Many times you might have a drawing that you have sketched out on paper that you want to color. In this tutorial, we’ll show how to color your line art in Photoshop.
1. Open your line art image in Photoshop.
2. I drew this about 3 years ago and at that time it looked perfectly fine to me. Today, three years and much experience later, I see few defects that I’d like to fix right away. The left eye is waaay off and much smaller than it should be. I used Lasso tool (L) to select this eye and Transformation tool (Ctrl+T) to adjust the eye’s size and angle. It’s actually much easier than it sounds and with some practice and experiments we have a much improved version of the drawing within couple of minutes. The highlights in the eyes are still off but we’ll worry about that later since we’ll have them colored over anyway.
3. Go to the Layers palette and double click on the Background layer. Ok the popup window and your background layer is now names Layer1. We did that to be able to make certain adjustments that won’t be allowed in the background layer, such as transparency and more.
4. In the layers click on the Channels tab. Click on the first icon on the left, it’s a dotted circle. All white space will be selected. Press Delete to erase the white background.
5. Now we have an outline with transparent background. Our image got much lighter, but not to worry, we’re about to fix that!
6. Press Ctrl+D to deselect and go to Layers palette. Create new layer, place it directly underneath the Layer0 and fill it with white color. The outline is back to normal again! Double click on the Layer0 and name it “outline” and Layer1 – “background”. You can also lock the “background” layer by clicking small lock icon – we won’t need it anymore, its only there to fill out the transparency.
7. Create new layer underneath the “outline” and “background’ layers and name it ‘skin”. Chose the color tone you find most fitted for the skin of you character and paint within the outline – everywhere your character’s skin is.
8. Do the same thing for hair – create new layer, name it “hair” and color it with whatever color you want the hair to be. In a smaller areas, especially the ones with sharp angles, it usually helps to select it with Lasso tool and color within.
9. Repeat previous step with layers clothes:
10. For this next step we’ll have to zoom in. Create new layer between “skin” and “hair” and name it “face”. Zoom in (Ctrl+) and color lips and the eye’s whites.
11. Remember those eyes we didn’t have to correct at the beginning? Well we’ll do it now. Select the Eraser tool, chose brush with hard edges and correct the line art, leaving no pupil’s fill but only outline.
12. Create new layer between “face” and “hair” and name it “eyes”. You probably already guessed what’s next – we’ll color the eye pupils! I often use the same base color for the eyes as for hair.
13. Now we’ll work on shadows. There are many ways to apply shadows and highlights but for the purpose of this tutorial we’ll be using Dodge and Burn tools. Select layer “Skin” and click on small transparent square icon on the top to lock transparency:
14. Select Burn tool from Tool palette and use it to darken the areas of the skin where you envision your shadows to be. I usually put shadow around the face, under hair and over the neck areas.
15. Moving on to highlights. Select tool Dodge and lighten up the areas you think the highlights should be. Besides the light effects, there are usually also the parts that are coming forward from the object – like nose, nosebridge, forehead, cheekbones, etc.
16. Don’t forget that you can always assist yourself with Lasso tool if you need the border between hightlight and shadows to be distinct. You’ll find this especially useful when you’ll start working on the hair layer. Select layer “hair” and press L for lasso tool (we’ll need Polygon Lasso for this tutorial with feather value set to 10). Draw a highlight on the hair (usually in the shape close to lightening bolt) on both sides of the hair (try to stay somewhat symmetrical) and use dodge tool. Add additional highlights and shadows where you see fit:
17. Now work on the shadows and highlights on other layers:
18. Our image looks pretty good! But the outline looks pretty messy – gray and uneven. Select layer “Outline”, make sure that transparent square icon on the top is selected and choose dark brown color (the color should be close to the color of the hair but much darker). Use the brush to paint over the areas of the outline that define hair. Next select black fill and paint over the parts of the outline that defines the face. Do the same thing with clothes and dark blue color, and you should end up with image close to the one I have here:
19. There are still few imperfections and errors but since I’m planning to use this image for web and in low resolution. My final image will be approximately 200px in width with relative height:
20. And as a last step, I’ll add some background image and color to make it look more dynamic and complete:
Once again, there are many ways to color your line art and it is ultimately up to your creativity and vision. Experiment and practice, and it gets easier and better with every new try!