This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

How to do simple cartoon color in Photoshop - with vectors

If you're familiar with Adobe Illustrator, and know how quickly and easily you can do simple flat colors as vectors, you can do something similar in Photoshop.

Normally I would do a sketch in pencil and then draw the black lines in Adobe Illustrator. Of course in Illustrator all I have to do to add color is to put in a layer for color behind the layer for the line art. In Photoshop you have to do a few tricks, but you can get there.

Today I just wanted to add some color to a cartoon that I had drawn with a sharpie pen. The lines were fine they way they were, and it would have been too much work to re-draw all of it again in Adobe Illustrator. So I scanned it and brought it into Photoshop. And I had no intention of working tediously with the brush, trying to spray paint it all in. I've done that before and it's annoying and time-consuming, especially as it can be done with just a few clicks using vectors.

Of course, the scanned black lines are raster, not vector, so the first step was to get rid of the white areas, which I did with the Magic Wand and then Select > Similar and hitting the delete button. Of course Photoshop shows that grey checkerboard, which shows that you now have transparency, so I did a background layer filled with white, which I locked, just so I wouldn't have to look at the checkerboard while I worked.

The next step is using the pen tool, which is exactly the same as in Illustrator. If you know Illustrator, you'll be fine. There's the pen tool, the add add anchor point and convert anchor point. The direct select tool is the arrow that's white, not black, and it's two steps down on the tool palette, under the type tool. Like Illustrator, it takes a little care to select an anchor point, not the whole vector shape, but it's about the same.

I started the coloring the drawing above by creating a layer that I called "flesh", then as I used the pen tool, additional layers were created automatically by Photoshop. There can be a lot of layers, so it's best to keep it simple. There are layers for each chunk of white I drew, for his eyes and teeth. Of course in Illustrator, you wouldn't need so many layers, but this is a workaround, and Photoshop thinks a little differently. If this were to a be a complex cartoon, with a lot of colors, I'd have take the time to do it in Illustrator.

I just did this for the first time today, and it does seem a nice quick way to add color to a line drawing. I did a gradient on the background just for fun as a final flourish, by the way.