Practical illustration for the computer-inclined: Part 4 - Coloring

Back when you left your masterpiece in Part 3—Inking, you had a bold, contrast-filled black-and-white illustration. Here we'll take it just a step further, using your computer to add a bit of color and texture. (See—there's a reason I called this "Practical illustration for the computer-inclined"!)

There are many image-manipulation software packages out there, but the best known and (in my opinion) still the most accessible is Adobe Photoshop. Part of the Adobe Creative Suite, it's long been supported by Windows and Macintosh. The price is a bit steep, but if you happen to be a student or educator, you can get a similar copy (minus the instruction manual) for a fraction of the price.

However, Photoshop isn't the only program out there. John Lee, creator of Suburban Tribe, also gives props to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Painter. (Corel often offers free trial downloads of its programs, allowing you to test-drive them before you take the plunge.) "Painter," he says, "is a program that allows you create art with the look and feel of real-world media. Imagine if your comic looked as if it were painted with watercolors... or oil paints... or even pastel chalks. It is strictly a matter of preference between coloring with Painter and coloring with Photoshop. But I prefer Painter." He also says that "if you can learn Illustrator and make it sing, you will have a leg up on half the digital artists and designers out there."

For our purposes today, we'll use Photoshop.

Many home users (I certainly hope you aren't doing this on the job!) have discovered scanners as a way to preserve family photos, copy receipts and convert flat media to digital form. If you have a scanner, great. If not, retail outlets such as Kinko's can scan your image to disk for a nominal fee.

haley4-color Courtesy of John Lee

Using the eyedropper and bucket tools, you can fill in the colors however you like. Click on the top square in the color palette, choose a color, and then, after highlighting the desired area with the magic wand, simply click the paint bucket. Voila! Instant coloring without the mess. Use the magnifying glass to get a closer view of details such as the eyes or other places you might have missed. For smaller areas, the paintbrush is a handy tool—and you can adjust the size and weight of your virtual brushstroke.

If you want to create a drop shadow, you'll have to learn a bit about layers. To put it simply, create an outline of the subject—to do so, simply use the magic wand to highlight the background, then invert the outline—and then in a different layer, fill it in with a solid color suggestive of a shadow. Use the skewer tool to distort the shadow, then place it wherever you want. You can move the shadow layer in back of the main image. (For a more in-depth look at layers, go here.)

The nice thing about using such applications as Photoshop is that you have significant "undo" ability. But once you have the picture you want, you can flatten it or export it as a .jpg, .tiff (higher quality for printing) or .gif (for the Web).

You've come a long way, but it's just getting started. Hold onto your seat, because next time, we'll talk about the art of the sequence—or, in English, creating a comic strip.

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