Since this is something I’ve delved into a bit more recently, and it’s something that I keep getting questions about, I decided to type this up. Obviously, it’s a lot different than my normal material.
To start off, let me give you an idea of why I started doing this kind of thing – about a year ago, a little bit of art for Persona 4 Ultimax had come out, one example being the image from Yukari’s Instant Kill. I thought it would make a nice wallpaper, so I searched and searched, but I couldn’t find anything usable. Not very surprising, considering that the game wasn’t even out yet. However, it gave me an idea – what if I re-created the image in higher quality, all for the sake of using as a wallpaper?
Well, that’s what I spent spring break doing. I took the base image and worked through it chunk by chunk, my first time doing such a thing, and my first time using Photoshop for anything remotely extensive. While I am very happy with the result, the path to completion wasn’t even remotely efficient, which I’ve fortunately improved over time.
More recently, I’ve been doing something a bit different than direct copies – I’ll take an anime “key frame” or black-and-white art, and then re-do the lines and color it. A few of these projects haven’t actually been completed, but I am fairly happy with the ones that I did finish. Excusing the fairly substantial gaff that originally marred my most recent.
Anyways, time for the mini-tutorial! For reference, I use Photoshop CS6, but I’m pretty sure that everything is easily doable in other versions of the software, or a free alternative such as Gimp.
Step 1: Preparation
First off, you’ll want to pick an image to work with, and open that up. I definitely recommend something simple for your first try, especially if you’re not familiar with the pen tool or image editing software in general.
Then, you’ll want to prepare a few things. What size will the image be? Portrait or landscape? Do you need a background? I also highly recommend opening a reference image that you can pull colors from.
Then, you’ll want to set up your main layers. What I normally do, from top to bottom, is primary highlights – lines – secondary highlights – shadows – color – fill. Realistically, it always ends up more complicated than this, especially once I’m working on eyes.
Step 2: Lines
For lines, short of using a tablet or drawing and scanning in clean lines effectively, your best friend will be Photoshop’s pen tool (the keyboard shortcut is P). With this you can create straight lines or curves, and bend them as necessary. If you right-click while using the image, you can choose to draw a line along the path, fill in the path, or make a selection. To be fair, it’s the kind of thing that’s better to fiddle with rather than just reading about.
The thickness and color will be based on what brush you’ve chosen, so one of the first things you’ll want to do is make sure that the line isn’t too thick when compared to the original. You’ll also want to pick a color – 8 times out of 10, you’ll just want basic black, but sometimes it will vary from one part of the image to another, and sometimes you’ll just want to use a different color altogether.
Most importantly, try to do all the line-work now, and make sure it all stays on the “lines” layer. Place the points with the pen tool, drag or use Alt and Ctrl to alter the curves, and then right-click and choose Stroke Path once you’ve done a portion (don’t try to do it all at once) to set the line. Once that’s done, make sure to right-click and delete the path. If you end up making a mistake, either undo ASAP or try to correct it. A problem here can cause issues down the line, and correcting lines can be quite complicated if you’ve already done all the coloring.
Step 3: Base color
Now that you’ve done the lines in the image, you can do the basic coloring. This basically consists of two steps.
First, you want to figure out what colors to use, which makes a reference image image helpful (if the image you’re cloning doesn’t have color already). Don’t worry about shadows or highlights right now, just the main colors. Then, with the lines layer selected, you can use the Wand tool (W) to select all the areas you want to be a specific color. Then, go to Select – Modify – Expand, and expand the selection a few pixels. Select the color layer, then use the Paint Bucket tool (G) to fill in the selection. You’ll notice that this isn’t a perfect way to fill in, which leads to part two of this…
Filling in corrections. After doing the main color fill for everything, you’ll probably notice several points where the color should be, but is missing – tips of hair, sharp edges, etc. Once you’ve done all of the main color with the selection method, you’ll want to select the layer under that, “Fills,” and use your brush tool (B) to fill in the blanks. I recommend putting up a black or white background (depending on whether your lines are black or not) to help the gaps stand out.
You may want to wait until you’ve done shadows and highlights to do this, but that depends on how exactly you do those. It’s basically personal preference.
Step 4: Shadows and highlights
In layers above the base color, you’ll want to do shadows and highlights. While the wand tool selection technique will work if the shadowed areas are completely enclosed by lines, you’ll probably need to do selections a bit differently here.
The easiest way is a combination of the stroke path and fill path features of the pen tool. Select the shadows layer, which should be above the main color and fill layers, use the pen tool to create lines and curves encompassing the area that you want a shadow in, then right-click and choose stroke path, and then fill path.
You may need a second highlight layer – for example, a glint on a character’s eye may be on top of lines you’ve already drawn in. It’s easier to just make a new layer than it is to try and neatly erase, especially if you’re relying on the Wand tool for selections.
Step 5: Complex parts
Sometimes, certain parts are better put off until the end, the most common example being eyes. The main issue here is that there are commonly a lot of colors in a small area, so there’s not a simple way to do this neatly in a single layer. Any other things that are a bit more detailed than the rest of the image would be better off handled separately at this point.
Step 6: Overall lighting/effects
Lens flare? Lighting gradient? Weird effects? Now that the main image is done, it’s time to apply the special stuff!
A lighting gradient can really help to add some dynamics to an image. The simplest way to do this is a white to black gradient, then set the blending method for the gradient layer to something such as overlay or soft light. Once that’s settled, you can tweak the opacity to your desired level of effect.
And that about sums this whole thing up. Most importantly, just remember that this is how I’ve ended up doing this after a bit of trial and error, but it’s probably far from the most efficient, and certainly lacking in a degree of quality. While these steps may help you get started, experimenting (and winging it) will likely give you the best results.