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. :)

NOW, BACK TO THE ORIGINAL POST:

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.