Step-by-Step How to Colour a pencil sketch / drawing in Photoshop

By heather at 4:09 pm on Saturday, May 26, 2007

monkey photoshop

This illustration technique me feels like I’m a little kid again and colouring in the lines! I really enjoy this style, as I can take my time with my B-pencil & smudge stick rendering an illustration… and then hop on the computer and create the final black & white and colour print-ready files respectively in a matter of minutes. It is an ideal style for creating a lot of illustrations in a short amount of time, as it achieves a traditional feel without the time involved in creating watercolour paintings.

The step-by-step process I follow to colour my illustrations in Photoshop is :

Illustrate the character with a graphite pencil on bond paper (I like printer paper as it’s smooth and fits on the scanning bed!)
Scan each illustrations at high resolution
Create a Photoshop file for the character illustration
Remove the character from the background and place it on its own layer, carefully removing the whitespace with a soft edged eraser tool or feathered magic wand selection (see below)
monkey photoshop

Adjust the contrast
Save out a flattened, grayscale version as a TIFF (I’ve set up an action to do this in Photoshop automatically for me)
Drop the B&W version into the InDesign layout

I then return to the Photoshop file and “colour” the illustration by :
Duplicate the graysale pencil illustration layer
Select “Hue & Saturation” (Under Image > Adjustments) and colourize to a sepia / warm brown colour (see below)

monkey photoshop

Add a new layer and set the layer to “Colour”
Select a colour and paint on this new layer… which in turn tints the sepia toned illustration layer below the new colour
Adjust the opacity of the Colour layer, or the Huge & Saturation until it is just right
Continue to add more colour layers until satisfied with the tones (often 2-3 layers of colour is enough for a single subject)

monkey photoshop

monkey photoshop

monkey photoshop

Create a new layer and set it to Overlay
Paint a few white highlights on the Overlay layer, then tint the opacity back a bit so it doesn’t burn out the colour beneath
monkey photoshop

Save the Photoshop file
Save out a flattened CMYK TIFF and drop it into the InDesign file

This illustration is part of Shilah James’ “Little Land Adventures” and is Heather Castles.

Filed under: work in progress, illustrations, business of illustration, tutorials, Little Land Adventures

8 Comments »

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Comment by Ayelet

May 27, 2007 @ 1:43 am

What a great tutorial! I think I’m going to go find me a pencil and try it out.. :)

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Comment by Crystal Driedger

May 27, 2007 @ 7:27 am

Interesting! The final product looks remarkably like a watercolour.

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Comment by J. M. DeSantis

June 11, 2008 @ 6:53 am

I’ve been browsing around your very helpful information for illustrators and found this page. In fact, this is something similar to what I’ve been wanting to do with my pencil drawings, and this tutorial just might be the ticket, so to speak. Thanks for posting this. I cannot wait to try it.

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Pingback by blog.illustrationcastle.com » Christmas Koala

July 28, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

[…] With it being winter here in Adelaide, it makes it a lot easier to start thinking about Christmas graphics for greeting cards! This Koala with a present is one of a few I created over the last week, now available royalty-free at ImageZoo. I start with a graphite pencil sketch, then apply a couple layers of colour in Photoshop. To see how I colour my pencil drawings digitally, check out this post. Filed under: illustrations — […]

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Pingback by Megalopolis » Mistureba: Ilustração

August 2, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

[…] - Como colorir um sketch feito à lápis no Photoshop (em inglês). […]

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Comment by Becka

November 5, 2010 @ 6:32 am

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!

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Comment by Kelly Martin

October 27, 2011 @ 7:38 am

Wow this looks so much fun. Now just need to get someone to buy me photoshop lol!

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Comment by Kim Paley

March 23, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

Wow, I am a self taught graphic designer (did foundation art and then interior design quals). I have been hand-drawing and scanning, then colouring digitally but didn’t know if this was an acceptable method. I am so pleased I saw your blog because I now know it is ok to do this :-)

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