Photoshop Tricks (Part 2)

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

The quickest way I’ve found to color my comics in Photoshop is to use the Paint Bucket Tool. What this tool does is fill in an enclosed area (such as a circle) with color. There’s a big problem with that, though. In the pixel world, curved lines are drawn with blurred gray edges to make a curve look smooth. The Paint Bucket Tool can fill in the area between the curved lines but it can’t account for the little gray pixels around the edge of the line so you get a light line in between your outline and your color. Because of this problem, I’d always thought this tool was pretty useless, but I changed my mind when I figured out how to use it in conjunction with a Photoshop filter called: Minimum which makes it work pretty darn good, and pretty darn quick. Here’s how I do it.

To start off, I’ve set up a Photoshop file with four layers. You can see the top layer named: Outlines, contains my black and white artwork. You may notice that the blending mode is set to: Multiply like I talked about in my last post. Below that is an empty layer titled: Bird, which I am going to use to color the bird’s body blue, and below that another layer titled: Hat, which I’ll use to color the bird’s hat brown.

Photoshop Sample Image

The Paint Bucket Tool is located in the Tools palette (shown here next to the left arrow). Here’s a little trick (and it’s important), make sure you select the little checkbox for All Layers (shown above the right arrow).

Photoshop Sample Image

Using the Color palette, I’ll choose a nice blue color, then I’ll select the Bird Layer in the Layers palette, and click anywhere inside the body of the bird. Now, I’ll select the Hat Layer in the Layers palette and click anywhere inside of the hat. I’ll wind up with something that looks like this:

Photoshop Sample Image

Pretty quick, right? And it’s looking pretty good. I’ve got the shape I want but there’s the problem with those light pixel lines between the black lines and the colors. You can notice it especially between the black lines and the brown areas of the hat.

Let’s see what I can do to fix that. First, I’m going to switch off the visibility on that Outlines Layer so we’ll be able to see things better. To do that, I’ll click on the little eyeball looking icon shown by the arrow here.

Photoshop Sample Image

Now, I’ll go up to the top of the screen and select Filter > Other > Minimum.

Photoshop Sample Image

That will cause this Dialogue Box to pop up.

Photoshop Sample Image

I’m not sure where the Minimum name comes from for this filter, but what it seems to do is by increasing the number in the box called: Radius, it increases the size around the edges of your pixels. In the case of what I’ve got showing above, I’m adding two pixels of blue around all the edges of this layer. For me, two pixels works fine, but you’ll have to experiment with the size on your own artwork as it will vary depending on the size or resolution of your Photoshop file.

Here’s an example showing my Bird Layer before and after applying the Minimum filter. You’ll notice how it puffed out the blue areas and almost filled in some of the gaps along the beak. Keep in mind that my black and white linework will be sitting on top of this layer in the Photoshop file, so we don’t need to add a lot here, just enough to fill in those light pixel lines.

Photoshop Sample Image

Now, here’s an example showing those layers, with the Outlines layer visible, both before and after applying the Minimum filter. It makes a world of difference, right?

Photoshop Sample Image

From here, I will select my Bird layer in the Layers palette and click on the Lock Transparency button (shown next to the arrow).

Photoshop Sample Image

This will lock that layer to just the pixels shown, which means you will be able to go back in and change the color of that layer with a Brush, or Selection Tool, or Gradient, but the shape of the layer won’t change. That’s what I did for my finished work in the comic to get the shaded effect on the bird.

One last thing: The Paint Bucket Tool needs to have an enclosed area for it to fill properly. If you don’t leave any gaps in your artwork, you’re not going to have any problems. I tend to leave a ton of gaps in my line work, however, so I usually have to go in with the Brush Tool in Photoshop and fill those gaps in before I can use the Paint Bucket. Fortunately, you can use most any color you like to fill in the gaps AND on any layer you like, so if you want to preserve the gaps in your finished work, you can. It’ll just take a little bit longer.