Digital Comic Colouring – How I Do It, Part Two: The Boring Bit

Ok – so you’ve seen how I prep the lineart ready for colouring. At this stage you should have a PSD file with a lineart layer, and a trapping layer. So the next step is to add the basic block colours to the page. No shading, nothing fancy – just the basics. Colourists call this stage flatting.

I’ve spoken to several colourists over the years, and opinions and methods on flats vary enormously. There’s no one standardised way of creating your flats, and colourists generally get to grips with them over time on their own terms. I’ll tell you what I do, but for Primus’s sake do not take what I say as gospel. Use my technique by all means, but it’s not the only way. Hell, it’s probably a really rubbish way, I don’t know.

Now, some colourists employ people to flat pages for them, so they can concentrate on doing the shading. Nowt wrong with that, but I’m enough of a skinflint that I favour doing the whole lot myself, so I can take all the paycheque. But I’ve used flatters in the past, so if you want to collaborate on colouring with someone, then go for it!

Personally, I find flatting laborious and tedious, and for me it’s the part of colouring that I really dislike. But on the flipside, I’ll flat till the cows come home if it keeps me out of a call centre….

  • FLATTING

First you’ll want to make a new layer, and place it below the Trapping Layer. Now, I tend to split my flats over two layers – One layer for characters, one for backdrops. Other colourists use more layers, I’ve seen a file once that had every single element on it’s own flat layer, which is fine as you NAME YOUR LAYERS. Holy shit, that’s important. It makes keeping track of stuff so much easier if you’re using loads of layers. I favour two layers because it’s nice and simple, and because it reduces the file size. Again, this is just me.

I also start by flatting people, items, objects etc. in one block colour to start, then I start sectioning out those initial blocks, which I’ll detail a few paragraphs down..

alias

From gamingworm.com

Most importantly, your flats need to be non-anti-aliased. Anti-aliasing smooths the jagged appearance of diagonal lines in a pixel-based image. The pixels that surround the edges of the line are changed to varying shades of gray or color in order to blend the sharp edge into the background. It’s sometimes known as dithering (it was used during the 8-bit era to create new colours from limited colour pallets)  but is usually known as anti-aliasing when applied to diagonal and curved lines. Flats have to have a nice, sharp, defined edge, and anti-aliasing will not provide that. So if you are using the selection tools to make your flats, ensure they are set to not anti-alias, and make sure they have no feathering either. If you’d rather draw in your flats by hand, then draw them with the Pencil tool, and NOT the Brush tool. Even a brush set at 100% hardness will still have some edge softening – the pencil won’t. So now that’s sorted, lets start making those flat areas.

So, this new layer we’ve made, name it Character Flats. 

Initial Flatting With The Selection Tools

selection tools

These are your friends.

Make sure that anti-alias is turned off, and that feathering is set to 0. Then using the Polygon Selection Tool, click by click around a character until you’ve got them outlined, then Edit>Fill with a generic flesh tone colour. Or use the Magnetic Lasso Tool to outline around the character, but if you do this remember to contract your selection by a pixel or two so your flats don’t go outside the lines of the character (Select>Modify>Contract).

If you’re working with art that’s very clean, with sparse backgrounds and little to no gaps in the lines, you can even get away with using the Magic Wand Tool. I’d use the Lasso Tool first to loosely draw around the character, then select the Magic Wand Tool. In the toolbar, set it to Sample All Layers. then use the Magic Wand Tool + Alt key to deselect any extraneous selections. As before, remember to contract your selection by a pixel or two so your flats don’t go outside the lines of the character (Select>Modify>Contract). Don’t forget to save, and save often!

<insert demo video here>

Initial Flatting With The Pencil Tool

pencil tool

Use the PENCIL, not the brush.

Make sure you’ve got the Pencil tool selected, not the Brush tool. Set the opacity of the brush to 100%, If you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet, I also advise turning off the opacity/size pressure sensitivity buttons. Next, draw around the outlines of the character until you’ve a complete joined-up outline, then use the Paint Bucket tool (set to 100% opacity, contiguous) and fill the outline with a generic flesh colour. Don’t forget to use the Shift key to cover large straight areas in a single click. Don’t forget to save, and save often!

You’ll likely find that using a combination of all of the above will help make those initial, one-colour flats.

Breaking Down Your Flats

This is the really time-consuming bit.

With the Character Flats layer selected, check the Lock Transparent Pixels icon in the Layer Pallet. This will allow you to only draw on the pixels that are there – anything transparent cannot be drawn on. Now, using either the Selection Tools or the Pencil. start breaking up the flats into different coloured areas. Use the Paint Bucket or Edit>Fill to quickly fill areas. Isolate clothing, weaponary, eyes, hair, shoes etc…  Don’t forget to save, and save often!

Once you’ve got your character flats done, then repeat the process for your backdrops. Just make a new layer called Backdrop Flats, and do it all again! You can do the backdrops first if you prefer, and then the characters. It really doesn’t matter, it’s your preference.

Here is a brief video tutorial of me using some of the above techniques. I apologise for my too-quiet, wheezy voice. I’m sorta like a crap Darth Vader, with less kills, obvs.

So now you should have a PSD file with a Lineart layer, a Trapping Layer, a Character Flats layer, a Backdrop Flats Layer, and an all-white basic bottom layer. The next stage is shading…. And that, my friends, is for another blog – HERE!

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