Coloring with Adobe Photoshop
Several people — Sara being the most recent — have e-mailed to ask how I go about creating my mixed media illustrations. I tried my best to write a coherent reply every time, all the while thinking to myself, “I really should blog about this one of these days.” After Skye asked how I colored yesterday’s tiger-in-a-suit drawing and then gave me a shout-out and some imaginary strangulation on her blog, I finally went ahead and wrote this little how-to article.
I suppose you can call this a tutorial, even though it’s not as detailed as the better tutorials you’ll see around the Internet. Just for kicks I used the previously posted tiger’s decapitated head for visual aids.
Step 1: Prepare the Outline
Start by scanning the inked outline and importing it to Photoshop. Make sure to scan the drawing as line art with a resolution of at least 400 DPI. To explain why, I quote Bob Staake‘s article, How I Create My Digital Illustrations in Photoshop:
I always scan my line art (400 dpi) as an aliased Bitmap, which means when zoomed in, the jaggedness of the pixels is apparent (with anti-aliasing, a gradation of the pixels is apparent). Aliasing gives me more precise control when adding color.
Before you can add color you have to convert your image from Bitmap to Grayscale (Image >> Mode >> Grayscale), then from Grayscale to RGB (Image >> Mode >> RGB). I’m not sure how it works on the newer versions of Photoshop, but on 6.0 you can’t go directly from Bitmap to RGB, hence the extra step.
Next, separate the outline from the background using the magic wand tool (). Make sure the contiguous option is unchecked, so all the black parts will be selected at once. Cut and paste the selection onto a new layer.
Step 2: Add Color
Create a new layer under the outline. Using the magic wand tool (), select areas from the outline — this time with contiguous checked, so only adjacent pixels will be selected — and fill them with color on the new layer. Now you have a drawing with solid color. You can stop at this point if this is the effect you’re going for, or you can continue for a more textured look.
Step 3: Add Texture
This is the part where you can make it look like you did the coloring with crayons on paper. First, apply Gaussian Blur to the color layer (Filter >> Blur >> Gaussian Blur). I went with a 10-pixel radius, but you can increase or decrease the radius to your liking.
On the same layer apply the Rough Pastels filter (Filter >> Artistic >> Rough Pastels). It’s up to you to play with the settings to get the effect you like. You have to remember, however, that you’re working on a fairly large image which will be resized for the web later, so you have to exaggerate the effect for it to be noticeable on the smaller version. For my drawing, I used the following settings: stroke length 40, stroke detail 20, scaling 200%, relief 50.
Step 4: Add Noise to the Outline (Optional)
To make the outline blend better with the textured color layer, you can make the black less severe by applying the Add Noise filter to the layer containing the outline (Filter >> Noise >> Add Noise). Again you can play with the settings to get the effect you want. For mine I used the following: amount 40%, Gaussian, monochromatic. The effect is subtle, but it does make a difference — especially for this particular drawing, which features thick black stripes.
That’s pretty much the most basic way to do it. Keep tinkering with Photoshop’s built-in filters and layer settings to achieve different effects. My heart-toting robot, for example, was done using a combination of Sponge, Watercolor, and Poster Edges filters with the layers blended in a variety of ways. You can also skip the filters in favor of simple shading, which I do manually using the good ol’ paintbrush tool.
For me, the beauty of coloring with Photoshop is that I can keep adding and grouping layers to separate and contain each step. It keeps my drawing organized, and it makes it possible to backtrack if I make a mistake. Deleting a layer is definitely a lot easier than starting all over again on paper, don’t you think?