process section 3
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process contents

section 1: pages
chapter one: planning a page of the spirit
chapter two: drawing a page of the spirit

section 2: covers
chapter three: planning a comicbook cover
chapter four: making the final cover
chapter five: making a comicbook back cover

section 3: computer coloring NEW!
chapter six: the line art scan
• chapter seven: the color art
chapter eight: color and design

section three
chapter seven
the color art

If you slavishly copied my procedure in the previous chapter, you now have in your possession a 1200 dpi line art bitmap of the image you plan to color. Your aim is to create a lower resolution (300 dpi) color art file that "registers" with the higher resolution line art image. The two files will later be combined on press.

I'm forced by software bugs to sidetrack my discussion with a minor but important technical point. When you save your 1200 dpi line art file, check the Canvas Size setting in Photoshop´s Image menu. If your canvas size exceeds two decimal points, as it likely does, you'll have to round it off. Photoshop has a little known flaw where the file size is slightly altered when converted to a lower-resolution colored image. If your "canvas" is "6.621 inches" wide, for instance, eliminate the thousandth decimal place so it reads "6.62 inches." Photoshop will warn you that "some clipping will occur," but the clipping is unnoticeable. Just ignore the warning. If you fail to follow my advice your black plate and color plate will be off-register (the ink file won't align with the colored file). Your printed art will look like an old issue of Disco Dazzler where the colors don't fit inside the black lines.


I know cartoonists that simply color the black line art on underlying Photoshop layers. I don't like this method for two reasons. First, the file size that sustains high resolution blacks is enormous when colored, and second, the line art isn't separate from the color art. It's all in one file, which means you don't get the inky black outlines we love so much in comic art. The black is instead assembled from other colors, so it looks faded and amateurish. Believe me, you want to follow these instructions. They're not as tedious as they sound.

fig 1 Tuck your colors under your black lines.




"Butt" the color art
flush up to the edge of
the black outline
(shown here in gray).

"Trap" the color art under the edge of the black outline by one or two pixels.

Trapping means fitting the lower resolution color file so the colors spread by one or two pixels under the high resolution outlines. The colors should not "butt" (fig 1). This requires the following Photoshop procedure.

1) Make the color canvas.
The black line art file you made in the previous chapter is a bitmap. Go to Image/Mode and convert it to Grayscale. Repeat, converting it to CMYK color (this somehow requires the intermediate step of changing it to grayscale). In the Image menu, reduce the Image Size to 300 dpi. (Now might be a good time to double-check the
Canvas Size bug I mentioned earlier while you're at it.) Save the new CMYK file under a different name. This file will hold your color art.

2) Make a channel of your line art.
Highlight the "K" channel (black) in the Channels Palette. Click your right mouse key and select Duplicate Channel. Name the duplicate channel something like "Black Line." Now select your entire image and, with all CMYK channels except "Black Line" highlighted, delete the art in the other channels. Your line art now resides in an alpha channel, an imaginary dimension apart from the channels that store images for print. Your actual canvas is empty, waiting to be colored.

3) Load your line art as a Selection.
From the Black Line channel, go to Select in the top menu bar and choose Load Selection. Photoshop will offer the art in Black Line. Check the little box labeled Invert (if you leave this box unchecked you'll actually load everything but your black line art). "Marching ants" will appear, indicating that you've created a selection of your line art. Selections allow you to change isolated parts of a Photoshop image (your line art in this case).

You want to create a slightly thinner version of your black line art. Because the outlines will be thinner, when you color inside them the resulting colored areas will trap under your real black outlines.

4) Make your blueline.
With your selection still active (the ants marching), highlight the CMYK channels. From the Select menu, choose Modify Selection. Contract the selection by one pixel. Keep the selection active.

Change your foreground color in the Tools palette to 65% Cyan; 35% Magenta; and 25% Yellow.

Your Monitor is the Devil

Even if you perfectly calibrate your monitor which you absolutely must do there will be big differences between the printed colors and the colors you see on screen. You can't rely on the colors as they appear on the monitor.

The only remedy is to buy a book that shows printed colors accompanied by their actual percentages of C, M, Y and K. Then, no matter how flagrantly the colors in the book differ from the colors on your monitor, you must absolutely commit to the book versions. The best way to do this is to make a palette of little swatches or colored squares in Photoshop from which you can "eyedropper" the colors. It'll still be tricky because colors look a lot darker with black outlines than they look in the book. Colors also change dramatically depending on the size of the area they cover or the other colors they abut. Paper stock can sway colors. Ever notice how old newsprint comics look so much nicer than the glossy stuff of today? Even the print run can matter. Once a publisher mailed me complementary copies of a comic I colored and I was shocked by how saturated and dark the colors appeared. I went into a funk. I had tried to make the colors muted and soft. Then I saw the book on the newsstand and it looked fine. It turned out the newsstand version was from later in the print run, when the inks had a chance to "settle." The publisher had sent me the first twenty copies that came off the press, which get thrown out in (higher class) printing projects.

So get a CMYK book. It won't be the end-all, but it'll offer a little guidance. Computer coloring is essentially a blind process. Even with book in hand you'll have to impose some guesswork and some judgment. But what you see on your monitor is least likely to be accurate.

The color book I use is part of a design Color Book
series that shows colors in combination,
so not only does it help spec out colors, it helps create design schemes.

Shibukawa, Ikuyoshi and Yumi Takahashi,
Designer´s Guide to Color 5, Chronicle Books, San Francisco.


From the Edit menu, choose Fill and make sure it's set to Foreground Color. The thinner version of your black line art will appear in the muddy-purplish foreground color. This is the image you'll color.

go to it

Use selections to help you color. Start by sectioning off the first panel with the square marquee tool. Version 5.0 (and above) of Photoshop also has a magnet selection tool that follows outlines, even across gaps. This is valuable since, unless you ink with an El Marko, the purplish guide you made has areas where thinner lines disappear during the contracting. Using the magic wand to select areas to color or simply pouring from the paint bucket tool won't work unless the area is truly contained by unbroken outlines. It's better to draw outlines of colored areas with your pen palette and then fill them with the paint bucket tool. Keep in mind that it doesn't matter if you obliterate your muddy purplish line while you color. You can replace it when you're finished by repeating Steps 3 and 4 above.

next page: coloring tastefully





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