Quick and effective colouring

Many webcomic artists swear by the premise that colour can make or break a comic.  When done well, colour can add an extra level to an otherwise flat and dull comic; perhaps even going to the extent of making readers take interest when they would otherwise have simply passed by.

But colouring can be a long and tedious process, especially with the anti-aliasing effect in Photoshop leaving a nasty border around anything that is block-filled without a perfectly straight edge.  So what can be done?

When inking comics in a program such as Photoshop, it is always a good idea to do the inking on an otherwise transparent layer.  This gives the advantage that the ink can be toyed with in many interesting ways, but it also gives a distinct advantage when it comes to colouring.  It’s true that colours can be bucket-filled directly onto the ink layer but doing this will lead to one of two results: either there’s a border around the colour; or the line work is eaten away by repeated clicks to get rid of the border.  Neither of these will make the comic look good, and will turn off readers by saying your comic is unprofessional.

Making a separate layer for the colouring is a good first step to avoiding both of these problems.  From here it’s possible to select areas (either using the lasso tool or magic wand) and bucket fill them with the required colour but doing this will still leave the anti-alias border that makes the colouring look amateur at best.  When choosing this route, be sure to then go around the bucket filled area with the brush or pencil tools and colour right up to the line work. Because the inking is on another layer, there is no need to worry about colouring over the lines; just keep the ink layer above the colouring layer and you’re set.

However, this method is still time-consuming.  On even a moderately complex three-panel comic, colouring with this method can take hours – often several times longer than it will have taken to do the inking.  Surely there must be a quicker method?  Thankfully, yes.

Another advantage of putting the inking on a layer to itself is that this layer can be duplicated.  Duplicating the ink layer and then repeatedly bucket-filling each section with the required colour has all the advantages that the bucket fill process gives you such as quick flooding of areas with colour and adds a brilliant extra feature: repeated clicking with the bucket fill tool will not affect your line work.

The duplicate layer will have a copy of the inking on it and it is true that two or three clicks with the bucket fill will eat into that copy of the lines, but that does not actually matter at this stage.  It is also true that when the line art is duplicated, it will look bolder than it did originally.  Don’t worry about that right now, it will be taken care of later.

The original ink is still on the original ink layer, so if the lines on the new layer are eaten away, who cares?  They’re not going to be seen anyway.  Fill to your heart’s content, but remember that Photoshop and similar programs will often flood areas of similar colour when the bucket fill is used multiple times; so some areas will still need to be coloured by hand.  The amount of time you’ll have saved more than makes up for this, however.

The left frame is hand-coloured, the right is coloured using the ‘duplicate ink layer’ method.
There is no discernable difference in ink or colour quality.

Once the colouring is complete, use the ‘colour select’ tool to select every instance of whatever colour you used for your inking, and delete it.  This removes the last vestiges of your copied line work from the colour layer (make sure you have the colour layer selected when you do this, or you risk losing your original inking!) and leaves the artwork free from the problem of embolding the ink.

The only downside with this final stage is that it can cause Photoshop to select dark colours as well as the duplicate line art.  This is an unfortunate consequence of the colour select tool and does mean some dark colours (mainly greys) will still have to be hand-coloured but, again, the speed advantage elsewhere means this process will still drastically reduce the amount of time you need to spend colouring.

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