Coloring Line Art

In a previous post I went over how I go about drawing superheros, today I’d like to show you how I color my line art using Photoshop. I’m using CS4 here simply because I haven’t found a compelling reason to upgrade yet, but everything in this guide should be the same on whatever version you’re using. If you don’t happen to have access to Photoshop, I can recommend a free alternative named Gimp, which even has a Photoshop style theme available somewhere out there online.
If you haven’t checked out the how to draw superheroes post yet you may want to do so now, as this basically continues straight from that.

After importing your line art into Photoshop (you can scan it, draw it directly on a graphics tablet or Surface Pro, or even just take a good photo of it with your phone), your first priority will be cleaning up any errant lines. A lot of this can be done easily by switching the image mode to duotone, which is nothing but black and white (no gray).
Before you can do this, you’ll need to select the Image menu and convert to grayscale, then do so again but select duotone. After having done this go back to the Image menu one more time and select RGB color.

Changing the image to Duotone

If you look at the layers window on the right you’ll probably notice that there’s a little padlock on your current layer. You’ll want to unlock the layer by double clicking, and then selecting OK on the popup window. This will allow transparent backgrounds.

Double click your layer, then hit OK to enable transparency.

At this point, select the magic wand tool and click on any white area in your drawing, then press the delete key on your keyboard. See how the background turned into a checkerboard pattern? This is Photoshop’s way of telling you nothing’s there – it’s completely empty space.
Now click the layer menu up top and select new -> layer. This second layer will be for your color only. Select the polygonal lasso tool and begin tracing the lines of your character. I personally prefer the polygonal lasso because you can click once for every point you want the line to continue to instead of having to hold the mouse button down the entire time.

Begin tracing the lines with the polygonal lasso tool.

After you’ve traced an area you want to color, select the pencil tool and right click. This will bring up a menu where you can change the diameter and hardness to 100. Select a color and left click to paint. The color will only be applied within the area you defined with the lasso.
For every subsequent color be sure to set up a new layer, that way if you go outside the lines you can go to your first layer and select the empty space before going back to the errant layer and pressing the delete key. This also works great if you want to blend colors with the blur tool and need to get rid of colors that went out of bounds.

Using the Gaussian blur tool to smooth out colors.

And that’s basically it. You can take that character and add it to a background, or draw some more pictures with the backgrounds added – in this one I just created the background by adding in some stock images and adjusting the lighting.
If you have any questions be sure to comment. Happy coloring!

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Matt Smith is an art teacher currently living in Michigan.

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