In my previous tutorial on Digital Inking, I demonstrated the simplest method to inking your comics after they have been scanned into your computer and ways of developing your page layout for print or on screen. The next step is to begin coloring our work with a few simple steps.
This tutorial was created using Adobe Photoshop. You can use the program of your choice, but in order to achieve the same result(or as close as possible to the tutorial,) make sure your software supports layers, as it is extremely important in maintaining an organized file.
There are several tutorials out there on coloring comics, but in this method I will show you the quickest and easiest way that works for most software.
1. Establish your Color Mode
Color mode selection is important because it will affect your color swatch selections and viewing application. If you are planning on creating your artwork for use online or displayed on a monitor / screen, work within the RGB color mode. If you are creating comics for print, your file should be set up in the CMYK color mode. Professional printers output files using the CMYK model because it is the most common method for achieving all printed colors using blends of 4 colors of ink – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black.
Start off in one of the color modes dependent on your application. There are some ranges of colors that can not be physically printed in the CMYK model but are visible in the RGB model. This is known as a color gamut. You can learn more about it here. If your comics are in RGB and you convert them to CMYK afterwards, many of your subtle shades and tints will disappear and your colors will become dull because they are not reproducible in 4 color printing.
* There is a method used by Pantone called Hexachrome which offers 6 color printing by adding Green and Orange ink to the CMYK mix to expand the printed gamut. This extra set of inks becomes more expensive to print and requires the use of a specific color profile native to Hexachrome printing.
2. You should have Four (4) Layers in your file
Linework – this is your previously inked work
Flats – This is for the use flat colors and for building up your tones and values
Highlights – This layer is for the use of shine/ light effects etc
Effects – This layer is for other environmental effects – fog, mist, light rays, snow, rain, darkness etc.
The order should be Effects as the top layer, followed by Linework, Highlights and Flats at the bottom.
3. Working on your Flats Layer(s)
The Flats layer is for exactly that – flat colors. Use a paintbrush or lasso + paint bucket/fill tool for filling in your areas with the colors you want. After you have laid down your first level of flats, on each section, use a slightly darker tone of the same color, and using your brush, paint in areas that would have some subtle shadows.
Do the same thing with a slightly lighter tone of your base flat color in order to create subtle highlights. You can repeat these steps as many times as you like in order to build levels of depth within your flat colors. If you want to smooth out the lines between each layered tone, you can do so with a blur tool or a smudge type tool to blend all the tones for a softer, smoother effect.
As you can see in this comparison between Cyclops of the X-Men and Archie from the newsprint based comic books, traditional comics coloring does not have blending, so it is acceptable to have hard lines in between each color tone. You still achieve the same element of depth, just on a flatter scale.
4. Creating your Highlights
Once your foreground and background coloring has been done, it is time to add additional highlights for extra depth. Start with a small brush, and then paint blots of white in the ‘hottest’ areas of the lighter tones you’ve painted in the flat layer. Do not overdo the highlights, otherwise your figures will appear metallic or glossy (unless they ARE metallic or glossy – then its absolutely fine!)
Once the blots are done, blur the white patches and blend those into your colors underneath by feathering the edges. You could also leave the painted blots with harder edges if you wish to have a flatter appearance. For additional control, create a few more highlight layers and adjust the opacity of each layer (if your software allows it) for more dynamic effects on each panel.
5. Details through Effects
For additional depth and detail, use your effects layer to really make your images ‘pop’. Perhaps your character has energy spheres that glow brightly or there is an eerie mist in the surrounding environment.
.This layer(s) is where you would place these rendered effects to provide more visual impact, refine and put the finishing touches on your colored work. The reason the Effects layer sits above the Linework layer is to create more of a sense of form and shape. If these effects are oulined in heavy black, the effect is flattened and will lack the depth and shape you want to establish. Only pure black and white comics use outlined effects in order to create a visual idea, since color isn’t an option.
6. Final Touches and Refinements
Once your colors have been laid down, your highlights added, and your effects finalized, you can do your tweaks and adjustments to all of these layers if you’re not completely satisfied with your rendering. Sometimes its worth taking a few hours off and coming back to the page to see if there are any changes you’ll want to make – or if its fine just the way it is.
7. Save your Layered working file
ALWAYS make sure you save a working version of your layered file. You may have to make further adjustments later, and without the original working file you’ll have to start over from scratch to mimic the work you’ve already done. That is not efficient.
You have passed the Digital Coloring tutorial. Now that the color work is done, we’ll move on to rendering your type and dialogue if you haven’t done so already. Check out different styles of comics and study how each colorist renders their effects, builds their flat colors and create shape and form. Keep trying new coloring techniques until you find one you are comfortable with. There are plenty of samples on the internet to learn from. Practice and develop your style, and eventually you’ll be making stunning masterpieces of comic book art.