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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section

Cel-style digital coloring, Take 1

By :-) Liz Chesterman

Animation cel-style coloring on the computer isn't that difficult if you just apply a ltitle common sense and basic shape/form knowledge. Here's one idea of how to work.

The character featured, Demon Hizu, is copyright/property of myself.

Simple enough, start off with an image file of lines on one layer, and put the colors on a layer below the lines.You can even name all your layers different things to keep yourself organized.


I like to make a base layer that's completely covered. This keeps me from having color gaps later on (tiny, almost unnoticeable, but irks me, gaps). The base color does not have to have any bearing on the figure. I usually use a color that's easy to tell if I've gone outside the lines or not. You may also want to consider using a non-white background, especially if you plan to color the background. When you are finished applying the base tone lock the layer and fill it with another color if that is your desire.


So now all my base colors are done and on one layer. (I named the layer Color as well.) This just saves file spage; you're welcome to put all the colors on different layers if you like. Whatever way you feel most comfortable with works.


Since my colors are separated by nice, hard lines I use the Magic Wand tool to select an area, then


which duplicates and promotes to a new layer.


This lets you work on one area independently of your main colors, and also preserves your colors on their original layer. So if you totally mess up, you can delete the new layer and start again with your original colors. I usually merge back to the flats/colors layer when I'm done.

Don't forget to lock out your layer. That'll make for easier coloring, as you won't have to worry about coloring out of your preset area.


I'm going for the really authentic cel look, so I've used a thin brush (4px) to outline where my shadows will be. This outline is slightly darker (and greyer) than the actual paint shade will be.

This step is unnecessary, but I like the effect.


Using the paint bucket tool fill in the areas you've marked out. You may want to zoom in and spot check for thin areas that may not have been covered.


Don't forget to line in the areas covered by black lines, or you'll spend forever trying to figure out why the bucket is covering your whole base.

Realize that because you're working in Photoshop with the paint bucket you're probably going to want Tolerance between 10 and 30. This way your bucket won't leave partially covered areas where your shade meets your line. (This is working with alias on.)

You can also try double clicking the paint bucket on a fill. Your lines will lose some of their thickness, but it's not that noticeable.

Vector based programs (like Freehand, Illustrator and Flash) won't give you these problems. So instead of Photoshop you can try using one of those.


Alot of artists beginning to use cel-style often wonder where to put those shades. It's really puzzling to those used to soft style.

It's best to place hard lines where you'd normally put a really dark shadow. Simplify that shadow to one color instead of a gradiation, and don't bother with subtle shadows.


Alot of beginners also go nuts with highlights, and just arbitrarily place them on opposite sides of the shadow. ("Every shadow a highlight!")This can lead to a very odd and sloppy looking picture. Usually you're going to want to concentrate on shades, and save highlights for shiney or reflective surfaces (eyes, hair, metal, etc).

(As this quickly done example demonstrates) Notice also how the highlights take up almost or equally half an area of base color. You'll usually want more base color than highlight or shadow. Except in cases of extreme light (dark or bright), limit your extra tones.


If you really want that extra tone, try making another shade. Be careful not to go overboard with those as well.

Here's an example of an extra shade. I decided the lower right area (his left) of his shirt could benefit from a few darker folds.


My normal tendency is to put a shadow under the nose, seeing as it's normally a very dark area. In this case it's not needed, as his nose is so small and close to his face. A shadow would only obscure the nose.

Don't be afraid to stray from your normal methods; give yourself fresh insight and try different things with different characters and lighting styles. It leads to a larger variety and understanding of design.


I was going for a particular style with this character. But since Akira Toriyama has a whole lot more knowledge and experience with muscles, I can only try a hack imitation.

Anyhow, I've tried to make his chest and abs stick out a bit here, and I'll be going back later to add darker shadows and tweak the existing ones.


By playing with the way I did the shadows, I got a semi-shiney look to his horns. The gentle wavy lines combined with leaving a small area behind the shadow unshaded gives the impression of a somewhat reflective surface. (Reflective surfaces are shiney becaues they pull the colors around them, and often also make brights brigher or darks darker.)


Here I like how the jewel holders and the buckle came out, but I don't like the overall look of the bands around his waist.


So on back to the bands and with a little simplification... that looks a bit better. Probably still too shiney.


While my main colors are on one layer, I've not merged any of the new layers I've made. I like to leave my layers separate until I'm done, for easy tweaking in case I go back. (Yes, your file will probably get really big (especially working at 200+dpi, but it'll shrink dramatically when you merge everything at the end).

Don't be afraid to go back. Don't set anything in stone, especially while you're working. Personally, I won't leave anything set until I'm done with a file. I'm not big on going back and fixing once I consider a work 'done.' Instead, I prefer to note what I liked or didn't, and try to improve that with the next work. But that doesn't mean I won't change lots of things while I'm still working on a file.


Ahh the hair; a demon of it's own. I did each spike separately, with two things in mind: How much it sits up and how much shadow may be cast on it from another spike. And I kept the shadow lines jagged to better suggest uneven hair.


But the back of his head is looking flat compared to the front, so I'll just add some darker tones back there.


In keeping with the Toriyama style, I've left his eyeballs white and used just a light blue highlight on his eye instead of a white one.

With more complicated or elaborate styles you can really get into highlights and shadows all over the eye, but that's unnecessary here.

And with a final touch (changed the black line on his face to red to simulate blood) my image is done.

Add signature and Voila!

Alot of artists will add soft highlights of white over existing colors and lines for more of a glistening effect, but in keeping with a more traditional animation style I've not.

Don't be afraid to play with your work.

If you'd like to play with coloring my demon, you can download a .zip of the PSD.

Demon lines.zip (270Kb)
(PSD, prelayered: 72dpi ; 982w x 800h; 402Kb)

FARP Article Guestbook

11 Jun 200445 Brainwired
Wow nice work men..Keep it up....
Hoping for more tutorial about digital coloring..
20 Jul 200445 Anonymous
What program do you use?
3 Dec 200445 Archer
Oh I also want to say that this is an awesome tutorial. Thanks for posting it. It helped me with my cg coloring.
Great drawing! 12
3 Dec 200445 Archer
"Don't forget to line in the areas covered by black lines, or you'll spend forever trying to figure out why the bucket is covering your whole base."

A trick I use is draw what is needed then use the wand to select the area I want to fill. It masks off the area for the shadow without drawing under the black. It works for me, I use Corel Photo-Paint which I don't think will make a difference.
26 Jul 200545 Tasja
How do you merge the seperate pictures?
22 Mar 200645 Manga Otaku
Liz-san Arigato! This is all very helpful to a manga artist like me. I've tried colouring my anime characters with my "pro markers" but it is just not the same. I would love to see more of you work and even some "how to draw" manga turorials would be great!
P.S. how do you colour the jewels like that?
P.P.S. I'm very greatful for your help
P.P.P.S. Otaku means some who's crazy about somthing
1 May 200645 Fizzle
If you put the layer with the lines on the blending mode "multiply", the white won’t show on the color layers below it. Just a thought.

:-) Liz Chesterman replies: "This is true, but by having the lines sans-white it’s much easier to color them, if desired."
9 Oct 200645 Ilena G.
Very well explained tutorial. I used to be afraid of cel style, but I'm willing to give it a go now. Wish me luck ( :
8 Feb 200845 Talika
that greate
28 Feb 200945 GoddessEternal
Absolutely brilliant! Thank you for the use of your demon as practice, that is a very helpful tool.
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