Coloring Webcomics: From Line Art to Digital Color | Sarah Andersen | Skillshare

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Coloring Webcomics: From Line Art to Digital Color

teacher avatar Sarah Andersen, Webcomics Artist & Illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction & Assignment


    • 2.

      Color Theory


    • 3.

      Picking a Palette


    • 4.

      Setting Up Swatches


    • 5.

      Creating Flats


    • 6.



    • 7.

      Editing Color


    • 8.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Add a pop of color to your webcomic! Join Sarah Andersen (of Tumblr webcomic Sarah's Scribbles) for an entertaining, 20-minute class about bringing a lined comic to life with a 4-color palette.

Why color? Well, color is great for conveying the mood of your comic and helping you establish your own signature style. In this class, you'll learn how to master this skill, from selecting your palette to the "ins and outs" of digital coloring. Lessons focus on swatches, flats, shading, and more.

By the end, you'll color your own line art or use the downloadbale templte to practice your skills. All you need is curiosity and Photoshop. This short class is geared for beginners, but intermediate and advanced artists will also enjoy watching a fun, quirky comic come to life!

Want more webcomics? Check out Sarah's first class, Creating Webcomics: From Sketches to Final Comic, as well as more webcomics classes on Skillshare!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Sarah Andersen

Webcomics Artist & Illustrator


Sarah Andersen is a 22 year old cartoonist and illustrator. She graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2014 and currently lives in Brooklyn. Her comics are semi-autobiographical and follow the adventures of herself, her friends, and her beloved pets.

Both Sarah's comics and illustrations have been acknowledged by the Society of Illustrators. The ongoing webcomic "Sarah's Scribbles" is currently syndicated on GoComics. She updates Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Due to a need to distinguish between her illustration and cartooning work, Sarah posts illustrative work separately. You can find that work here.


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1. Introduction & Assignment: Hello again everyone. My name is Sarah Anderson and you might recognize me from my other Skillshare class, creating web comics from sketches to final comic. I'm a cartoonist and illustrator and in this class, I'll be teaching you how to create a digitally colored comic. Color can make your comic look 10 times better by setting a mood and tone to your piece. Since color has such a wide range, the unique palettes you choose can eventually become a signature for your work. Your assignment for this class is going to be to submit one colored comic to the project gallery. Using some basic color theory, we'll pick a four-color palette and I'll teach you how to apply those four colors to a comic on Photoshop. You'll not only be learning how to choose colors, but also the ins and outs of digital coloring such as setting up swatches, creating flats, and shading. For this assignment, you'll need a recent version of Photoshop, I'm using Adobe Photoshop CC and I'm drawing with a webcam into S4 Tablet. Furthermore, for this assignment, you will need to have uncolored line art ready. I'll be providing a downloadable version of my line art. But of course, feel free to make your own. Let's get started with the basics and dive into some color theory. 2. Color Theory: All right, before we go into selecting a palette, we're going to go over some basic color rules. This might seem a little complicated at first, but it's actually quite simple when you break it down and it'll help making a palette ten times easier. This is your basic color wheel. There are 12 basic hues of color. Hues are the family of the 12 purest and brightest colors. The color wheel can be broken down all the way to your primary colors, which are red, yellow, and blue. Primary colors are the three colors that can't be created from any other combination. All other colors come from mixing these in some way. There's secondary colors. Green, orange, and purple are formed by mixing the primary colors. Tertiary colors like yellow, orange, blue, purple, etc. are formed by mixing a primary and secondary color. Now we're back to the 12 hues. So what does this mean about forming a palette? Well, first of all, a color's positioning on the wheel is really important. Where a color is located on the color wheel should have a lot of influence on the overall palette. Some basic formulas for color harmony go as follows. Analogous colors are any colors that are side-by-side on a color wheel. Shades of yellow and orange, for instance. These colors are so similar that they will naturally harmonize. Complimentary colors are directly opposite each other, like red and green. These create maximum contrast. Triad colors are equally positioned and thus balance each other. You also have another option which is monochromatic color. This requires a bit more explaining. A monochromatic palette is all the colors, tints, tones, and shades of a single hue. A tint is the mixture of a color with white and a shade is mixed with black. A tone is mixed with gray. So a monochromatic palette will look more like this. So how do you use these color rules to make your comic look great? I'll be showing you in the next video. 3. Picking a Palette: You can easily pick a four-color palette with any of the color rules I just mentioned. Here are some awesome examples of cartoonists and illustrators applying rules of color harmony to their work. Jillian Tamaki is an amazing illustrator and cartoonist. She often uses monochromatic and analogous colors to simplify her palette and create a mood. For example, this comic about making spinach pie uses green and yellow analogous colors. A lot of her other pieces rely on one color with several monochromatic variations. This awesome strip by Grant Snider uses a set of complimentary colors. The other colors he uses are neutrals. So the complimentary colors really make the comic book great. This bright poppy comic from Katie Skelly's Agent 9 is a wonderful example of a perfect cues of triadic color. So now that you've seen some examples of the diverse range of color you can use, it's time to go about picking your own. I'm now going to switch over to Adobe Kuler to show you some great color combinations. This program allows you to select the rules such as analogous and complementary, and it will pick out a palette for you. You can then adjust as you see fit. This is a great way to pick palettes that will definitely be cohesive. My favorite one is complementary because the colors pop so nicely. A great thing to try is to pick two complimentary colors to use together like in the compound option. Kuler gives you five colors, but for our assignments sake, remember to select only your favorite four. You can save your pallets from Kuler and even download them. Well, I was just demonstrating on the website which is accessible to everyone. You can also get Adobe Kuler as an extension on Photoshop CC, which makes it easier to keep your palettes handy. There are other ways to pick palettes, of course, and one way is to simply experiment in Photoshop until you find colors that look good together, but keep those color rules in mind. Another method is to color dropped from pieces you like. If you see an image that has great colors, you can bring it into Photoshop and simplify it to its basic colors by pixelating it. To do this, go to Filter, Pixelate, Mosaic and make sure the squares are big. You've now got blocks of basic color and you can use the dropper tool to pick what colors work best for you. No matter what method you use to choose your palette, remember that the colors you pick will say a lot about your comic. For example, if you're looking to create something serious and moody, monochromatic colors and blue will look beautiful, but they wouldn't necessarily work for something poppy and upbeat. Katie Skelly's, Agent 9 wouldn't have the same punch if it didn't use strong triadic colors. Colors have strong connections with mood. So think about what colors you associate with what emotions before finalizing your palette. Before we move on to the next video, I'm going to give you some final quick tips. Try to avoid colors that are too pure. This means colors that are too direct and saturated. Colors that have a variety of tones tend to look the most professional. Also, more neutral colors like skin tones and graze won't affect your palette too much. So it's okay if you need to use them later when you're coloring. Once you know what colors do you want to include in your palette, you can move on to the next video where I'm going to show you how to set up swatches in Photoshop so your colors are permanently accessible. 4. Setting Up Swatches: We're now going to set up swatches. Since we'll be saving this part, double-check that your settings in Photoshop are correct. Make sure you've got your image on RGB mode and that your image is high resolution or at least 300 pixels per inch. As you can see, I've been experimenting with palettes and made a small sketch to test one out. Once you've selected your four colors, you want your palette to be easily accessible in Photoshop. If you've decided to get Adobe Kuler as an extension, you can use that as your palette. However, here's a tried and true method that many cartoonists use. In your color bar, select "Swatches", delete all your current swatches by hitting all and clicking. Don't worry, this isn't permanent. Now select the Eyedropper tool and select your first color and hit "Add To Swatches", name it anything you like and do this for your other three colors. You can save this palette as a swatch set by selecting the drop-down menu and saving. You can reload your original swatches if you want by going to the drop-down menu and selecting "Reset Swatches". You can choose to append, which means you will add them to your new palette or just select "Okay" to replace them. If you want to access your new palette again later, now you can simply go to the drop-down menu and add once again. That was all pretty simple, right? Now your colors are easily accessible at all times. Let's get to actually coloring. 5. Creating Flats: Now that you've got your palette accessible and in order, I'll be showing you a simple and effective way to lay down color. Almost all illustrators and cartoonists start coloring by first creating flats. These are your basic simple blocks of color. Flats makes selecting, editing and shading individual colors much easier later. Ideally, you should be making your flat on one layer beneath your line work layer. For this part, we're going to be using the pencil tool because unlike the brush tool, it has no soft edges. It's easiest to work from the bottom up. You can just fill your background color and first by selecting the area and then hitting alt delete. For the sake of neatness and simplicity, the edges of each color should match up and all of your flats should be adequately filled. Now, select the shade that you want to use next and delicately outline under the line work. From there fill and then work on layering up your colors. While this skin tone color isn't technically part of my original palette, it's neutral enough that I'm going to use it because it's necessary. Like I stated before, flats make editing much easier. I'm actually not too happy with the blue color because I think it's a little too dark, so I'm going to use that to show you how you can edit everything very quickly. If you decide to alter a color, you can use the magic wand selection tool and then select the color with anti-alias and contiguous turned off. Turning off anti-alias means you will have no soft edges, and turning off contiguous means you will be selecting every flat of a particular color. You can now alter all the areas of this one color together as a whole. If you've got your flats downright, shading should also be pretty easy. I'm going to show you how to do that in the next video. 6. Shading: Before I show you how to apply your shading, here's a basic overview. Since we're shading a comic and not a highly realistic piece, you should probably limit yourself to a highlight and shadow for each color. Typically, your highlight color should be less saturated. So pick it from the top left of the color picker where it mixes with white. In cartooning, which doesn't have to be particularly realistic, I tend to prefer shadows that are more saturated in color instead of mixed with black. To me, this makes it look a little less muddy, but it's up to you to find a shadow that works well for your own piece. One thing that I highly recommend that you do not do is use the burn and dodge tools. These tools tend to ultimately look overly digital and blown out. It's much better to use your own eyes to pick colors that work best for your piece. To apply your shading colors, select one of your flats with the magic wand tool. This time, keep contiguous turned on. This means your selection will be confined to this color's edges. Now, while you have that selection, create another layer. Pick your shading color and paint over the area you want shaded. The brush you pick here will really have a big influence on how your shading looks. I love to use big fuzzy brushes to create light shades but hard brown brushes look equally as good, especially for comics. I also love finding a good textured brush to apply shadows with. The one I'm using here is from Kyle's mega pack, which as you can see, has tons of cool brush options. I'll include a link in the resources section to download it. For the shading for my piece, I'm going to keep it as simple as I can. I'm using a vague, fuzzy brush to block and large soft shades of color, and a hard brown brush to shade smaller areas. I'm also going to be keeping highlights to a minimum. As you can see, I'm not using very many blending techniques. But then again, it wouldn't make sense to have complex pink jelly shading for a simple cartoon. One final touch, if you want to keep your comic cute, add some little pink cheeks. 7. Editing Color: Once you're done coloring and shading, you might want to make some minor tweaks. Final editing are my favorite product coloring because even small changes can really make your piece pop. Photoshop has so many great methods of editing color, and here I'll show you some of my own shortcuts. Adjustment layers are a great way to tweak your piece, and since you'll be making these adjustments on a new layer, you don't have to worry about any permanent changes. Simply go to layer, new adjustment layer to create one or hit the new adjustment layer button. There are tons of options for which adjustment you can pick, but here are two of the most commonly used ones. If you're piece is lacking in the contrast department, a quickly to amp up your shadows and highlights is by adjusting the levels. The left slider control shadows, the right slider controls highlights, and the middle slider controls mid tones. Watch as my image changes in tonal range. Similar to the levels option, the curves option can help you adjust shadows, mid tones and highlights. Dragging the curve down will amp-up shadows and dragging it up, will add highlights. One thing to try in the curve section is making an S-shaped curve, which is a classic tweak that helps boost contrast. The bigger the S-curve, the bigger the effect. There are so many more adjustment layer options including hue and saturation. You can play around until you find something that works for you. I like this effect, but I feel that is too strong. If you want to minimize a certain effect, just lower the opacity on the layer like I'm doing here. When you create a new layer, you can opt to alter the blending mode. What this means and overly simplified terms is that it changes the way this layer interacts with other layers. Here I'm going to fill in a new layer with the sepia color and show you what happens. Blending modes are divided into basic groups, but I'm just going to go over the first three. The first section is the darkening section, and the most commonly used one here is multiply. As you can see, the entire image has been darkened with a wash of sepia. Going to the next section, the lightened section, I'm going to hit "Lighten", and as you can see, the entire image has been lightened with the sepia tin. Now I'm going to select "Overlay" from the contrast section, and that contrast has been amped up in that same sepia tone. If some of the effects are a bit too much, you can always turn the opacity down. While I use sepia here just for the demonstration, you can play around with all sorts of colors and blending modes. One of my favorites is light pink on the soft light settings. Sometimes I'll use more than one layer and offset the pink with a blue color. Blending modes are a bit unpredictable, so the best results usually come from experimenting with colors, modes, and opacity until you find something that works. As a final thought, remember to keep all your edits on separate layers so you can shut them off if need be. I find that I often spend way too much time editing because it's fun, but usually you don't need that much of a change. Just a tweak here in there. I've decided not to use the blending mode alterations and I'm just going to keep the minor hue and saturation adjustment. 8. Final Thoughts: Knowing your basic ins and outs of coloring can greatly improve your web comic. Even though most daily strips tend to be black and white, book covers, banners and special edition strips are usually colored. Having a beautifully designed pallet adds professionalism and character to your overall strip. Since color is much more complicated than black and white work, it may take some time before you grow comfortable with it. However, the pallets you choose and the mood you set with your colors can really define your strip and make you standout to others. While you should keep those color wheel rules in mind, remember that whatever looks good, looks good. Color is not an exact science. If you finish coloring your comic, it's time to upload it to the project gallery. Remember to save a Photoshop version with all your layers so you can edit later. Flatten your image and upload a low resolution version to the project gallery. Congratulations on finishing your colored comic. Hopefully, I've helped you make your web comic brighter, cheerier, and more you.