Digital Comic Colouring – How I Do It, Part Three: Shady Highlights

So far, we’ve prepped the artwork, and readied the flat colours for shading.

As with the previous steps, there’s no one right way to shade your work. This bit is the most personalised part of colouring, where you really stamp your own style on things. Again, the steps outlined here are how I do my colours – use them, adapt them, bin them and make your own path – it’s all on you.

You’ll need to have some idea of colour theory to really get this working for you at this stage. Warm colours to pull things forward, cooler colours to push things back, higher saturation to pull things forward, lower saturation to push things back, etc etc. I recommend as an excellent source for creating complimentary colour pallets of varying numbers of colours. Look at other comics, follow other colourists and artists on Twitter. Look at paintings, photography, use Google Images for a wealth of reference… you get the idea.

Let’s look at the technical side of things. Now, I’ve seen other colourists use loads of layers, some not so many, some very few. I tend to favour using as few layers as possible, but of course, you may want to use more.

There’s a few different ways to shade up your flats. For shadows, one way is to use the colour picker to pick each flat colour, and add shadows with a darker version of each colour. Another is to just pick a dark colour (dark red for warm shadows, or blue for cooler shadows etc) and use that for ALL your shadows. Both work, both give different effects. Same principles apply for lightening and highlights. I’ve used both, feel free to experiment.

With your shadings and highlights, it’s probably best to use a low opacity, and build up those shadows or highlights. You’ll have more control over things this way.

Once you’ve added shadows, and highlights, don’t underestimate the power of a secondary highlight, at the edge of the darker shadows – it can really add that extra ‘pop’ and bring an image forward. Examples of this can be seen on the Lou Scannon cover below, specifically on the hand holding the keys, and on Lou’s jacket sleeve.

Lou Scannon 3 – art by Gav Mitchell, colours by moi.


Now when it comes to physically adding the shading etc to colours, I’ll usually magic wand tool the area I want to colour on the ‘flats’ layer, then apply shading on the ‘shading’ layer. If the ‘marching ants of your selection annoy you, hit CTRL (or CMD) + H to hide them. Another option (if you want to really keep your shadows and highlight off of the colours) is to use a clipping mask. Simply make a new layer above the flats, right click it, select ‘Make Clipping mask’ and BOOM. The layer uses the layer below as the boundaries of it’s mask. Try it. It’s lovely.

I’ll do a lot of shading using what’s called the ‘Cut and Grad’ method – I use the lasso tools to make a rough selection, then use a low opacity Radial Gradient to build up colours (usually I set it to ‘darken’ for shadowsm and ‘lighten’ or ‘colour dodge’ for highlights). You then use the shift or alt keys in conjunction with the lasso tool to add or subtract from the selection, and then apply further shading. You build  this up piece by piece until you’re happy with the result, or you run out of time. It’s usually the latter. I’ll often use the pressure-sensitive pencil tool at about 60% or 70% opacity to add bolder highlight or bits of shading as I go along too. It’s nice for adding that extra shine to eyeballs…

Another method separate from ‘Cut and Grad’ is to just use the paint brush tool, and build up your shading that way. More involved, more work, but the effort really shows. You’ll notice I don’t have much of that work to show… ahem…

Once I’m done with shading, I’ll then add finishing touches like glows and other effects. I was going to cover them here, but this blog has taken a while to get done, so I’ll cover those in a final fourth part. In the meantime, have a look at the video below, where you’ll see me colour a page from Lou Scannon #7 (available to pre-order from here!) using a lot of the info from this blog! I apologise for my nerdy-ass voice and too-fast Welsh accent. Enjoy!

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