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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section


Flesh Tone Coloring with Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro, from Ice Maidens to Drow

By :-) Maggie I. Wang

One of the most useful tricks to master in computer coloring is the ability to create realistic flesh tones quickly and relatively realistically. Nothing ruins the effect of a good fantasy portrait drawing more than a shoddy coloring job on the hero or heroine. How many times have you seen a wonderfully detailed pencil or ink drawing in an Elfwood gallery completely flattened (literally and figuratively) by inept, hasty computer coloring with the Fill and Airbrush tools?

Never fear, though! Make it through this comprehensive tutorial and you'll be able to kiss those skin-coloring blues good bye. Pay attention now, because Professor Maggie is going to share her secret techniques for coloring the fleshy bits of everything from pale snow maidens to dreary drow!


Some General Notes


  • The techniques in this tutorial work best with finished, shaded pencil drawings. This means that all shadows, details, and modelling are already in place.
  • The same techniques can be used to color other features as well--from hair to clothing. The key is to have a solid grayscale drawing (or digital image) first! I really can't stress this enough. If your shading skills with pencil or computer aren't up to par, this coloring method won't work for you. A badly drawn figure colored this way won't look like a glossy masterpiece; it will look like a badly drawn figure with a glossy coloring job.
  • This tutorial uses Photoshop 5.5, but the features required to complete the tutorial are also available in version 4.0.
  • Although the palettes and menus shown are from Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro 6.0 and above may also be used. Where appropriate, alternate instructions for Paint Shop Pro (PSP) are shown in blue.





Part 1: Selecting the Flesh Areas

1. Before you do anything else, make sure that you have your Layers palette open in Photoshop. If you don't see it in your work area, go to Window|Show Layers to open the palette. PSP: View|Toolbars|Check Layer Palette option, or click .
2. Open your black and white image file. If you originally scanned the image in Grayscale mode, you may have to go to Image|Mode|RGB Color to switch the image to a useable format. PSP: Colors|Increase Color Depth|16 Million Colors or SHIFT+CTRL+0 (zero, not letter 'O') 3. Now make a duplicate layer of your image by either selecting Layer|Duplicate Layer from the menu or dragging your background layer down to the New Layer button in your Layer palette. Name this layer Blur. (Tip: In both Photoshop and PSP, you can change the properties of each layer by double-clicking the layer.)
4. Click on the new Blur layer in the Layer palette to start working on that layer. Always keep a copy of the original drawing on one of the layers in case the coloring doesn't go as planned and you need to start over. It is also a convenient to compare your in-progress work with the original to make sure that you haven't altered the look of the image too much. 5. Select the Lasso tool from your Tool palette. Using the Lasso tool, select all the skin areas in your figure. To select non-adjacent skin areas, hold down the SHIFT key while selecting. To subtract from existing selection areas, hold down the ALT key while using the tool. (Tip: It is often easier to select the entire face, and then go back and subtract features such as the eyes and lips using the Alt modifier.) PSP: Selection type-Freehand, Antialias-Checked. Hold down the CTRL key to subtract instead of ALT.
6. Save your selection to an alpha channel by going to the Select|Save Selection... menu. In the dialog box, use the following settings:
  • Channel: New
  • Name: Skin
  • Operation: New Channel
PSP: Selections|Save to Alpha Channel|New Channel

Continue to Part 2: Preparing the Grayscale Model

FARP Article Guestbook

24 Apr 2007:-) Robert Bracey
I found this tutorial very useful. I am just starting to try and colour directly on the computer and this really helped.
27 Oct 200745 Dan Eliot
In the High School Web Design class that I teach, we use GIMP to do a "colorizing" assignment. I have my students visit this page to get their skin tones right when colorizing. The Photoshop settings work fairly well in GIMP. Thanks for the tutorial. We have all found it very useful.
2 Nov 2007:-) Sherri Cecil
Thank you so much, you really helped me alot. Ive been trying to learn to color on photoshop on my own for the last few months and this is the first tutorial ive read and i have to say it was very helpful. I decided to redo one of my pictures and its turning out so much better, though i am still working on it. Its nice how versitile psp is once you get used to it. Still learning though...Thanks again!
20 Mar 2008:-) Celeste ´Saphira´ Rigelhof
wow! thanx! this is very useful!!^_^
30 Apr 2009:-) Patrin Rexif
I took the same image you used, and it became wonderful!! Not exactly as the tutorial showed, but it was my first time and I was astonished!!! Thank you SO much! From now on, I’ll try to make some fantasy drawings too 1
14 May 2009:-) Vincent lamote
fantastic tutorial =D it works so well and is very usefull
thank you very much
13 Aug 2009:-) Paulette Diotte
This was a great help ^.^ I’ll credit this when I finish colouring and shading my drawing XD
11 Jan 2010:-) Olivia Summerville Farrar
Overall this tutorial worked pretty good, thanks so much for posting it and taking your time to create such a descriptive, informative Photoshop lesson. However, being a first-time Photoshop user, it was a little confusing to locate all the buttons that did not appear at first glance in the tools toolbar. Somethings about this tutorial were a little sketchy... after plenty of trial and error, however, this helped me deliver and my first Photoshop-edited picture ever, and a decent one at that. I might post it later.

The graph at the end for the colorizing/tinting of the skin was really great, albeit the effect isn’t identical to your model. Also, that part of the tutorial was tricky for me, on many levels... So, if I were a pro reviewer, I’d give this tutorial a 7 1/2 out of 10. Perhaps you could just make the instructions simpler to decipher in the fields of tool-buttons... so just maybe say where you can find them and all that. Otherwise, really great great helpful tutorial. 1
10 Jun 2010:-) Flitters Toes
Great tut and just what I need. Thank you very much for sharing and taking the time to do it so well.
14 Oct 2010:-) Sophie Jankowski
This is perfect! It solves so many problems I’ve been having. 1 Thanks!!
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