Let Me Show Ya Somethin' #2
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Digital Color Setup Tutorial
In this edition of Let Me Show Ya Somethin’, I’m going to show you how I separate my line art for digital color, in Photoshop. If you’re here, I’m assuming you have some art that you’d like to apply some sick color to. Now, you might be at that stage where you’ve got your art and you’re ready to get at it, but your lines are on the same layer as the background. How do you fix that? Let’s get into it!
First thing’s first—open your art in Photoshop and get it prepped. Clean up any imperfections, such as stray dots, smudges, dust that got scanned, etc. I’ll be using a piece by an artist friend of mine, Gideon Brown (check out his Instagram, here). For this part, you can just take a “white out” approach and use your brush tool to fix blemishes.
You may also want to adjust the Levels, if you need to darken or lighten the line art, at all. To do that, simply hit (Ctrl+L) and the Levels box will pop up.
Use the sliders to adjust the properties of your line art to your liking. Just be careful not to muddle your artist’s lines. Small details can become washed out or gritty, pretty quick.
Once you’re line art is looking slick, you’re ready to get to the good stuff. First, make sure your line art layer is selected and hit (Ctrl+A) to select all, then (Ctrl+C) to copy. You will see the dotted line, lookin’ like a bunch of ants playing Ring Around the Rosie, surrounding your image.
Create a new layer (Shift+Ctrl+N) or by clicking the “Create a new layer” icon, at the bottom of you Layers panel.
Now, you’ll want to fill the layer you just made (Layer 2) with black. You can do that by first hitting (D) to reset your default foreground and background colors, then hit (Alt+Backspace) to fill the layer with your foreground color, which should be black.
To the mask! We need to add a layer mask to the black layer. Do this by clicking the “Add layer mask” icon, at the bottom of your Layers panel. You’ll see the Layer mask thumbnail pop up next to the Layer thumbnail.
We need to work within the layer mask, now. To do this, press and hold (Alt) and click the Layer mask thumbnail. This will turn your canvas white, again.
Now, just hit (Ctrl+V) to paste the line art into the layer mask.
After that, you want to hit (Ctrl+I) to invert the colors.
This may look a bit counter-intuitive, but the white is what will show, while the black will be transparent. So, this is isolating your lines, like you want. This part also helps me see any specs or imperfections I may have missed in prep, since they’ll stand out on the black background.
Apply your mask. Right click the Layer mask thumbnail to open a floating menu, and click “Apply Layer Mask”.
And now you’ve got your line art isolated and ready to rock! You can delete your initial layer, or as I like to do, fill it with a background color. I like to use an odd color that won’t be used in any of my flats, to provide a decent contrast.
One of the good things about having your line art separated is that you can do line “knockouts” very easily. By that, I mean that you can color your lines, themselves. That comes in handy when you’re coloring various things, like energy, for example. You don’t want a nice energy beam with ugly black lines.
There are a couple ways I tend to do that. One is to use a clipping mask. To do that, just create a new layer, on top of your line art layer. Then, press and hold (Alt) and place your cursor between those two layers. You’ll see the cursor change. Just click between them, and that will create your clipping mask. Now, you can paint those lines.
Method two—and my preferred method—is to simply click “Lock transparent pixels”, in the Layers panel. This will allow the same effect, only coloring the lines on that layer and ignoring the transparent parts.
Boom! Now, you’re ready to create some digital color and make those lines pop. Create some layers under your line art and start applying color. I tend to be the type that does flats for everything first, then, depending on the piece and my general mood, I might group things together. The process is up to you.
Either way, that’s how I go about separating my line art from the background when I do digital color. It’s pretty quick, once you get the hang of it.
Here’s a look at what I did with this sucker.
I hope this little tutorial was helpful!
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‘Til next time!