Colouring Line Art

By Melissa Evans

STEP 1: Separating the Line Art

Separating the line art is really only necessary if you intend to colour it. Personally I think a lot of pictures benefit from coloured line art, just have a look at the work produced from Disney.

If you don’t have an image to scan, use one of mine found HERE, skip the scanning part and head straight to b).

The whole of STEP 1 is actually a really short Photoshop process, so let’s begin….

a) Scanning Image

I like to clean up and ink in my pictures the old fashion way, with a pen, before I scan it into Photoshop. (There are plenty of great tutorials on how to clean up your rough sketches using Photoshop, however I tend to find these techniques very time consuming).

Line Art Rough

When scanning in your line art remember…BIGGER IS BETTER! I like to work at 300dpi (dots per inch).

I tend to scan in my original picture in RBG (if the picture is only for the computer screen) and then change to CMYK (if the picture is intended for print).


(If you are using Photoshop CS5, the your scanner is no longer available under file >> import >> “printer name”, like in previous versions of Photoshop. But there is an answer, read the Adobe Forum Here)

b) Create New Layer

Now duplicate the layer. Just click the layer called “Background” and drag it to this icon at the bottom of the layer window to duplicate the layer.

Layer Palette

You can delete the original layer called “Background”. Click and drag it to the trashcan icon (next to the icon shown previously).

c) Refining the Black Line Art

What we want to achieve with our line art is solid black lines, so we need to remove any grey marks that may have come in with the scan. It’s like a laundry detergent commercial… “make the whites whiter and get rid of any dirty marks”. There are several techniques for doing this but I find adjusting the curves works really well.

Before and After Adjusting Curves

Adjusting Curves

First make sure your image doesn’t have any colour…




Adjusting curves in Photoshop

The line in the “Curves” dialogue box will appear as a diagonal. Click on this diagonal line twice and drag these two markers until your line forms an “S” shape (as shown above). The lower marker will increase the black values as you pull it down. The upper marker will decrease the grey values as you pull it up. The exact shape of YOUR “S” curve will depend on YOUR picture, so watch your image as you move these markers until you achieve the desired result.

d) Making a New Layer with Black Line Art and Transparent Backing

This stage is easy. First…

Channels Palette in Photoshop

Switch to your “Channels” palette (see image above).

Hold down Ctrl and click on one of the channels. You will see that you have now selected the white areas of your picture.

Invert the selection, Shft+Ctrl+I. Now all the line art is selected.

Go back to your “Layers” palette and create a new layer (Photoshop Create New Layer).

Get your Paint Bucket Tool () and fill the selection black (see image above). Now you have black line art on a transparent backing.

Deselect, Ctrl+D.

Rename a Layer

Right click on the new layer created, “Layer 1”, and select
Layer Properties…
Rename this layer to something meaningful, i.e “line art”.

*NOTE: It is EXTREMELY important to appropriately name ALL your layers as you go. At the end of this tutorial you will have soooo many layers, it will become a nightmare to navigate through them if you don’t know what they are.

Finally, create two new layers. Fill one with white and fill one with a light shade of blue. Rename both these layers, like “white backing” and “blue backing”. Drag both these layers under your “line art” layer.

You’re almost there!

e) Finishing Touches

Working on your “line art” layer, use your Eraser Tool (Photoshop Eraser Tool ) to get rid of any unnecessary lines or marks. Using “Ctrl +” and “Ctrl –” zoom in and out to make the adjustments. I like to use the easer tool to also taper off some lines. See image below.

If you compare my original scan, at the top of the page, with my finished Photoshop line art image, you will see that I removed a lot of crease lines on the shirt and totally re-drew the nose (the original was munted).

Finally don’t forget to Save!

You are now ready to start the next part of this Photoshop tutorial,
STEP 2: Adding colour >>