Photoshop Digit­al Colour tutori­al

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Multiple people have asked me for a tutori­al of how I do colour in Photoshop. A lot of people think my prints are analogue screen prints, but they’re actu­ally mostly digit­al and prin­ted on a Canon giclée print­er. I draw the ink lines by hand, but all the colour and texture is created in Photoshop.

This is an image I created for a calen­dar I’m making- to be finished this week­end. Pre-orders can be found here.

It takes me between 4-8 hours start to finish to create an image. The Photoshop process I showed in this tutori­al took me just under two hours. It’s not so much the phys­ic­al process of adding the colour that takes time, but choos­ing which colours and textures to add where, and trying things out and delet­ing them until they look right.

I have assumed that you have basic know­ledge of how to oper­ate Photoshop and Illus­trat­or here- if you don’t it’s prob­ably not going to be very inter­est­ing. I am using the most recent versions on a Mac. I’m afraid I can’t teach people how to draw or get the patience to sit in front of the computer for hours on end adjust­ing layer trans­par­ency percent­ages.

I also used a Wacom graph­ics tablet. It certainly is possible to do the same thing with a mouse, but it’s much, much easi­er with the pen and tablet.

First of all I made a collage from refer­ence photos. I prin­ted it out and used a light­box to trace the angles of the geodes­ic glass dome (origin­ally a plant terrari­um). (Dirty industry secret- a lot of illus­trat­ors trace stuff using a light­box, espe­cially things like tricky perspect­ive angles. Even Quentin Blake uses one!) I usually draw with non-photo blue pencils- they’re easi­er to distin­guish against the ink, and barely show up in black and white scans. I use Posca mark­ers for the inking. The basic draw­ing took about an hour.

I scan the ink draw­ing in mono­chrome, and import to Photoshop. Upping the contrast and bright­ness makes a lot of the pencil lines disap­pear, and the eraser tool takes care of the rest.

I used the fill, basic brush and eraser tools to fill in any solid areas and correct mistakes.

I then close the file in Photoshop and import to Illus­trat­or. I used the auto-trace mode with these custom settings (I have a few profiles set up that work well with my ink draw­ings), expand the paths, and then make into a Live Paint object and expand again. For some reas­on I find turn­ing it into a Live Paint image makes the colour change work better.

Then change the paths from grey­scale to CMYK mode, and choose a new colour. I had created a basic colour pallette which I test prin­ted on the paper for the final product, and had a list of colour hex codes for them all.

In the end I went for the dark green – colour #164431

Then save it as an Illus­trat­or file with the default settings, and close it in Illus­trat­or.

I then open up Photoshop, and create an A3 docu­ment. I always work in A3 even if the even­tu­al size will be A4 or A5. It gives you more flex­ib­il­ity and qual­ity. I’m work­ing in CMYK as this is for print. Later I’ll convert RGB versions for online.

I opened up the Illus­trat­or file, and copied and pasted the image into my A3 docu­ment. I then hit cmd+T to resize. For years and years you had to hold shift while resiz­ing in Photoshop to get things to stay propor­tion­al, but Adobe finally listened.

Resized to fit the canvas. The outline stays as a normal layer, but all the others will be multiply layers to give a bit of trans­par­ency and that screen-prin­ted look. If I’m using flat colour tones, I usually use the Add Noise filter to give them a more organ­ic texture at the end of the process.

I’ve got a set of these half- tone and line brushes from True Grit Textures. Using two spot colours- a light­er and dark­er shade of green, and a couple of differ­ent patterns you can create a large vari­ety of shad­ing. For each pattern, I create a new multiply layer. It makes it easi­er to get rid of things if you decide you don’t like them later.

In the end I went for a closer half-tone pattern for the wiggly worm.

After I’ve finished shad­ing a section, I always hide the outline layer to make sure I’ve haven’t missed anything. It all looks a bit MS Paint like this.

I decided that I didn’t like the slime trail, so I erased it. I also wanted to add in a back­ground star shape. Using the poly­gon tool, I set it to 37 points to make it a bit less regu­lar and grid-like.

I used a flat colour, and then used the magic wand to create a mask.

Hiding the flat colour, I can now use the mask to shade in anoth­er multiply layer of dot patterns. I did it by hand rather than do a basic fill, because I only want the star to show behind the glass, not in front of the snails.

Here’s the star filled with half-toning. I tempor­ar­ily hid some of the layers to use this faded hatch­ing brush to give the glass a little texture

The wurm is imprisoned.

I adjus­ted the opacity of the star and the glass shad­ing a little to make them less domin­ant.

I then used vari­ous differ­ent brushes and the two shades of green to colour in the snails. This is anoth­er advant­age of using multiply layers- I decided the left shell was too simil­ar in tone to the star pattern, so I added anoth­er layer of smal­ler dots to blend in and create a new pattern.

The finished article. I had a test print to see if I liked it on the paper (which I did).

Adding a layer on the PSD file with the cream colour of the paper to create an mockup of how it will look in the finished calen­dar.

And adding the version with a white back­ground to a Photoshop product mockup to show how it will look as a print.

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