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Colorizing Line Art

Colorizing line art is really very simple: Start out by switching to RGB color mode, create selections inside your line art, and then colorize the selections on layers.

Quick Tip: Changing the mode of line art

If you open a line art scan (in Bitmap mode) in Photoshop, you'll have to convert it to a color mode before you can add color (that makes sense, right?). But Photoshop doesn't let you convert from Bitmap mode straight to RGB; you have to make an inter-mediate stop in Grayscale mode along the way. When you're in Bitmap mode, RGB mode is grayed out as a choice until you're in Grayscale mode. When you choose Grayscale (from the Mode menu) you'll be greeted with a dialog asking for Size Ratio. Leave the Size Ratio at 1 and click OK to convert your line art into Grayscale mode. Then, when you go under the Mode menu, RGB will be available as a mode choice.

  1. Scan your line art image in RGB mode if possible, because your image has to be in a color mode if you're going to add color to it. If your line art image is already in Grayscale mode, you can simply go under the Image menu, under Mode, and choose RGB Color.

  2. Figure 8.49

  3. Your scanned image will appear on the Background layer, but we need to convert it to a regular layer. In the Layers palette, double-click directly on the name "Background" and a dialog will appear where you can name your new layer. Name it "Lines" and click OK to convert your Background layer in a regular layer.

  4. Figure 8.50

  5. Create a new blank layer by clicking on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Then, go under the Layer menu, under New, and choose Background from Layer. This converts your just-created blank layer into a Background layer (we want one again, because it provides a white backdrop to work upon).

  6. Figure 8.51

  7. In the Layers palette, click on your Lines layer. Change its Blend Mode from Normal to Multiply. This makes the white areas of your lines layer transparent, leaving only the black lines visible (you can't see this onscreen yet, but you will soon). Press "w" to switch to the Magic Wand tool. Click once inside an area you want to colorize and the Magic Wand tool will select that area.

  8. Figure 8.52

  9. In our example, we clicked on the suits. (Note: You can use any selection tool you'd like: Lasso, Pen Tool, etc.) Next, hold the Command key (PC: Control key) and click on the New Layer icon. This creates a new layer directly beneath your lines layer and this is where you'll add your color. Choose a Foreground color, then press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill your selected area with color.

  10. Figure 8.53

  11. Press Command-D (PC: Control-D) to deselect. You'll continue this same process to colorize the rest of the image: click on the Lines layer, select an area with the Magic Wand tool, Command-click (PC: Control-click) on the New Layer icon to create a new layer under the Lines layer, pick another Foreground color, and then fill on that layer.

  12. Figure 8.54

Quick Tip: Design tip

Filling your selections with a flat color can make your colorization look, well...flat. Instead, try filling your line art with a gradient that goes from a lighter color to a much darker shade of that same color. For example, set your Foreground color to light pink and your Background color to a very dark pink. Make your selection on the Line layer, create your new layer below it, switch to the Gradient tool by pressing the letter "g" (make sure your chosen gradient is Foreground to Background), then drag this gradient from left to right through your selection. This gives the illusion of a light source and adds interest to your image. Note: Remember to drag your gradient in the same direction consistently so that your "shadows" will fall on the same side throughout your image (i.e., always drag from left to right, top to bottom, etc.).

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