Digital Painting

This is part of Draw and Write Comics by Robot Outlaw. This article explains one of many varied methods that can be used effectively for digital painting. Specifically written with the comic book artist in mind, this tutorial attempts to break down and explain some of the nuances involved with the digital painting process.


This tutorial explains how to prepare comic art, created with pencil and ink on paper, for digital painting using Adobe Photoshop

NOTE: While there are many ways of reaching the final goal of creating digital art, this tutorial is provided for those who are not totally familiar with Adobe Photoshop, or the process of digital painting artwork from scratch. This is further aimed at those who are particularly interested in learning how to scan and prep a piece of comic art that was originally penciled and inked on paper, and wish to add colors to the piece via digital painting in Photoshop.


At this point your artwork should consist of inked black outlines on a white paper and should be as clean as possible. Be sure to completely fill in all lines and shaded areas with black ink. Use a good eraser to get rid of all pencil lines.

Once your artwork is inked, and cleaned, scan the image and save it to your computer. Name this file “original” and save it in a folder that you can remember, in case you ever need to revert back to the original version of the artwork.

Now open your scanned artwork file directly in Photoshop and SAVE this version as a PSD. Name this file “working” or something like that indicates this is a working version of your artwork, as this will be your working copy. You should now have two copies of your scanned artwork, one original version used as a backup, and one working version.

Digital Painting Comic Art in Photoshop
Sample of a scanned and digitally enhanced version of comic art, that was originally created with pen and ink on paper.
  1. Convert the Image to Gray-scale to eliminate any colors other then black and white.
  2. Adjust the Brightness / Contrast setting to get the darkest black and brightest white
  3. Convert the Image back to RGB
  4. Create a duplicate layer of the original artwork and name this layer Outlines
  5. Delete the layer with the original artwork
  6. Double click on the new Outlines layer to bring up the Layer Properties Window
  7. In the Properties window, below the Advanced Blending Options find the Sliders in the Blend If: section of the window.
  8. Use the slider for This Layer: and move the sliders in the White section to the left so you are moving your white sliders into the black area of the color bar.
    NOTE: Notice as you move the sliders that the white in your image will become transparent. The farther left you go the more transparent the white area of your image will become. This is the effect we want.
  9. You can fine tune this by holding the alt key and selecting one-half of the slider to break the slider in two pieces. Try this just to see the effects. My current settings are: Black 0 – White 27 / 52 (the dual number represents the two parts of the white slider)
  10. Press OK in the Blending Options window when you’re satisfied with the results, to close it and save your changes. These changes are not permanent and can be reversed at any time.
  11. Now we need to create a new layer and fill it with a mid-tone (I prefer to use a dark red) solid color so you can see your work more clearly. Name this colored layer Background and move it below your Outlines layer.
  12. Zoom in closely on your Outlines so you can see if more adjustments need to be made.
  13. If necessary make some final adjustments by repeating steps 6 thru 9, until you are satisfied with the results.
  14. Save your PSD


Now that you have your Outlines layer, there are a few more steps to prep the artwork before you begin painting.

  1. Create clipping paths around all of the pieces in your artwork.
  2. If you’re not familiar with clipping paths this is a good exercise to get familiar.
  3. Select your Pen Tool from the tool bar
  4. Begin anywhere you want and trace all the outlines of your artwork making sure you are able to close each path
  5. Don’t worry about being super accurate at this point. You can always go back and make adjustments later.
  6. Make sure to outline all the pieces of your drawing separately and again, don’t forget to close your paths.
  7. When you’re done with this open your Paths palette, you should see a layer named Work Path. Select that layer if its not already selected.
  8. Next open the Paths menu (its the little icon in the upper right corner of the paths palette) and choose Save Path.
  9. Now to make sure all of your clipping paths are on separate layers.
  10. Change your tool to the Path Selection tool
  11. Select one path and cut (Control-X or Edit > Cut) the path then click on the menu on the Paths Palette window
  12. This time choose New Path and a new clipping path should appear. Select the new Path layer and paste your path onto the new path layer you just created.
  13. Repeat this process until all of your paths are each on separate layers. This step is designed to help beginners learn more about paths and makes it easier for making path selections when you start coloring your image.
    NOTE: Be sure to save your work continuously

Remember each path represents a different piece of your artwork so you can to color each piece separately.


Once you have your clipping paths all defined change the fill color of your bottom Background layer to White. Then it’s a simple matter of choosing the colors you want for a particular path, create a new layer in the Layers palette, go back to the Paths palette and select the path you want to fill, convert the path to a selection and fill the path with the color you chose.

Using gradients is a great way to enhance the beauty and realism of your artwork so I highly recommend getting familiar with using gradients in Photoshop.

Make sure you create a new layer and name each layer in the Layers palette for each path. When you’re done you should have a separate layer for each piece of your drawing.

For adding highlights and shading effects to your artwork I recommend the Airbrush tool with a low opacity. Again be sure to put highlights and shading effects on separate layers.

The last step is to move the original Outlines layer to the top of the Layers palette so your outlines cover the areas of separation for the colors.


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