Join Ben Bishop for an in-depth discussion in this video Color flatting: Part one, part of Photoshop: Coloring Comic Book Characters.
- [Voiceover] Often times, when I'm drawing comic books, I do so at a real desk, on real paper, with real pencils and pens and all that, and so, I have to scan in my drawing, and when you scan in a drawing this is what happens, you get the one layer with a background. And it's got this little padlock next to it, and you can't really do much with it. What a lot of people do when they jump in to color on a flat image, when they're just starting out, before they know better, before I knew better is you'll just use this Magic Wand Tool and like pick out an area, and say "Okay, that's alright." And we'll fill that with color now.
And what happens a lot, especially if you're working with real paper and real pencils and stuff, you get a gradient line around the black lines. You can't see it so much in digital images, but you can kinda make it out there, and you don't want that. So we're gonna go back, and I'm gonna show you what you should do. So get rid of that if you were following along. My apologies. First thing I do is I back out, using the Rectangular Marquee Tool, I'm gonna select all of him, and then I'm gonna go ahead to Edit, hit Copy, and I'm just going to actually Paste another one, right on top.
It didn't look like it did much, which is fine. So, go back to your background layer here, so that when you make a new layer, it goes kinda sandwiched in between those two. And what you're gonna wanna do now is just fill that layer with white. I know that this is probably a step that not everyone does. The thing with Photoshop is there's a million different ways to do a million different things, and this is how I do it, so just gonna show you that. So that's our new background, as far as I'm concerned. This Layer 2 is gonna be our paper, and I'm gonna label it that just so I can be sure to not merge that with anything I do going forward.
Now Layer 1 is gonna be our lines, so go ahead and label that. You'll see that I have a lot of white space in there, so it still doesn't solve the problem of how I'm gonna color this guy. So this part's just absolutely magic, and I can't believe I ever colored comics before I knew this, but go up to where it says "Normal", make sure you're selected on your line layer, and bring that down to Multiply. As far as your thumbnail looks, it doesn't look like anything has changed, but here comes the magic part. So just pick any color, so you can follow along.
Go ahead down to the Paper layer, Make a new layer sandwiched between again. From now on everything we do is gonna be under the line layer and above the paper layer. And you can see, because I changed that line layer to Multiply, it turned that whole layer into basically a transparency, if you think of an overhead projector. So now, all the coloring we do is gonna be underneath. And I know a lot of people who are pros out there think this is really basic stuff, but when I figured this out, it was life-changing.
So, you can get rid of that, but keep that layer there, make sure your lines are on Multiply, and don't ever touch your paper layer. Okay? (laughs) Alright, so we're gonna get started color flatting, and this Layer 1 here is gonna be our first color layer. So go ahead and pick any color you want. It really doesn't matter at this point. I'm gonna pick like a muted green, because it's easier on my eyes. If you picked something that was too light and like too close to white, you might not even be able to tell what you're adding and what you're erasing or if you're going out of the lines, so just pick anything.
Pick your favorite color but make sure it's not too vibrant. You can see here, if I was picking this pink, that's not something I wanna look at for all that long. So I'm gonna pick, again, a muted green, I like that. Just keep double checking every now and then, make sure you're working on the right layer. So on Layer 1, you wanna just start going around, and going as close to that edge as you can, the inside edge of our character.
I should mention, that this will be more difficult or less difficult for you, depending on the brush you're using. So, I happen to be using a very realistic looking brush, and you can see, it kinda has a funky edge here. This is actually one of these Kyle T. Webster brushes. If you go to kyletwebster.com, he makes all sorts of really cheap, really great realistic looking brushes. Everything from like watercolor to oil to one of my favorites the Animator Pencil, but you can see again, with the pencil too, that might not be what we want for the edges here, 'cause we want something super crisp and super clean, so that we don't wind up going outside the edges, like we have barely done there, but we're gonna be kinda nit-picky in this first flatting section.
So, go ahead and back out and erase that stuff that we did for demo purposes. And find a brush that has a really nice, clean edge. We're gonna try some out just from my list of Kyle T. Webster's brushes. One that I actually have highlighted that I really like is the PB Parrot Clean brush, and I'll show you what that looks like up close. You can see it's got a nice, smooth edge, show it to you even larger.
If you can't really see any graininess at this size, you're probably good for flatting. I should also mention a lot of people don't flat like I flat, there's different ways to do it. They use the Magic Wand, I really like to get in here, maybe it's because I like to draw, so it depends if you're someone who's drawing your own stuff or if you're just a colorist, maybe you use different tools. But for me, I really like to get in there with my brush and be precise about it.
So here, what we're doing, once again, we're going around the whole inside of the body, and we're just getting a nice, solid line, just kinda like to section off essentially the whole inside of this guy. So we gotta go down this ammo belt here. We also have to go down the sides of his arms. We wanna separate him from the negative space that will end up being a background.
This might seem like a weird kinda thing to do, but you're gonna see along every step of the way why it was really important we did this color flatting right from the beginning. So, take your time, go around the whole character. You can fill in some of these small areas as you go, but for the most part what we're really looking for is just a nice, clean right up to the edge of his inside line, to separate him out from the background.
So here we are, we have now kinda outlined, or inlined if you wanna say that, his whole body. We didn't worry about the smoke or anything like that. That's something I would call an effect, and we'll save that for a little later. So once you think you've got a solid colored outline, or inline, on this guy, take your Magic Wand Tool, and select inside of that area we've sectioned off, and see what happens.
Alright, so I did this on purpose to show you guys, 'cause what the idea is here to save some time we wanna just fill this area with our Paint Bucket, and so let's see if it works. Nope, so what did we do wrong? Let's step back, 'cause this might happen to you, so I did this on purpose so I could show you, so you don't think you're going crazy. You wanna turn off your line layer, so deselect your Magic Wand, turn off your Lines, and look for areas like this, where you may have missed a spot on that outline.
'Cause I think that's where our Magic Wand was breaking free. There might even be another one. So if you see something like that, make sure you get that covered. So turn your lines back on, fill that in, and then let's try it again, so we'll back out, Magic Wand, and so now you can see our little marching ants are only on the inside. So that's good. So, do we just fill this with the Magic Wand? Let me show you what happens if we do that. So we're on that same layer with the green. By filling that, you can see if we look close, and this is real nit-picky again, see that white line in there? That looks terrible, so we don't want that.
So, step backwards, step backwards again, make a new layer, either on top of or under your green outline layer, and then go up to Select > Modify > Expand and then just hit it like two pixels. So what that's gonna do is just expand our selection ever so slightly and take care of that green line. Do it on that new layer, so it should be an empty layer right now.
Go ahead and fill that, unselect, and then zoom in, and you can see that line is completely gone. So that's a step where you know, you can use the fill bucket or you coulda kept going with your brush. If I wasn't talking you through it, I can guarantee you that the fill bucket is a faster way to do it. So we're gonna wanna right-click on these two layers, and go down to Merge Layers, and just make sure you're keeping everything all organized, and do not merge your flat layer with your paper. So that's what we've ended up with, brings us to a good stopping point to move on to do this same sort of process, but sectioning of different pieces of this guy, as far as hair, skin, metal, spandex, whatever it may be.
So once you're to this point, double check it, make sure you don't have any white spots poking through, and that you've got one solid block of color on your character, and then we'll move forward.
Ben takes the characters he created in Drawing Good and Evil Comic Book Characters and adds color, subtle shading, and simple environments with Photoshop. He shows how to prep your illustration and perform color flatting—simple color fills that save professional artists a lot of time. Along the way, Ben explains how to choose and apply color that feels authentic to the characters and environments you are developing.
- Color flatting
- Choosing the right colors for your characters
- Adding shading
- Drawing the background
- Creating atmosphere
- Adding shadows and highlights to the final scene