How long/How hard to learn Photoshop (for coloring hand-drawn pictures)?

A friend and I are working on a comic book. I’m writing it, and he’s penciling and inking it, but we don’t have a colorist. Since no one really wants to color something they don’t know anything about, and it’d also probably be pretty expensive to pay a good colorist and we still might not get exactly what we want, I was wondering if maybe I could acquire the skills to do it.

I have Photoshop, but I know virtually nothing about it. I can make some pretty cool-looking text but that’s about it. So, starting from scratch, would it be possible to gain the skills to color drawings and make them look professional and ready for publication in, say, 3-4 months? I don’t mean have the drawings ready in 3-4 months, I mean be ready to start working on them in 3-4 months.

If possible, what books and/or resources should I utilize? Any tips, tricks, tutorials?

We are putting our blood, sweat, and tears into making a legitimate, professional, “Marvel/DC/Image”-quality comic book. Black and white is not an option. We are adults who are prepared to invest (and willing to lose) actual money to get this done.

All I know about Photoshop is that it was very hard for me to do even simple things in it. My friends were able to pick up the basics in a few weeks though after just playing around with it and looking up tutorials on the internet. I really just stepped in to ask about the comic - are you planning on distributing it or putting it up online? I’m very curious about it now.

The first question I have is, what style of color are you wanting to give your comics?

Do you want a basic, “four color” comic panel, like this or something more like this?

The simpler one should be relatively easy to do in Photoshop, almost like filling in a coloring book. The second takes a good knowledge of shading, lighting, and the way a color may change under different light intensities. This can also be done with Photoshop, but requires a lot more skill, and a good understanding of lighting principles.

How skilled are you artistically?

Well - this sounds like a load of crap - and even though true, it doesn’t actually mean anything, but “I know a guy who knows Erik Larsen”, so our first effort will be to try to get it published by Image. If that doesn’t work (which we’re not holding our breath for), we’ll self-publish and distribute it. We’re not financial giants by any means, but we could probably come up with 1,500 bucks or so to sink into it.

Probably something in between. The second one (are those Joe Quesada pencils?) is closer to what my friend will be drawing (though he might not do quite that good) but I’m not an artist by any means. I was banking on him doing most of the shading and lighting with his inks.

If anyone is super-interested I could send you some really rough preliminary pencils.

I’d be interested in seeing what you’ve got. I work with Photoshop professionally, and though what I do is nothing like a comic book, I’ll help with whatever advice I can.

Here’s an example of what I came up with on break…

Please excuse the lame art; its a “free Spiderman Coloring page” I found on the net…

Here’s the original:


Here’s a “basic” color job:
Spider-lame, in color!

Here’s one where I played a little with the lighting:
Ok, still lame, but hey, I did all this in ten minutes…

I’m not sure Photoshop is even the program you want to be using. As pointed out it’s very complex. And can be very confusing, particularly as there are usualy several different ways to do anything you want done.

But I would thing for comic book coloration…well, if you jut learn the basic toolbar, and how to use the magic wand and the shading tools (and possiblly the fun fun filters :D) that might be enough. Which you can get from any basic book or tutorial. Just don’t worry about the further complexities.

Poeticyde, you’ve got mail.

Any suggestions for a better program?

Check out paintshop pro. It has 95% of what photoshop does and is much much more intuitive.

Oh, and it’s a lot cheaper.

Get a Wacom Digital Tablet if you’re going to do anything vaguely sophisticated with the coloring of Photoshop. If it’s a simple “coloring book” type job, though, you probably won’t need the tablet.

As far as learning Photoshop—well, it seems daunting, and it can be (and I think that very few really “master” it), but once you learn a few concepts you’ll be amazed at what you can do. I found the approach taught in this book to be really helpful—I went through the step-by-step tutorials, had fun, and learned a lot along the way. I think it’s a more painless way to learn Photoshop: Down and Dirty Tricks. I recommend it. (Get whatever edition is suitable for the version of Photoshop you own.) Also, this guy writes really popular Photoshop books. Also, there are a ton of Photoshop tutorials, for free, on the web. But I personally found the books to be the most helpful. And if you can afford it, instructional videos can be great. I learned so much from this guy in a short amount of time. It was amazing.

As far as publishing, if you can’t get it published by Image, you can self-publish for pretty cheap. Our own jinwicked is selling her comic book through CafePress, and I think she’s doing pretty well with it. There are no start-up costs when you go through CafePress, but I don’t think they print the interior pages in color (though they might be working on that).

I always found Photoshop much easier to use, but obviously everyone’s mileage may vary.

Besides, the cost of the program isn’t an issue, since Cisco says he’s already got Photoshop. Since it’s the industry standard, he might as well learn to use it. Heaven knows there are plenty of online resources, books, instructional videos, etc. for Photoshop—a far richer variety than what are available for any other photo editing/graphics program.

yosemite wrote

I don’t want to knock jinwicked, as I enjoy her work and she comes across as a nice person, but… I get the impression she’s busting her butt and living a life of poverty for her art.

Also, the big cost isn’t printing, it’s distribution. What Cisco (and jinwicked, in my humble opinion) really needs is either a distributor or a manager who full time sells their wares.

Um, to make certain that was absolutely clear, I was referring specifically to the “and I think she’s doing pretty well with it” part. I.e. financially, I don’t get the impression that’s true.

Very few people make the big bucks with self-publishing. That’s just the fact of it. “Doing pretty well with it” is a relative term—meaning, that she’s getting steady orders. That’s pretty good for a self-published effort. Most self-published works sell less than 100 copies total. I get the impression that she’s doing much better than that.

I don’t speak for jinwicked or for Cisco, but I suspect that their goal isn’t to make tons of money off of their comic books, but rather to publish them, get them out there, and sell more than a few paltry copies. I think jinwicked is already doing this.

If she (or Cisco) wants to expose her work to a wider audience, she needs to buy some ISBN numbers, set herself up as a publisher, go to mainstream POD printer like Lightning Source to print the books as orders come in (though I’m not sure they’re the best—but they’re big), and then sign up with That will increase potential sales by a lot, I’d think, and it wouldn’t be too expensive.

Photoshop is intimidating. There are some good resources out there. Adobe has this “classroom in a book” series for a number of their tools, including Photoshop. And it appears to be The preferred tutorial. However, the key is focusing in on the tools you will be wanting to use.

As to whether Photoshop was the correct tool, that question came to my mind as well. I’ve picked up Photoshop on my own, but haven’t really played with what’s out there. After thinking about it, I can definitely see where certain Photoshop characteristics could be very useful. So unless another tool has 1) layers and 2) history (to back up), I think Photoshop would definitely be the way to go.

I have long aspired (perhaps dreamed is a better term) of being a comic book artist myself. So I can relate to your situation. I will try to work up a “useful tools” list and how I might go about coloring a comic, and e-mail it to you. Give me a few days.

My experience has been primarily with image retouching/tweaking. And though I probably only use about 10% of what the tool is capable of, I am able to get reasonable results. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that you can just learn the tools you’ll need to get what you want done. You don’t need to learn everything there is with the program.

If you are using Photoshop, get the Wow! Book for your version. I have the Wow! Book for Photoshop 3; Amazon has one for Photoshop 6, 7, and 8 (CS).

These books aren’t really for the total beginner, but they are very good if you already know the basics. They are packed full of details and techniques for creating specific effects. There are other Wow! Books for Illustrator, Painter, CorelDraw, and other programs. It looks like all of the Photoshop Wow! Books back to version 3 are still available at Amazon, so you can get an older, cheaper version of Photoshop as well. It will do what you need.

My Wow! Book has a four-page segment on precidely the OP’s topic: colouring line art. With it, I figured out how to do this. :slight_smile: I was looking at the Wow! Book for Photoshop 7 and it did not appear to have the same technique. I wonder whether there is a lor of non-overlap among the books?

Basically, the Wow! Book technique is as follows:[ol][li]Scan your drawing.[]Clean up the scan.[]Isolate your hand-drawn linework from its surroundings.[]Select the outside of each piece of linework.[]Using the selection, create a solid white backing which is the same shape as each piece of linework. []Place the backing directly behind each piece of linework. []Duplicate the backing. [*]Colour the duplicate backing while keeping the linework visible.[/ol]This technique gives each piece of linework a layer of colour that is separate from the black-and-white linework, allowing the linework to be printed as a black spot-colour ink while the colour is printed by the four-colour process. The linework will be immeasurably sharper. [/li]
Each piece of linework also gets a white background. This enables you to place it in front of other elements of the picture and block them from view. Very handy at times.

In addition, having each element of your linework separated from the others and from the background means that you can move them around or replace them if they interfere with each other. In the linked image, I had to move the text around to not interfere with other parts of the drawing. No more the anguish of messing up the lettering and having to toss the whole drawing! :slight_smile:

My goal is to make a comfortable living off all my artwork combined. My comics have bolstered the sale of my other work, and people that like my other work have picked up my comic book. This is one of the reasons I have so much variation in style and subject matter within my work. The more diverse my audience the better chance I have at selling something. I’ve sold about 250 or more (lost count a while ago) copies of my first book since it was released last June, still selling 2-3 copies a week lately – not bad considering most of my promotion is word of mouth and the sales are all direct off my site. I make a bit less than $4.50 for every book sold.

Right now, yeah. I am pretty much living on the edge of poverty. But that’s kind of the risk I have to take if I am to ever really go anywhere with it. Fortunately a good chunk of my readers care enough and want to see me succeed (as so many of my artist friends/other webcomicers). I don’t do it out of any great love of art or comics… I do it because it’s the only productive thing I can do without going batshit insane or becoming suicidally depressed. I’ve just had a fucked up life all around. Art helps me deal with and lets me work around my other problems. It is something I need that is vital to my existence far, far more than it is something I ever wanted. And it’s work. A LOT of work. I just got done spending about 18 hours colouring the same picture 15 times over by hand. My boyfriend was ready to run away screaming he got so frustrated just watching me do it.

As for publishing, CafePress does not offer colour books. They contacted me to beta test their colour books, but I haven’t had time to put anything together because right now I am/have been literally working almost all the time I am awake on either accounting, my taxes, prints, website maintenance, or on artwork. I have a waiting list from people who want custom stuff. I’m doing the writing on my 2nd book already, because that takes over a month by itself. And I’m trying to find time in all this to work on my Asylum comic, because I actually have publishers interested in it, already, and I want it to be in the big box stores like your Borders books and such. Lunch Break is kind of my pet project and I don’t plan on even attempting to move it to a large publisher until I can get it in on the coattails of my other work. I went with CP because i already had a shop with them, the feedback I had heard on book quality was much higher than other PoD printers, and they have NO upfront costs. I have nothing but time to invest in it, so that was my best option.

As for Photoshop, I picked it up fairly easily, but it really depends on how much experience you have colouring non-digitally first, and how well you understand things like shading and lighting as a concept. For some people it’s all about using filters to mimic lighting effects and doing neat tricks (see for the work of a Photoshop god)… for me it was a matter of learning to use the tools in Photoshop in an equivalent manner to how I’d colour a picture on a piece of paper. If you’re wanting to just colour flats over black line art, use the “darken” paintbrush, and you can just fill in the colours with ease.

As for wanting to do comics in general… I have several friends that go to art school in New York, many of them have internships in animation houses and stuff. One of the things one of their professors keeps telling them is you can’t make a living off doing comics. And it’s true. Most comic (and webcomic) artists I know (myself included) make most of their money off selling the original comic art, doing commissions for people, going to cons, etc. The print comics market has done very poorly in the last few years, manga is slowly taking over, and many of the comic shops I used to go to have gone under. So I wouldn’t by any means plan on building yourself a whole life based on a comic book, because you’re going to have to do other things to help support yourself, unless you go the syndicate route a la Jim Davis or Dilbert and get yourself a character that can be sold as plushies and bumper stickers with wide general appeal.

YMMV, but my writer for Asylum has been involved with and following the comic business for something like 30 years and so a lot of what I know is based on his firsthand knowledge.

Fucking hamsters.

Here’s the condensed version:

If you’re trying anything more than flatting, I think it will take you years to get your skills up to par before you look decent. Especially if you don’t have any artistic talent to begin with, specifically color sense.

Check out Check the Colorist link in the forum to find/post for tutorials and see what everyone else is doing. You can also post a request for a colorist in the Talent Search. You will be surprised at how many people will be willing to work for free if it means getting their names printed. Because color printing is so expensive it’s rare in the indie set and the only way for some of these guys to break in is to do anything and everything for free/cheap as hell. Of course, the quality varies, so you’re on your own with that.

Two books *DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering * has nice theory if not actual practice and Digital Prepress for Comic Books will show you how much of a nightmare getting the thing printed will be.

Also, you’ll need a letterer. Don’t think that this is something you can pick up in a weekend yourself. Get a specialist. They’re cheap. And sometimes good.

If the above doesn’t work, I have some links for Laura Martin tutorials I can post.

Well, I’m not defending myself, because I really don’t plan on making my living in comic books, but that’s a load of shit. Your friends should tell their professors to tell that to:

Stan Lee (multi-bazillionaire)
Jack Kirby
Alan Moore
Todd McFarlane
Erik Larsen
Garth Ennis
Steve Dillon
Frank Miller
Joe Quesada
Mark Millar
Peter David
Brian Michael Bendis
Neil Gaiman
The Romitas
The Kubricks
Alex Ross
Brian K. Vaughn
Warren Ellis
Jeff Loeb
Tim Sale
Jim Lee
Will Eisner
Julie Schwartz
And lots and lots and lots of other people . . .

As far as the print comics market doing very poorly in the last few years . . . I have no idea where you got that impression from. Comics are doing extremely well right now, and in fact have probably never seen better days. People who haven’t read comics in 20 or 30 years are picking them up again due to the various movies that Hollywood has been bombarding us with for the last 5 years (Spider-Man is in the top-10 highest grossing movies ever if I’m not mistaken), and kids are getting into them in droves due to popular tv shows like Justice League and Teen Titans. And believe me, you have no idea how popular Sonic the Hedgehog comics are with kids right now. No, I don’t understand it either.

You’re right that Manga is very popular right now, but it’s not “taking over” by any means. For the most part, it’s a different niche. The people that are starting to read Manga never read American comics and probably never would have. If anything, going into the comic shop every week to pick up their Manga might eventually sway them into buying an American comic. The few people that read American comics before they got into Manga still read them primarily.