05 3 / 2012
Your line art is no good and here is why.
I bet you’ve been faking it. I bet your Photoshop files are secretly a mess, and your line art layers are squishy and fuzzy.
It’s okay. This stuff can be hard. Here’s the right way to do it.
- Scan in full color, at 600 pixels per inch. Unless your drawing is significantly smaller than the final art will be, in which case you might bump it up to 1200 ppi. Don’t know how to scan? Read my post about scanning.
- Stitch your scans together. If your art is larger than your scanner platen, scan overlapping pieces then use Photomerge to stitch them together.
- Rotate and crop. You don’t have to commit to a perfect final crop now, but you definitely want your art to be straight at this point.
- Save this TIFF. You might need it later.
- Run my “Perfect line art” action. This will sharpen the edges, adjust the levels, and create a perfectly black and white version of your art. No grays, no fuzzy business. Every pixel is black or white. This is important. This action is based on steps for treating comics art shared by Dave Gibbons a few years ago.
- Using the Pencil tool, clean up dust and errors. Not a brush! Brushes have an antialiased edge, even if you max out the hardness. The pencil will either color a pixel white or color it black. No grays.
- Double-click the layer to unlock it.
- Use the Magic Wand to select the white. Uncheck “contiguous” so you select every white pixel in the whole document.
- Delete. Now you have black line art and transparency. Boom.
- Convert to RGB. Unless you’re not coloring your line art at all, in which case you’re finished.
- Create a new white Solid Color adjustment layer below your line art. This will serve as a background. You don’t want to go cross-eyed looking at the transparency checkboard while you color.
- Create a new layer between your line art and your background. This is where all your fills will live.
- Color your fills with the Pencil tool. Not a brush. Because you don’t have to worry about an antialiased edge, you can rough in the perimeter of every fill area, then use the paint bucket (check Contiguous!) to fill the interior. Don’t worry about the outside edge of a fill area. The lines will cover the edge up, right?
- Create a new layer on top of your line art. Your line colors will go here.
- Select the line color layer and click Layer → Create Clipping Mask or press Cmd-Opt-G. This uses the line art layer as the clipping mask for the line art color layer, meaning the colors will only show where there are pixels in the line art. Meaning you can be as sloppy as you want with your color layer.
- Use the Pencil tool to color your line art. Experiment with lines that are a tint of the fill color, a shade of the fill color, and the same as the fill color.
- If you have grays or textures in the original art, open the scan we saved.
- Use the Move tool to drag the scan onto the colored art file, holding Shift. This will align them exactly if you saved your scan after cropping.
- Drag the scan below the line art layer.
- Click “Add Layer Mask” in the Layers palette.
- Press D then X to select black, and click the paintbucket in the image to fill the layer with black. Remember, in a layer mask, black = transparent, white = opaque, gray = in between.
- Use brushes in white and black to unmask the grays and textures in the scan that you want to reveal. Make sure you have the layer mask selected and not the layer itself!
- When you’re done, run my “Save Flattened TIFF” action for an uncompressed, portable, flat, print-friendly file.
Are there other ways to approach colored line art? Of course. After years of iteration and incremental improvement, this is my process. See any holes? Want to suggest improvements? Let me know.