Digital Colouring with Photoshop

By Troy Packer

Digital Colouring with Photoshop Banner

The key to producing great digital painting is TIME. Most people who are new to Adobe Photoshop will stop after the first round of applying colour to their illustration. By building up separate layers of colour, the “beginner” art will begin to look more spectacular. The main power of doing your colour work, or any work for that matter, in separate layers is you can control virtually every aspect of the final look. With some experimenting you can get some interesting and sometimes unexpectedly great results.

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For this tutorial I will be colouring one of my monster illustrations. The picture started out as a pencil sketch that I scanned in. You can check out my tutorial (Pencil Sketch to Smooth Digital Shading) on how I got the picture to this stage HERE. Because this picture already has the shading done you can really concentrate on just colouring.

If you would like to follow along with this tutorial using my original full sized picture then CLICK HERE to download the image (480KB). Be patient as it opens in another window. Once it is open, right-click on the image and select “Save Image As…” to save it to your computer.

There are one hundred and one different ways to colour art in Photoshop, what follows is the way I do it. If you are interested in becoming a digital artist this tutorial will give you an insight into my technique.

I suggest you read through the entire tutorial before you begin. Let’s get started…

Step 1. The Layer Set Up For My Digital Art

Open your image in Photoshop and duplicate the layer. I named this new layer “Shaded”. You can now delete the original locked layer.

Change the mode for this layer to MULTIPLY.

Create a new layer beneath the “Shaded” layer. I named this layer “Solid”.
Using a hard brush block out the shape of the creature on this layer. I change the size of the brush depending on detail. Make sure you zoom in when on the edges of creature. (You could use the pen tool instead if you were so inclined and then fill the path). You can see that I used grey but the colour doesn’t matter…this layer will soon have it’s visibilty turned off.

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Now we have a clear outline of the creature.

Next I create another new layer. Using the gradient tool I fill this layer to get a basic colour (and light) scheme going. This also gets rid of the overall white of the image. The darker colour is 4E4741 at the top and the lighter shade is BBAB94, in case you are following along at home.

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This is the fast and easy set up done!
This time spent organising now is going to save you a lot of time in the next stage (which is the fun stage) Adding the Colour.

Step 2. Adding Colour

Before you pick up the brush and start painting go to your layer palette and click on the “Solid” layer. Although this layer is now hidden on canvas, it’s purpose is to keep the colour work within the boundry. With the “Solid” layer active…
Select >> Load Selection… click OK

Now the selection is going to keep your paint on the creature and stop you from accidently painting the background. If you inadvertently lose the selection you can load the selection again.

Create a new layer to start colouring on. I named this layer “Flesh_Colour”. The colour that you paint on this layer will be the basic skin colour that you image the creature to be. This of course can be any colour you wish to have for your own artwork.

My preferred brush is a soft airbrush (I use this for the majority of my work but again it depends on the image and style you’re going for). Use a large airbrush with the flow lowered to around 15%. You’ve probably heard it before…Less pressure equals more control”.

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The next step is to create a new layer and add your next colour. ALWAYS create a new layer for a new colour. My layer is called “Glaze”. See image below. The creature has more life already.

I used a very pale green for my secondary colour and you can see I built up the opacity of the colour in areas.

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This secondary colour I created breaks up the main skin colour to give variety. You can go crazy at this stage and create a whole heap, but for this tutorial I will keep it at two.

Step 3. Adding Highlights

The next new layer is the basic highlight layer for the skin. I’ve kept it pretty dull as I didn’t want to make the skin really shiny or wet looking. Areas like the tongue and eye which are wet have more highlights.

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Zoom in to areas that you want to make “pop out” gradually build up the highlight area.

I’m using white to create the highlights today. If I wanted to add more realism I would add a bit of colour to it. A lot of people will say white is a BIG no-no! The reason why you can get away with it however is because you are creating very low opacity highlights so some colour of the original layers comes through.

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If you look at the more close up image above you can see that highlight lies on the right side of the bumps and lumps of the creature consistently.

If you feel your highlights are too sharp…use Blur >> Gaussian Blur. If you have finished your highlights you can try lowering the opacity of the highlight layer or duplicating the highlight layer to see what it would look like more intense. Experimentation is the key sometimes.

When you are happy with the highlights you are ready for the next stage.
Step 4. Adding the Wow Factor >>