Digital Coloring

Digital coloring with Photoshop Elements is just flat out fun.  

All you need is some good line drawings and the willingness to learn how to take advantage of the power of the unique power of the brushes in Elements. 

Your best results will, of course, be achieved with a Wacom Tablet (Intuos or Intuos Pro).  

What makes these tablets so special is the pressure sensitivity that is available when using Photoshop Elements as well as the outstanding resolution.  They are also much more comfortable to use after slaving away on a digital coloring project for hours and hours.

With a tablet installed on either your Mac or Windows machine the brush dynamics in Photoshop Elements become very dynamic.  The two dynamics that unleash the power of the brushes are:

  1. Brush Tablet Options, and
  2. Additional Brush Options 

Brush Tablet Options

You can set the brush to change ...

  • Size
  • Opacity
  • Hue Jitter
  • Scatter
  • Roundness

A tablet must be installed to set these options. 




Additional Brush Options

The additional options make the tablet options much more powerful and dynamic.  They include ...

  • Fade
  • Hue Jitter
  • Scatter
  • Spacing
  • Hardness
  • Angle
  • Roundness

If you like digital coloring then it's really worth the time it takes to become very familiar with these two palettes.

Digital Coloring - Some Suggestions


You can just grab a brush and start your digital coloring but here are a few hints to make it easier and more effective ...

  • Create a new layer for each part of the image you're working on.  With this piece of art I made a layer for the top of the hat, the two bows, the hat peak, the hair, the skin, the lips and the dress for a total of seven layers.
  • Don't worry if you go outside of the lines - just grab the eraser, zoom in and erase the offending parts.
  • Play around with the dynamics on each layer before you start coloring just to see the effect.
  • As you are going make note of the RGB colors for the foreground and background colors. To do that just click on the foreground color to bring up the color palette and write down the Red, Green and Blue numbers.  Close the palette and then do the same thing for the background color.
  • Save often and save your file as a .psd which preserves the digital coloring layers intact.  With Elements if you click Save As and you have a multi layer image it will default to a .psd file.  If you select .jpg all of the layers will be merged and that is not much good if you want to edit one later, is it?

The Dynamics

The Brush Tablet Options allow you to change the Size, Opacity, Hue Jitter, Scattering and Roundness of a brush stroke as pressure is applied to the pen.

The ones that are the most useful when you are digital coloring are the Opacity and the Hue Jitter settings.

According to the Elements Help file, Jitter "specifies the randomness of a brush stroke".  With Hue Jitter this means the hue will change according to pressure from the background color to the foreground color.

A brush stroke with only the Opacity setting checked will produce a brush stroke that is light with low pressure which becomes darker as the pen is pressed harder up to the maximum Opacity that is set in the Options Bar.

With the addition of Hue Jitter, the background color (green) is painted with light pressure and it gradually moves through different hues with increasing pressure until it becomes red (the foreground color).  This presents some really great options when you are digital coloring - no longer does any part of the artwork have to be a solid color. 

Additional Brush Options



Fade

The Fade setting in the Additional Options palette makes your brush act like - well - a brush!

At a setting of 0 there is no effect.  As the slider is moved to the right the brush will act like a real brush and run out of paint.  At a low setting the paint runs out quickly and as the slider is moved farther to the right it takes longer for the paint to run out.

To re-load the brush just pickup the pen and start again.  It is an interesting setting. 



Hue Jitter

This is a very useful setting when you are doing some digital coloring.

What Hue Jitter does is randomly change the hue between the foreground and background color (with Hue Jitter checked in the Brush Tablet Options).  

The sample is set at 100% and depending on what you want to achieve it can be set anywhere on the scale.

This is the setting that adds interesting texture in your digital coloring.



Scattering

This is also an interesting setting but it may not have a lot of use in a digital coloring project unless it is for creating a background.  

What the setting does is spray the paint around based on pen pressure.

This example includes both Scattering and Hue JItter set in the Brush Tablet Options.



Spacing

The spacing setting in the Advanced Brush Options does just what it says - the harder the pen is pushed the greater the spacing between the application of paint.

The top stroke setting is 0% spacing and the bottom stroke is at 66% spacing.

This setting is good for backgrounds as well but may not be so useful for digital coloring - but then what the heck - give it a try - it might just work out wonderfully.


Give these different options a try and make sure your change the brush from a simple round brush to something more dramatic.

Working a Project

This is the line art that will be used for this digital coloring tutorial ... it's a beautiful piece of work drawn by Sheri McClure-Pitler ... 

Working With Color

Throughout the example I make reference to the RGB (Red, Green and Blue) values.  This is where you will find them ...

This is the Elements Color Picker (the title at the top indicates it is the Color Picker for the Foreground Color).

To choose a color first move the tall slider up and down to select the color - then move into the large box on the left to choose the exact Hue you want.

The funny colored box encloses the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) numbers for the color under the little circle in the green area.

  • Red - 83
  • Green - 201
  • Blue - 11


This palette is accessed by clicking on either the Foreground or the Background Color.   

The Hat

For no particular reason I started with the top of the hat.

Create a new layer and name it Hat.

The RGB (Red, Green, Blue) values for the two greens used on the hat were:

Foreground Color 60, 219, 82
Background Color 5, 171, 546

The Brush Tablet Options selected were Opacity and Hue Jitter.

The Additional Brush Options were:



Hue Jitter - 56%
Spacing - 86%

After painting the top of the hat the Blend Mode of the new layer was changed to Multiply which increases the contrast between the Hat layer and the artwork layer.  What this does is bring out the lines in the original art. 

Hat Brim

The Hat Brim could have been the same colors as the top of the hat but I decided to change them somewhat.   A new layer was created and named Hat Brim.

The RGB (Red, Green Blue) values for the two greens used on the hat brim were:

Foreground Color 108, 227, 66
Background Color 15, 155, 4

The Brush Tablet Options selected were Opacity and Hue Jitter.

The Additional Brush Options were:

Hue Jitter - 89%
Spacing - 86%

After painting the hat brim the Blend Mode of the layer was changed to Multiply which increases the contrast between the Hat Brim layer and the artwork layer.

The Bows

There are two Bows in the artwork - on the hat and on the top of the dress.

One layer was created to color both bows. 

The RGB (Red, Green Blue) values for the two greens used on the hat brim were:

Foreground Color 248, 7, 126
Background Color 250, 51, 107

The Brush Tablet Options selected were Opacity and Hue Jitter.

The Additional Brush Options were:



Hue Jitter - 56%
Spacing - 86%

After painting the two Bows the Blend Mode of the layer was changed to Multiply which increases the contrast between the Bows layer and the artwork layer.

The Hair

A new layer was created to color the hair.

The RGB (Red, Green Blue) values for the two yellow tones used on the hair were: 

Foreground Color 245, 230, 101
Background Color 244, 236, 9

The Brush Tablet Options selected were Opacity and Hue Jitter.

The Additional Brush Options were:

Hue Jitter - 89%
Spacing - 80%


After painting the two Hair the Blend Mode of the layer was changed to Multiply which increases the contrast between the Hair layer and the artwork layer.

The Dress 

A new layer was created for the Dress.  

The RGB (Red, Green Blue) values for the two greens used on the dress were:

Foreground Color 58, 140, 3
Background Color 100, 163, 19

I must have been going through a green phase - the hat, the brim and the dress.

The Brush Tablet Options selected were Opacity and Hue Jitter.

The Additional Brush Options were:

Hue Jitter - 86%
Spacing - 80%

After painting the Dress the Blend Mode of the layer was changed to Multiply which increases the contrast between the Dress layer and the artwork layer. 

The Skin

The skin can be a bit of a problem so I opened the color palette and eyeballed the colors to find a good skin color.

The RGB (Red, Green Blue) values for the two skin tones: 

Foreground Color 237, 207, 148
Background Color 245, 206, 129

The Brush Tablet Options selected were Opacity and Hue Jitter.

The Additional Brush Options were:

Hue Jitter - 67%
Spacing - 64%

After painting the Skin the Blend Mode of the layer was changed to Multiply which increases the contrast between the Skin layer and the artwork layer.

The Lips 

The last thing to be painted were the lips on their own layer.  Rather than use any adjustments they were painted with a solid red.

The RGB (Red, Green Blue) values for the red was 253, 4, 10. 

The Brush Tablet Options was set to Opacity alone and the Hue Jitter setting was 67%.

What the settings do, especially the Hue Jitter setting, is introduce random colors between the foreground and background colors which produces some slight differences in a painted area.  

The final image ended up with seven layers.  Because the layers were used it is possible to go back and change colors and tablet options at any time.


Digital Coloring - The Result

Here's the end result ...

All things considered, especially my artistic ability, the final image looks pretty good. 

There are a few other things that can be done to add some "pop" to the rather bland background of the digital coloring project.

One thing would be to get a large brush, turn up all of the settings in the Additional Brush Options palette, choose some complimentary colors and carefully paint in the background.

What I did was add a few different backgrounds.  Here's how to do it ... 

Adding A Background

I wanted the background to be behind the main figure and the best place to put it would be on the very bottom of the layer stack (below the background layer).  The only problem with doing that is the Background layer is just that - it's the background and no other layer can be below it. 

This is resolved by double clicking on the word Background.  This allows you to change the name from Background - it defaults to Layer 0 - click OK.

Now add a new layer above Layer 0 and then drag it below Layer 0.  This is where the Gradient will go.

There is, however, one thing left to do and that is to eliminate all of the white background that is now layer 0 and leave the line drawing and the colors you have added intact.

With an image like this one that is completely enclosed it is quite easy to get rid of the white background ... 

  1. Grab the Magic Wand tool
  2. Click on the white area to be removed this will create a selection, and then
  3. Hit the Delete key.

The white area will be replaced by the hash look indicating a transparent area and the image will be intact.

One thing to be aware of are those little areas that are not part of the large background area.

With this piece of artwork there were two tiny areas that were not selected  - they are just below the collar of the dress on the left and on the right.  

The collar just touches the black frame so they were not selected.  

I just zoomed in on each area, selected them with the Magic Wand and deleted them both so the whatever background was added would show through everywhere it was supposed to show. 

Now a background can be added on the very bottom layer and the only part that will show is the in the transparent part of the image.

Gradient

You know how to make a gradient, don't you?

  1. Choose two different Foreground and Background colors.

  2. Select the Gradient Tool

  3. Go to the options bar and make your selections

  4. Drag the pen across the very bottom layer and watch the magic happen.

I chose a circular gradient with light green as the Background color and dark green as the Foreground color.  Here is how the gradient came out ... 

If you don't like what you see, the colors and/or the type of gradient (Linear, Radial, Angle, Reflected or Diamond), then just do it over again!  You can also select one of the Gradients that are included with Elements or make your own.

Clouds

The Clouds Filter is quite interesting and will also make a great background on your digital coloring project.

To do this choose complimentary Foreground and Background colors and then select Filter > Render > Clouds.  This is the Clouds background ... 

If you don't like the look of the Clouds Filter keep pressing Ctrl-F/Cmd-F to re-apply the filter until you find one you like. 

Pattern

Photoshop Elements has a whole whack of Patterns that can be applied to the blank layer below the background.

To access them select Edit > Fill Layer ... and drop down the list to Patterns.  The default patterns are visible and if you click Custom Patterns and then the little arrow on the top right a new list of available patterns will appear.

For this background I chose Rusted Metal and then went to the Filter Gallery > Texture > Craquelure to get this ... 

If you want to add a fabulous and interesting background then the possibilities are endless.

One last thing ...

Layer Styles

Elements has these great Layer Styles and a nice little Drop Shadow would probably look pretty good on this digital coloring project, don't you think?

Select the artwork layer and then Layer > Layer Styles > Style Settings ... and put a check mark in Drop Shadow.

Now you can mess with the setting to get the effect you like.  What this does is make the painted image "pop" off of the background.  This is the Drop Shadow over the Gradient layer ... 

The only thing left to do is add a nice frame which is probably a great subject for another tutorial.

Have fun with your digital coloring!  It can be very addictive and probably therapeutic as well!

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