Tutorial: Comic Coloring 2
Part 1: Preparing Line Art & Flats
First off I would like to welcome everyone to this, the first part of a tutorial on how I currently color images. I hope you find this tutorial helpful!
For this tutorial I will be using Adobe Photoshop CS4, although every tool I use can be found in Photoshop from version 7 up. I will also be using techniques and methods that I feel most comfortable with when coloring. I suggest that after following this tutorial, you find out what works best for you.
This coloring process can be done with a mouse (as my friend Andy Pool who showed me this technique can attest) as well as a Wacom tablet.
Here is a quick explanation of the Photoshop window (CS2) with the names I'll use throughout the tutorial (Fig.01).
Preparing Your Line Art
So you've found the line art you want to color, or someone just commissioned you to color something for them. You open the drawing and you realize that the contrast between the white and lines isn't very good, or in the case of this piece (which was done directly from pencils) it's usually got pencil lines or the lines are too grey. Luckily the artist who drew this image, Carlos, has very tight pencils, but to give it a bit more contrast, let's do the following:
Go to Menu > Image > Adjustments > Levels (Fig.02).
In the pop-up window, introduce the following settings (Fig.03):
Input Levels: 68 - 0,72 - 208
Output Levels: 0 - 255
Now your line art is darker and more defined. This technique can be applied to any line art, whether inked or penciled.
Next, go to your channels window, which can be found with the layers window. Or you can open it by going to your menu and Window > Channels. Select the Blue Channel and right click to choose "Duplicate Channel". (Please note: I like to work in RGB mode and then change it to CMYK at the end)(Fig.04).
In the pop-up window put the following settings (Fig.05):
Color Indicates: Spot Color
Select the RGB channel at the top - this will select all of the channels except the new outline channel - and fill it with white. Make sure the outline channel has the eye next to it, then go back to the layers window and you'll see that the outline is there. Now, no matter what you do on you page, nothing will happen to the lines/inks (Fig.06).
Now your line art is ready, and this is a great way to always have a backup of your lines. It also makes the file a little lighter. I do however have to point out that if you save a flattened image the way it is now, the line art won't show up, but we'll come back to that part later on.
For those that don't know, flats are what a colorist uses to select different parts of the art without affecting others. Although this is a very tedious part of coloring, it saves you a huge headache later on, as we'll see. Sometimes when working with a larger publisher or team, you might receive the pages with the flats already done, but since that isn't always the case, let's work on that too.
Normally all the flats are done in one layer (the background layer for example), but since we're going to be creating the background, it's best if we put the characters on one layer and the background on another. This is done easily - in the layers window, press the "new layer" button found at the bottom of the window. This will create a new layer; let's call that layer "flats-characters". Now double-click on the background layer, click ok and rename it "flats-background".
Make sure the "flats-characters" layer is selected before continuing to the next step.
Now we start laying the flats using the Polygon Lasso tool, which can found in the tools menu (Fig.07). Select the tool, zoom into your line art and start selecting along the lines. Be careful not to select outside the lines; it will make it all look messy further on. And make sure the settings in the sub-menu are as shown in Fig.08.
The process is simple: click along the lines until you have the object you want to fill selected and then fill it with the paint bucket tool.
A quick word about the way I prefer to do my flats. I pick the color that's going to be used most on the character and fill in my whole character with that color, as seen in Fig.09. This way, when I want to add the other colors, I can select more loosely. If I select a boot very tightly along the leg, for example, and then select part of the background, when I click with the bucket on the boot, only the parts with the same color will fill with the new color - the background won't be affected. This can be used with all your flats.
Now, use the same technique to lay down all your flats on the characters and then do the same on the background layer until you have something similar to what I have here. It doesn't really matter what colors you use here, because you change them at any time (Fig.10).
Part 2: Creating The Background
So you've got your line art prepared and your flats are laid down... where to go from here? What I generally like to do, is finish off the background first. That way I define all the light sources and colors that will influence the page.
In this piece the artist has left us without any concrete background and I thought that instead of just adding a gradient or simple background, we could create a background. And what better background then some storm clouds (because of Storm of course!)
So to start, let's turn off the character flats layer and the line art, which basically leaves us with the background flats (Fig.11).
Creating The Lightning
Ok, so let's start with some great lightning! Create a new layer above the flats layer by pressing the "new layer" button. Call this layer "Lightning". (To change the name, remember to just double-click on the name in the layers window) (Fig.12).
Select only the lighting by going to your flats layer and using the Magic Wand tool with the settings shown in Fig.13.
Go back to your Lightning layer and fill the selected area white with the paint bucket tool, or by pressing CTRL + Backspace (if white is your background color) or ALT + Backspace (if white is your foreground color).
Next right click on your layer (in the layers window) and select Blending options (Fig.14).
In the pop-up window go to Outer Glow and use the settings as seen in Fig.15. Click OK and that's your lighting done!
Creating The Storm Clouds
So now we want to create volume in our background, so let's get cracking. Create a new layer above the flats layer and below the lightning layer and call it "Clouds". Fill that layer with a dark, grey blue color as seen in Fig.16.
Select the brush tool and choose a hard round brush from the list, with the following settings (Fig.17).
Now, using a lighter blue, lightly create some random shapes to give some form to the clouds. Remember to vary the size of the paintbrush and try not making it too logical - clouds aren't geometrical. (For those that have a Wacom tablet, you can change the size of your brush with the "[" and "]" keys.) The results of this can be seen in Fig.18.
Fig.19 shows the contours that we're going to follow.
Now, pick an even lighter blue and start creating volume along the shapes you created in the previous step (Fig.20).
Something to keep in mind: the clouds have more volume where the light hits them and fade off the further from the light they are.
Now we've got nice fluffy clouds, but to give them even more definition, select the color white and go back in with a smaller paint brush. Just follow the contours of the clouds, varying between large and small curves.
Next you go back in and do the same thing in some of the lighter parts of your cloud (Fig.21)
At this point your clouds are basically finished, but if you feel they're a bit rough you can blur them a little by going to the top menu and going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (but be careful not to overdo the blur).
Also if you want to tweak the contrast of the clouds, then, also in the top menu, go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.
I did just a little tweaking with those two options and then I turned my line art and character flats back on, and the result I had so far can be seen in Fig.22. (Don't worry about the lines destroying your great lightning; we'll fix that later on!)
Part 3: Rendering Emma Frost
Now let's get down to the interesting part, the rendering of our characters. Let's start off with Emma Frost, because she's a little less complicated.
Before rendering, we need to prepare some things. First let's decide on the brush because the technique here varies depending on your equipment. I'll show you two different settings that I learned from two great colorists.
Paintbrush (with Wacom Tablet) - learned from Marte (Fig.23).
The Mode setting changes between "Hard Light" and "Normal", depending on your needs. This isn't enough though; we still have to go to the brush setting and change some things. To go to your settings, click on the button in the top right hand corner with your paintbrush selected. You should get a menu similar to the one in Fig.24. Change your settings to match.
Paintbrush (with Optical Mouse) - learned from Andy Poole (Fig.25 & Fig.26).
Now I have to say that with a mouse it's a lot harder, because you constantly have to change the "Opacity" between 15% and 30% and, like the brush above, we'll keep changing the Mode setting between Hard Light and Normal.
So now we're set, let's get going on the rendering.
Emma's skin and costume
First off let's change some layer settings. Create a new layer above your flats/character layer and while keeping your finger pressed on the ALT key, pass your cursor between the layers in the layers panel until the cursor changes to what seems like 2 circles overlapping. Then click and you should now have a setup similar to the one seen in Fig.27.
With the flats layer selected, use the magic wand tool to select Emma's skin, then change to the layer above and fill it with the bucket tool. Here I used the color #b99c93.
Some of you might be asking how I knew to choose this color, or what made me choose it. There is no sure fire way with skin colors. In this case I took into consideration that Emma Frost is usually depicted as having a very pale, soft complexion and so I went for a colder, darker purple. But don't worry, because if we get to the end and find that the color isn't right then we can change it easily.
Now it's important to note that the next few steps are some of the hardest and yet most important parts of the whole process. If you get this wrong in the beginning it's very hard to fix when you're finished.
Let's define the light source(s). As you can see in Fig.28, I decided to add two light sources. Obviously the one on the left comes from the lightning, while the one on the right comes from an overall area. I could have opted for a dark and moody image, where the only light sources came from the right, but I guess I just wanted to give more impact to the characters.
Let's start rendering. Start with the same color used on the skin, but with the paintbrush setting on Hard Light, and build it up until you have something similar to the image seen in Fig.29
With the brush at normal setting, go back in and add the shadows. Then choose a very light blue color and add in the light source from the lightning until you have a result similar to the one shown in Fig.30. (At this point, I also went back in and tweaked the color use the Hue/Saturation, to give her a rosier complexion).
You can use the exact same technique to color her costume. Nothing new. I have to point out though, that you need to be very careful with the light source. Keep the direction and you should end up with something like Fig.31.
This is one of those sections that confuse everyone. I often have no idea how I'm going to color the hair so that it doesn't look ridiculous. I've seen people using different brushes and achieving realistic effects, but I'm going to show you the technique that I prefer the most.
First, fill the hair on the top layer with a dark brownish yellow color (#ffffff, as shown in Fig.32).
Using the Lasso tool, select a portion of the hair, keeping in mind the flow of the hair (Fig.33).
Press CTRL-H to hide the selection (I like to use this to see the effect with seeing those moving selection lines). Now go over the area with your paintbrush, building it up towards the light source, but making the selection smaller than the first selection (Fig.34).
Keep using the same technique to build the hair up until it looks something like Fig.35.
You can use the same technique for the eyes and lips in this case, just because they're shinier and the lights are more defined.
If all goes well, you should now have something like this (Fig.36).
Part 4: Storm & Finishin Off
Well after a long time, the finish line is finally in site!
I'm not going into as much detail on rendering Storm as I did Emma Frost, because most of the techniques are the same - pick a dark color and build up towards the light source.
So let's color Storm's skin, cape and hair exactly the same as Emma's character. Then go in and use the same technique as the hair on the metal parts and on her shiny costume (this is because they reflect the light in a more defined way than the skin or something soft).
When all is said and done, your image should look something like Fig.37.
Right, let's finish this baby off now!
Outline & Effects
At this point, if you save this picture, your line art won't show up and since we also want to add some effects above the line art, we can't as long as it's a channel.
So first off we go to the channels panel and while pressing on the CTRL key, click on the line art channel. This should select your line art (Fig.38).
Next go to the Layers Panel and create a new layer above all your other layers and fill it with black. (You'll notice that your outline seems very heavy now; just go to your channel panel and switch off the line art channel) (Fig.39).
I didn't add too many special effects in this piece, but here's a rundown of what I did decide to add:
I created a new layer above the line art layer and with a soft brush I put first a shine on Storm's bracelet, then I very soft glow to her eyes (Fig.40).
I then went back to the line art layer and, using the eraser tool, I erased out the lines on the lightning to give it a better look.
If you do the same then your picture should look like this (Fig.41).
Line Holds, Or Something Like That
Now this is a technique that I learned by watching John Rauche's videos, but it's so cool that I often use nowadays.
Line Holds, usually refer to the coloring of the line art in certain places to give a cool effect, but here's a trick that might be easier:
Turn off your line art and effects layers (Fig.42).
Select everything by pressing CTRL-A (Fig.43).
Copy everything using CTRL-SHIFT-C (this a great trick I learned a while back, it copies everything on all your layers within the selection). Press CTRL-V to paste the new layer (Fig.44).
With the new layer selected, drag your line art layer over the mask icon. You should have something similar to the picture shown in Fig.45.
Unlink the layer and the mask by clicking on the chain and make sure you have the layer selected and not the mask (Fig.46).
In the top menu, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and change the setting to the same as Fig.47 and click OK.
In the top menu, go to Edit > Fill and change the setting to the same as Fig.48 and click OK. In this case, I went and filled it with the same setting again, just give the line some more weight.
Now, throw away your mask and in the pop window, choose "Apply". Then turn on your effects layer and change your image to CMYK Mode, by going to Image > Mode > CMYK.
There you're done and you should have something along the lines of what can be seen in Fig.49.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and I hope that it helped some of you out!