10 tips for Photoshop in a 3D/2D workflow

Colombian illustrator David Navia shares some best practice tips for utilizing Photoshop in a 3D/2D workflow...

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At present, artists are more often than not using a workflow that combines 3D media and 2D digital painting. The main reason for this is because, by doing so, we are developing images in a quicker, more realistic and easier way.

Here I share what I consider to be my best 10 tips for Photoshop in a 3D/2D workflow, which I have built up across my years of experience in the field. Whether you’re a newcomer to Photoshop or an experienced artist, I hope you find something positive, new, and rewarding! Let’s get started!

Render passes

When working in a 3D/2D workflow, it is highly recommended that you make different render passes of your models (Normals, Clown, AO, Depth, and so on).  When you get to the overpainting in Photoshop stage, you’ll be able to make very specific selections of your models, and have tons of possibilities for the painting part of the job.

Perspective Tools plugin

This is the most effective way to build up custom perspective grids, just the way that you want them to be. The plugin that I use, Sergey Kritskiy’s Perspective Tools, allows you to trace perpective lines that come from a single point and space them evenly.  This way, you can make 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-point perspectives in the blink of an eye!

But please! Don’t ever forget to keep practicing your perspective drawing skills in traditional media, since this is the origin of it all.

Select color range

Whether you want to unify, or make variations to your colors in an illustration, a simple and powerful tool for adjusting the overall color is this:

  • Create a new Layer on top
  • Stamp visible (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E)
  • Select the Color Range that you prefer
  • Edit the selection by using Levels, Curves, Hue/Saturation, or Color Balance

Match color

This tool, commonly used in a matte painting workflow, is a great life-saver when it comes to making images that are obtained from different sources, to be part of a consistent color palette. Let the image below explain by itself the pure magic of Match Color!

Saving backup files and step by step images

In case you want to bring an exciting experience to your audience by having your own YouTube art channel, or a similar space, it’ll always be indispensable to constantly save versions of your works. When you put them together in a video,  you’ll give extra value to your work, since people really love seeing making-ofs.

In the case of a 3D/2D illustration, you can, for instance, make a record of how a 3D render is gradually overpainted. Below is an example I made some days ago in October 2018.

You can make many elements in a painting with just a single 3D model

Once a render is done, many pumpkins are born!

The above quote is exactly what I thought while doing my Halloween-themed illustration. I want to emphasize that I only  had to work on ONE single pumpkin, and the rest was duplicating and applying different transformations (size, rotation, blur filters, brushwork on top, and so on).

So my tip is: “Get the most out of a 3D model. Reusing is a powerful way to create.”

My favorite shortcuts

Here I will list a few of my favorite, time-saving shortcuts! These are the shortcuts that make my life easy when working in Photoshop:

  • Increase Brush Size: "."
  • Decrease Brush Size: ","
  • Block transparent pixels: "/"
  • Open Color Picker (Foreground Color): " ‘ "
  • Match Color: "Ctrl+K"
  • Flip Canvas Horizontally: "Ctrl+Y"

If you’d like to download my settings, please click here.

Brushwork on top

If you’re aiming to give a more painterly look to your final image, a way to get rid of the perfect 3D-ness is by taking out some details, and softening some edges. This you can achieve smoothly by using Dust and Scratches, Median Noise, Color Mixer Brush, the Smudge tool, and so on. As the video below illustrates.

Puppet Warp, Distort, and Smart Object distortion

Puppet Warp: This allows you to create a multiple-points rig on top of your layer and then deform it as you wish in a very organic way.

Distort: It’s perfect for fitting things into a certain perspective that they originally didn't belong to. First hit Ctrl+T (Free Transform) and then hold Ctrl and drag any of the transform nodes.

Object Distortion: Convert your layer into a Smart Object, then transform it any way you like. After hitting Enter, the transform nodes will keep the last modification and will be adjustable as many times as you want. You can also edit your layer in a separate file and go back to your distorted Smart Object.

Recording Action

Recording your own actions is a powerful way to shorten some repetitive processes that can be time-demanding. Can you imagine automatically applying a complex process by just pressing your pen’s buttons?

Final words

I have to say there are many other "tips 'n tricks" that I have collected and would like to share another time.  As for now, I can only suggest to learn from different artist's tutorials, and you will pick up on the tips that work best for you. See you soon, and keep the art great everybody!

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