I’d been asked about this over on the Illolife RPG Facebook group, so I decided to put together an overview of the process I use when doing a cell shaded/comic-book style character design, from start to finish.

1. Thumbnail

As with any illustration, I start out with a thumbnail sketch. I find that the smaller I work, the better I am at balancing a figure’s initial proportions, so my figure thumbnails tend to be no bigger than an inch or so. Once I’m happy with the gesture and rhythm of the figure, I take a quick snap of it with my phone (I do this a lot, rather than using a scanner!) and transfer it via Photostream to my PC, and then into Photoshop.

2. Digital Rough

Once I’ve got the thumbnail into Photoshop, I work over it using the Cintiq and flop (flip horizontally) the image regularly to check that it reads correctly. I stay away from detail at this stage and worked zoomed out, just working on blocking out volumes and forms, so I don’t need to worry about them in the next stage.

3. Pencils

With the roughs done, I print them out on A4 paper in a very light grey, and then proceeded to tighten the drawing up using an F pencil (weirdly my favourite graphite pencils). I make sure to reference my skates, satchel and scarf while drawing so that the props and costume look accurate.

4. Prepare Bluelines

With the pencils finished, I scan the lineart in and print it out on A4 Bristol board in blueline. To create a blueline version of the pencils, you simply change the image mode in photoshop to from Greyscale to Duotone (Image>Mode>Duotone). In the Duotone options, I double click the colours swatch and set it to 20% cyan, which is light enough to see, but not dark enough to interfere when scanning the inks.

5. Inks

I chose to ink this traditionally, using a .35mm Rapidograph and a Kuretake brush-pen. I opt for a more graphic style with a slab outline as opposed to a more cursive comic book style. I would have preferred to ink this with my favourite tools (Raphael 8404 #2 brush and FW ink), but I was inking at Drink and Draw so had to use what I’d brought with me.

6. Separating The Lineart

After scanning the inks and cleaning them up using the levels tool, I selected the lineart by going to the channels palette and command clicking on ‘Blue’. Invert this selection with CMD+shift+I (or Ctrl+Shift+I on PC) and then create a new layer. Paint bucket fill this layer with black. From here, you can either hide or delete your original scan, as the lineart is now separated.

7. Flats

Using the Lasso tool, I make selections and bucket fill these areas on a new layer underneath the line art. Make sure that you don’t have any feathering set on the Lasso tool, as you want crisp areas to be able to make selections from (using the Magic Wand tool). The layer is then duplicated, locked and hidden at the top of the stack to create a layer to make selections from. The original flats layers stays underneath the lineart, and serves as the base to build colour upon.

 8. Colouring

The fun begins! With the correct local colours in place (I tweak the flat colours before I start to make sure that I’ve got the right base colours to work over), I first made the choice of lighting direction and colour. Using a clipped colour burn layer to begin with, I selected a mid saturated purple (my light source colour) and created a gradient over the bottom half of the image, to create the cell shade/anime look I was going for. After getting the overall tone sorted with that, I then started sectioning off the image with masked groups.

Within these, I would create one screen and one multiply layer, that I would then make lasso selections in and apply a 22% radial gradient to build my volumes. I used this technique on every part of the character (in some instances though, I found overlay or linear light modes more applicable than Screen. If in doubt, experiment!). I work systematically through the illustration like this, until all of my cuts and shading are done. I might go back and add a unifying gradient over the top of the lot of it sometimes (maybe as a low opacity ‘Colour’ layer) just to tie the image together if necessary.

9. Lineart Bloom

I call this effect bloom for lack of any other technical definition that I’ve managed to find. It’s the sort of line softness that you see in anime mostly, and it took me a while to figure this one out. To begin with, duplicate your separated lineart layer (we’ll call this the Bloom layer), and then move it beneath the original. Hide the lineart layer, and then open up the Gaussian blur options with the bloom layer selected. Blur it by approximately 5px (you’ll need to eyeball this as to your preference!). Once done, hit CMD+U or Ctrl+U and bring up the hue/saturation options. Tick the ‘colourise’ radio box, and pick a hue to colour the lineart. I would ordinarily aim for a sepia colour (as it tends to work quite nicely and give a more analogue feel), but in this instance as the unifying colour of the piece was purple, I opted to go with that. Bump up the saturation and lightness so you can see it, and then hit ok. Now when you toggle you Lineart back on, you can see the bloom sitting underneath it! I went further a well and combined the bloom effect with a colour hold over the original lineart, which is done using the same ‘colourise’ technique, but with the lineart layer selected.

10. Finished Colours

…and we’re done!

If you’ve any comments, queries or suggestions as to other methods, I’d love to hear about them in the comments; Or if you’ve used this method to colour some artwork I’d love to see it!