Tips for achieving bold comics colours

Discover how to make most of your colour decisions with this expert advice.

If you want your design portfolio to stand out, filling it with bright and bold and eye-catching colours is a good start. Your choice of comics colours may look good on screen, but might print much muddier than you predicted.

I make most of my colour decisions based on specific ink values that I know will print well. Back in the old days of comics, colourists had a limited palette: initially 63, then later 124 colours, each of these colours consisting of a combination of cyan, magenta and yellow.

For this reason, I always keep track of the ink proportions I'm using by inputting my colour values numerically, using the CMYK sliders in Photoshop's Color menu (I always work in CMYK mode if the work is intended for print).

I make most of my colour decisions based on specific ink values that I know will print well

I usually use multiples of five, so the basic flesh tone I used here equates to C=0, M=15, Y=20. Then I used direct multiples of that to add shading (for example, C=0, M=30, Y=40).

This leads to a very natural gradation of colour that seems rich and organic, even if it isn't photo realistic. This system also helps you prevent black creeping into your colours, which will muddy them up and obscure the detail in the inks.

01. Flatting

Flatting is the process of filling in the basic areas of colour

First I do my flatting. This is the process of filling in the basic areas of colour. I make sure every area is flush to the next, with no white between them by working on a separate layer from the inks and using the Lasso tool with the Anti-alias option switched off.

02. Shadow

Rough out areas of shadow on a separate layer

I then rough in my areas of shadow on a separate layer (I always keep a layer of just the flat colours as this enables me to select areas easily with the Magic Wand). This gives me an idea of what the full colour palette will look like. It's a quick process that instantly adds dimension.

03. Rendering

Render using the shadow colours with a lower Opacity brush to build them up

From here I render the colours, using the shadow colours with a lower Opacity brush to build them up. I'll also add a few highlights tones and texture details. I do a test printout of the finished version, because sometimes the screen will flatter the rendering a little.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 132.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Foster is a professional comic book artist, best known for his work on 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd magazine. Outside of work, he likes to do stand-up comedy gigs.

Topics