In this tutorial I will try to explain how I work by discussing the process step-by-step. I've had many requests for this, and I sincerely hope you will all find it useful.

This tutorial is aimed at people who have some experience with Adobe Photoshop 4.0 or higher, but I suppose anyone interested in computer coloring can learn from it.

Each of the following chapters describes a specific step in the process of scanning and coloring a black & white drawing.


the scanned image
layers window

The first step is, naturally, to scan the image.

Most scanning software will identify a black and white drawing as a monochrome image! It is important to scan the image as a grayscale, not a monochrome. In some scanning programs, this mode is called "black and white photo".

To reduce scanning time, and to avoid unwanted coloration, do not scan your drawings in RGB mode.

It is not necessary to use the custom brightness/contrast settings of the scanning software. Photoshop provides much better tools to adjust the image than any scanning software I know.

The scan will appear in Photoshop's layers window as the "background" layer. Don't forget to change the image mode to "RGB" before starting to color it.

After scanning, you'll likely find some imperfections. A scanned image will often appear too dark, too light, too gray, or speckled.

In the case of my drawing of Thor, the image is too light. Which is not surprising, as it was drawn with a relatively hard pencil.

new adjustment layer window

A very good way to improve the appearance of the scan is by using Photoshop's "Levels" function.

From the menu, select Layer -> New -> Adjustment Layer. Choose "Levels".

Note: It is also possible to apply the levels directly to the scanned image instead of using the adjustment layer, but this way you can easily change the settings at any moment in the future, should it be necessary.

levels window

A window will appear with a histogram and some sliders. The histogram makes it very easy to estimate the optimal balance.


new layer window

Now create a new layer (Ctrl-Shift-N). Use "Multiply" as the mode setting, and check the option "Fill with multiply-neutral color".

The multiply mode enables you to draw over the image without losing the original lines. But keep in mind that we won't draw anything directly on this layer!


layers window
layers window

At this point, your layers window should look like the one displayed on the right side.


It is now time to define the many areas of the image which are to be colored. A layer will be created for each area. This technique will enable us to easily change the color of any object at any moment in the future.

As seen in the image, a layer has been created over the "MUL" layer. By either selecting "Group with previous" from the "Layer" menu, or pressing Ctrl-G, the layer is grouped with the "MUL" layer.

The base layer is displayed in "multiply" mode, so the total group is displayed as such.

Colouring the face
Areas which will be partially overlapped by other areas can be filled quite roughly, such as the face in the example image. Just make sure the area is not too small.
Colouring the hair
A new layer is created for Thor's hair. You can now clearly see why the face did not need to be defined very precisely. It just had to be big enough.

You should always make the areas overlap like this, so no empty spaces are left between the areas.

Important: DO NOT add shading and highlights in this stage! It is important to define all the different areas now, the final colors can be decided later, and shading can be applied later still.
Dummy colours
As the colors per area can easily be changed later, you can use contrasting colors to make it easier to define the areas. It may look silly, but it makes things a lot easier!


layers window

This is an easy one. Just check all the "Preserve Transparency" checkboxes for the grouped layers you created in step 4.

It is necessary to turn this option on before adding shades and highlights.


Dummy colours

the colours

the image

You will find that by following the steps described hereabove, it has become very easy to add shading and highlights to each area.

For soft shadows (images such as this one), use the airbrush tool.
For hard shadows (mangas & cartoons), use the brush tool.

For comparison: the computer-colored part and the total image.


As a finishing touch, you could add a new layer way on top of everything, in "screen" mode. This mode is the exact opposite of the multiply mode, so you'll fill it with black instead of white. You can use the airbrush tool to draw highlights, fire, glows, lights, coronas, and everything else related to light sources.


There are, of course, many more methods to do computer coloring. Some people use the scanned image as the top layer, in multiply mode. Some people first make a black & white version before adding colors. I suggest you try to experiment with several different methods, and decide what you find works best for you.

If you have any more questions or uncertainties, feel free to send me an e-mail at:

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