Photoshop Tricks (Part 1)

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

UPDATE: My man, Josh of Pixelton, alerted me to another way to accomplish the same effect as I’ve described below, but in a lot simpler and quicker fashion. I just tried it out and it works great. Essentially, you can replace the whole Channels sequence I’ve described by, with just your black and white linework displayed, going to the top of your screen and choosing Select > Color Range… with the popup box that comes up, set your Fuzziness to 200, and click on a black line in your artwork, then click OK in the popup box. This will provide you with the selection you need. Now you can skip almost all the way down to the bottom of my post, create a new layer and fill that selection with color. I think Josh’s method works better (it’s faster). I hope people won’t think less of me. :)


I’ve been working professionally with Photoshop for about ten years now. It’s also what I use for all the coloring for Zip and Li’l Bit. I think most of the techniques I use are the same as everyone else out there in the webcomic world, but there are a couple of little tricks that I use that I don’t see talked about much, so I thought I’d do a couple of little tutorials for anyone who’s interested. I dig tutorials.

For today’s post, I’ll show the simple method to have black ink lines over color, BUT I’ll also show how to change those black lines to any color you like.

I scan my black and white ink drawings into the computer and set up a file in Photoshop which has three layers (you can use as many as you like, but we’ll go with three to keep it simple). In this sample I’m showing the image I’m working on and the Layers palette in Photoshop:

Photoshop Image

I’ve got a black and white layer titled: Outlines, a layer with a gray color titled: Gray Clouds, and an all white layer titled: Background. Photoshop allows you to blend a layer with the ones behind it. That’s the little pulldown button there that reads: Normal. I won’t get into the math behind it, but to make your black and white Outlines layer display as black lines on color, simply change that pulldown to the option called: Multiply. Like so:

Photoshop Image

Okay, that’s how I’m sure 99.9% of the people out there color their comics. Now, I’ll show you a little trick I use all the time for stuff like sound effects or stars, when I want my scanned artwork to be a different color than black.

First thing, let’s change the blending mode (that’s what they call it) on that Outlines layer from Multiply back to Normal. We’ll need to copy that layer in a second. Now, we’ll use a Photoshop feature called Channels. To call up the Channels palette, go to top of your screen and select Window > Channels. It looks like this:

Photoshop Image

The Channels palette can be placed anywhere on your screen. Just to show what we’re working with, I’ve placed it next to the artwork on my screen, like so:

Photoshop Image

Channels and Layers are easy to get mixed up when you’re working because they can kind of display the same way on your artwork. I have to click back and forth on them sometimes when I’m working to make sure I’m doing what I want to. That said, click on the Outlines layer in the Layer palette to make sure we have that active, then we’re going to select that whole area by going up to the top of your screen and choosing Select > All. We’re going to copy that by choosing Edit > Copy at the top of your screen. Now, we’re going to create a new channel in the Channels palette by clicking on the New Channel button at the bottom of that palette. I’ve got a little arrow pointing at it here:

Photoshop Image

Two things should happen, you should have a new channel created called: Alpha 1, and your artwork should appear to have gone black. It happened to mine, see:

Photoshop Image

Don’t worry, your artwork isn’t gone. What Photoshop is displaying isn’t your artwork now but the channel: Alpha 1, which you may notice is selected in the Channels palette while nothing is selected any longer in the Layers palette (confusing, right?).

Okay, now we’ll paste our original artwork into this new channel by going up to the top of the screen and selecting Edit > Paste. Our artwork should now appear in this channel.

Photoshop Image

That’s enough of that. Now back to the Layers palette where we’ll create a new layer by clicking on the New Layer button at the bottom of that palette. The button looks exactly like the one we clicked just a second ago for a new channel. A new layer will be created and it should be selected. Here’s what it looks like on my screen (I’ve renamed the new layer, Color Outlines).

Photoshop Image

Now, we’ll make a selection in that layer by going to the top of the screen and choosing Select > Load Selection… A popup dialogue box should appear asking you which selection you would like to load. On the pulldown titled: Channel, we’ll choose the channel we just created called Alpha 1. We’ll also need to make sure to check the little box there which says: Invert, so it looks just like I’ve got it here:

Photoshop Image

Now click OK. The popup should close and you should have those little dotted selection lines dancing around in the exact same shape as your artwork. We’ll add some color to those by going up to the top of our screen and choosing Edit > Fill. A popup box will show up asking for color to use. Just hit OK. You’ll probably be changing it up anyway so it doesn’t matter. After hitting OK, your black artwork should now be some other color, like mine (note that I turned off the visibility on my original Outlines layer).

Photoshop Image

One more thing and we’re all set. Near the top of the Layers palette, it reads: Lock, with a set of buttons to the right of it. Click on that first empty looking button and it should put a little padlock looking icon on your layer, like this:

Photoshop Image

This will lock the pixels on that layer which will allow you to select them, color them, paint on them, put gradients on them, whatever you want while still retaining the lines from your original artwork. Pretty cool, right?

One last thing: It’s a good idea to go back and grab that Alpha 1 channel that was created and delete it. It’s not going to cause any problems working in Photoshop but if you export your files to other programs, such as Flash, alpha channels can make your image look like there are chunks missing from it and you’ll have to reopen it in Photoshop and get that channel out of there.

Whew! That was a lot longer post than I thought it’d be. I hope it’s new information for some of you out there though.

15 Responses to “Photoshop Tricks (Part 1)”

  1. Andertoons Says:

    Hey Trade, that’s fantastic! Thanks so much for the tutorial.

    I’ve always used the wand to select a line and then recolored it, but you know how that ends up looking.

    I’m gonna try this on my next color. Thanks again!

  2. Mike Lynch Says:

    Great stuff, Trade. Thanks for spending the time and effort to bring this tutorial to us slobs.

  3. Lunchbox Funnies » Blog Archive » Need Some Photoshop Tips Says:

    [...] all you webcomics creators out there, I’m posting up a couple little Photoshop tutorials this week with my Zip and Li’l Bit comics. If you have your own comic, or are thinking about [...]

  4. Seraphine Says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! I’m always looking for
    the easy way of doing things. Well, what’s
    wasy for you might not be easy for me,
    but that’s the cool thing about Photoshop.

  5. Trade Says:

    Thanks for the comments, folks. I hope I made this easy enough to follow along on your own stuff. I remember when I was learning this stuff, channels were something that took awhile for me to wrap my mind around. But they’re really handy, once you figure out how to use them.

    I’ll post another one tomorrow about how to use the Paint Bucket tool — but we’ll clean it up a little bit so it looks extra nice.

  6. Josh of Pixelton Says:

    Nice post!

    I do the same thing by having black & white art, going to select “Color Range” and selecting all of the black. Then I create a new layer named “color lines” and create a layer mask with the selection.

    The benefit is that I can easily color into this line area without ever having to worry about creating jagged lines from coloring a selection, I can tweak it endlessly without messing up the lineart, and it takes about ten seconds…

    Keep up the talented work!

    - Josh

  7. Trade Says:

    Hey Josh!

    Dude, this works great. Thanks for sharing. Although I think you’ve effectively nullified my whole post, I’ll have to forgive you because I’ll be using your method from now on. :)

    I usually just fill a selection as you described and lock the layer instead of making a mask. It’s just a preference thing though, since you have the same advantages either way.

  8. Andertoons Says:

    Layer masks are scary to me as I’ve yet to try them out. Or understand them. Or know what they are.

    Anyone got any tutes to send me to?

  9. Boyboy Says:

    Could you post some directions on scanning (basic settings, dpi and stuff)? I seem to have some trouble with that. You’re doing a great job with these tutorials, by the way.

  10. Trade Says:

    Hey Mark. Layer masks are basically just a way to cut a chunk out of a layer. You use one shape (the mask) to take away part of another shape (the layer). They’re kind of hard to get your head around if you haven’t worked with them a lot, but they can be really useful. If I can think of a clear way to explain it, I’ll try to come up with something for a future post. I use them a little bit on my work for the comic.

  11. Trade Says:

    Good to hear from you Boyboy. It’s tough to talk about scanning because I think most scanners are set up differently. I’ll post a quick tutorial with my next post about how I scan my artwork and clean it up. Hopefully, that’ll provide you with some of the basics (at least how I work them) and help you out.

  12. Eileen Says:

    So glad I found your page.
    Thanks for putting this out here!

  13. Trade Says:

    Hey Eileen, Awesome. Glad to be of help. :)

  14. Rob Says:

    These are some handy tips, thanks! I’m curious to try some of this out myself.

  15. kim gomez Says:

    It was interesting to read…you have some great information on your blog. Your insight and expertise would be a welcome addition to our community, i hope you will consider joining :-)