I used to CG trace my pictures, but I have found that that takes too long, and that it is easier just to use an inked sketch. Once you have decided what picture you want to color, retrace the image onto a clean piece of paper and carefully ink it. It usually helps to use big paper and thin pens, so you can get a really crisp, thin outline. If you mess up the inking, you can clean it up with whiteout or by fixing it in Photoshop. Erase any extra pencil lines and get the inked outline as clean as possible. If you don’t like inking pictures, you can try using just pencil. It is possible to get clean pencil lines that work as well as inked lines, if you adjust the brightness/contrast properly. Scan the outline and load it into Photoshop. Make sure your outline is in RGB mode before you continue. To put your outline in RGB mode, go to the Image menu on the top bar, then Mode, and RGB Color.
A lot of people like to keep the outline on the bottom of the picture, and then color on top using layers set to “Multiply”. Now, there is nothing wrong with this, and it can work very well, but unfortunately if you do it this way, you have no way to color the outline. Adding color to the outline can give your picture a nice touch. In order to do this, though, you have to make the outline transparent, which will allow you to color beneath it (just as if you put the outline on a sheet of transparency paper). I’ll explain this in the next few steps.
Set Layer 1 to “Preserve Transparency” by checking the box on the Layers menu, as shown at the left. This allows you to paint on top of the existing lines without coloring over them and messing them up. Its a very handy feature. 🙂 Select a big paintbrush and paint over the entire picture with pure black. The outline should be back to its former darkened self. 🙂
There, now you have a clean, transparent outline ready to be colored underneath. 🙂
Create a new layer between the Background layer and the Outline layer. This layer will be for the skin (well, you can color whatever you like first, but I usually start off with the skin or hair). 🙂 Most people use the magic wand tool to select an area to paint, but I have found the magic wand tool to be insufficient, and not very precise. Plus, you end up having several white areas around the lines that need to be filled in. Instead, try using the polygonal lasso tool to select the areas that you want to color in. It takes a little longer, but works out best in the long run, in my opinion. You don’t have to worry about holes in the outline or those annoying white areas around the lines. What you want to do is trace along the outlines of the region you are wanting to color. This can be difficult on larger complex regions, though, since once you start the selection you can’t stop until you finish it. If this becomes a problem, the pen tool will work just as well for this task. Sometimes complicated regions like detailed hair can be a pain to select, but trust me, just be patient and you will be glad you took the extra time instead of using the magic wand tool. 🙂
Once you have all of the skin (or whatever other part you are working on) selected, choose a color and use the paint bucket to fill it in. If you have problems choosing colors, look around on the internet for pictures of characters with nice skin tones, and copy them over using hte eyedropper tool. If the color is too faded because you took it from a bad scan, just adjust it until it looks the way you want it. Also, before you add the color, consider what kind of lighting will be in the picture. Will it be in normal daylight, or will it be dark? What kind of mood do you want your picture to have? The colors you choose will affect the overall feel of the picture, so take this into account before you begin to add color.
Next, select the other regions of the picture and fill in the colors. Make sure to put each color on a separate layer, or at least make sure you do not have any two colors touching one another. This will make it much easier to shade later on. ^_^ Speaking of which, do not begin to shade until you have filled in the colors for all the major areas. This is done so you can make sure the colors match up well. It’s annoying if you shade in the hair first, but then decide that you want the alter the color drastically because of the colors you choose for the clothing or background.I wanted this picture to have soft light, so I chose light, slightly faded colors. Remember that your color selection can greatly affect the look and feel of your picture, so take some time when filling in all the colors. I usually spend some time adjusting and readjusting the colors of the skin, hair and clothing until I’m pleased with the combination.
It’s usually a good idea to add several layers of shading per base color, especially on areas like the skin and hair. In addition to adding another layer of shadows, I adjusted the colors of the skin a little to make them less dull. To do this, use the eyedropper tool to select the color you want to change, then go to Replace Color on the top Image Menu. You can then change that color to anything you like without messing up the shading you have already filled in. ^_^
If you like, add a second layer of shadows to the hair to give it added depth. Feel free to add highlights, too. I didn’t add them in this particular picture, because I didn’t feel that his hair needed it, but if you were to add highlights, I recommend putting it on a separate layer above the hair. Making the light areas of the highlights overlap the darker shadows is a great way to make the hair (or anything) look really shiny, and its easier to make them overlap if they are on separate layers. That way, if you mess up, you don’t ruin the existing shading. 😉
After shading the hair and face, I moved on to the headdress. I wanted to go over how to color orbs and give them that nice glowy appearance. ^_^ Glowing orbs can look complicated, but it is really quite simple to shade them. Start off by creating a dark area in the center of the orb. I had inked mine in when drawing, which probably wasn’t the best of ideas, so I use the smudge tool to smooth it out a little before continuing. ^_^
Use a darker shade of the base color to extend the shadows in the center of the orb, as well as along the bottom rim of the orb. Use as much or as little detail as you wish.
Next, just add a few round highlights in the area where the light is coming from. To give the orb an added shiny-ness, I put a few more shadows around the largest highlight, and painted on top of the highlights with a very soft white airbrush. See? Its not that hard. To get the shiny effect, just add several layers of shadows and overlapping highlights. 🙂
Start adding shading to the other, more detailed areas of your picture, and make sure you keep the light source consistent. Remember to use several layers of highlights and shadows to make the picture look more three dimensional and rounded. I recommend using at least two or three different colors per layer.
Color in the rest of the details. Remember that the more layers of shading you use, the more three dimensional it will look. However, you have to make sure that you put them in the right place, or it won’t make much difference how many shadows you have.
Remember at the beginning of this tutorial I said that adding color to the outline can give your picture a nice touch? Well, now you can try it out and see for yourself. 🙂 Go back to the outline layer, make sure the preserve transparency is checked, pick a darker version of the color you are going to paint around, and color the outlines. For the hair, I used a darker blue; for the skin, I used a dark brown. What this does is make the outlines less prominent, but still give the edges the proper definition. Compare this picture with the one directly above. Do you see the difference? Its very subtle, but trust me, it can make your picture look much better, especially if you are working with thicker outlines.
Once you have your character all colored in, you may wish to add a background. Even a sloppy background can really bring your picture to life. 😉 I sketched up a quick background, which consisted of a city and some mountains, and put the sketch in a layer beneath the main picture. I then made the sketch transparent using the same method described in part 1. However, it’s probably smarter to include the background in your first sketch; I just didn’t think about it until after scanning in the inked version of this picture. ^_^; Anyway, make sure the outline for the background layer is transparent.
Next, fill in the base colors of the background using the polygonal lasso tool. Okay, I know the background I drew isn’t the most exciting in the world, but it’s my first try at adding a hand drawn background, so bear with me. ^_^
Once the main colors are set down, add shading to the background so it doesn’t look so flat. This part takes a little while… It is usually a big help to have some reference pictures, because I don’t know about you, but I personally find coloring landscapes challenging. ^_^ Of course, that’s probably because I don’t practice nearly enough… ^_~
Once I colored in the background, I added a few lighting effects to make it look a little nicer. I added a lens flare right above the mountains (this is one time when a lens flare would be appropriate; they are generally only seen when a light is shining directly into the camera), and added some streaks of light. To get the light streaks, I created another layer between the background and the character, used the polygonal lasso tool to make large, flat triangle shapes, filled them in with pure white, blurred them out with a guassian blur, set the layer to “Soft Light” instead of normal, and adjusted the opacity of the layer to about 70%.
an added shiny-ness. 🙂
Whew, almost done! 🙂 Now, all you have to do is compress your file. If you have the memory to spare, you may wish to keep an uncompressed version of your picture for future use (you may want to make prints or wallpapers out of it). Still, if you plan on posting your picture on the internet, you need to compress it and save it in either JPEG or GIF format. There is nothing more annoying than having to wait half an hour waiting to receive a 2 meg file that someone sent, because he or she didn’t know how to properly compress the file. To shrink the file size down, go to the Layers Menu at the top menu bar, then go to “Flatten Image”. This will flatten all the layers together. You cannot save in JPEG format unless you flatten the image. At this point, you may need to adjust the size of the image, too. Try not to make the picture any more than 800 pixels in either direction; it’s best to have the picture fit on one screen. Next, just go to “save as”, and select JPEG format from the pull down menu. When prompted, pick a compression rate to save it as. I recommend a compression rate of either 6 or 7, because it trims the file size down nicely without sacrificing too much quality. Trust me, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between a level 10 compressed file and a level 6 compressed file. ^_^