exposed and bleh.

And...the you're done. Wow. Coloring takes forever when you're stopping to take pictures of your progression the whole way through. Wow.