The following painting tutorial was completed using Photoshop, and a Wacom Intuos 2 (6x8) tablet.

This tutorial outlines one process that works well for me. It is certainly not the only method, nor is it one that will always work (some are more mechanical/technical in their approach, while others may be much more open and loose). Most importantly, the process is not meant to be followed step by step; instead, it can simply be used as a guideline.


When working on the preliminary drawings (as well as the final) for my illustration, I use a Pilot Color Eno mechanical pencil (0.7 Soft Blue led). This particular pencil is very soft, light, and allows me to maintain clean line quality. Sometimes I may also decide to sketch digital.

Once I finish sketching my thumbnails and roughs, I draw a series of small gestures to use as a base for the final image. Next, I would scan the rough, enlarge it in, print it, and work from there.


01 / Scanning

I usually scan between 300 dpi - 600 dpi. 300 is generally sufficient, and used as a standard. As I work with color led, higher dpi provides a much more crisp image when cleaning. Once I'm done cleaning, I decrease the image to 350 dpi - 300 dpi. Keep in mind that larger resolution generates lager files sizes, and thus, may create brush lag when proceeding with the painting.

02 / Levels

Go to:
Image > Adjustments > Levels

Dark arrow - controls darks
Grey arrow - controls mids
White arrow - controls lights

Adjust as you see fit. I tend to drag the dark over to the right slightly.

03 / Color Range

Zoom in to the max (1600% - until you see nothing, but squares), preferably to an area in need of cleaning.

Go to:
Select > Color Range

Use the eyedropper to select a rather dark tone (click a dark square on the canvas/work space with the eyedropper). Now use the eyedropper with the plus sign (Add to Sample), selecting middle range tones. Anything too dark or too light may degrade the quality of your image, as it will eat away too much on your lineart. Also, keep in mind not to select anything reminiscent of the original color of your image. For example, I had used blue, hence I would avoid selecting blue areas, and instead, search for pinks, browns, etc.

Click Ok, zoom out, and delete to see the results. Deselect if you're satisfied. Otherwise, undo and repeat.

04 / Hue / Saturation

You may colorize your lineart. I usually use Hue/Saturation.
Check/click Colorize, and adjust Hue and Saturation, as you see fit. Be careful not to use Saturation as a means to darken your color, as it will simply vibrate too much.

Once you're done adjusting, you may find that your line is still too light. If so, use Levels again to darken your image.

05 / Cleaning

There are multiple ways of cleaning. The method I find most effective is using a layer mask. In your Layers palette, select layer mask.

Using the brush tool, erase unwanted dirty areas by painting/brushing over them. As opposed to the eraser, a layer mask is not permanent. Black removes line, while white reveals or brings back line. Press 'X' to quickly switch between the two. To further speed the process up, use the lasso tool to delete larger areas. Also note that other masking may be done during and after the painting process to substitute or complement line removal/paintover.

Lastly, in order to keep the final cleaner, sometimes I may decide to scan other elements separately. Though everything is drawn together, I like to split things up before scanning.

Another important thing to take note of is cropping. Give yourself and your illustration some breathing space. A big eyesore in the composition can often be the result of a bad crop. Since we're using digital media, we can easily adjust this once we're done.


Before covering the painting process, I will outline some of the brush setups that I use.

For all brushes - Opacity setting was kept between 50% - 100% / Flow setting 10%-100%.

01 / Smooth Brush

Brush Tip Shape - Hardness 70% - 100% / Spacing 10% (vary as you see fit, especially the hardness)
Shape Dynamics - Size Jitter - Control - off
Other Dynamics

02 / Sharp Tip Brush

Brush Tip Shape - Hardness 70% - 100% / Spacing around 25%
Shape Dynamics - Pressure

03 / Sharp Brush

Same as the brush above except for Shape Dynamics - set to off (uncheck)

04 / Airbrush

Just a standard Photoshop airbrush. Tweak it as you see fit.


Before moving on, I would like to note that I am not a fan of imitating painting by smudging or blurring. Everything is purely painted, as it would be, if done the traditional way. This includes the step by step process (mid tones, dark tones, light tones), and most importantly, painting all elements at the same time. This refers to applying the same finish to each element before jumping to the next. For example, I would never finish painting the head, and then proceed with the rest. By following this rule, the painting will always feel complete at its current stage, and ultimately, be void of a visual mess. Everything in the illustration is one working body, hence, treat it all the same.

I begin by experimenting loosely with various color choices. Once I am satisfied with a set of colors, I decide whether I wish to work warm, cool, soft, vibrant, etc. Furthermore, I select my general light, mid, and dark colors. These color choices do not have to be permanent, and may be altered as I paint. Also, for easy access, I like to place my colors directly on the working space.

Some of the colors I used.

Next, I create some designs. Usually, I will already have these worked out on paper. Sometimes I may decide to paint these in, while other times, I will create them in Illustrator, and import them.

Use the Free Transform tool. Go to:
Edit > Free Transform

Depending on your version of Photoshop, you may find the 'switch between free transform and wrap modes' button useful. Once you enter transform mode, the button will appear on the upper toolbar. This will create a mesh around the object. This mesh will allow you to push and pull all of the points on the object that you are transforming.

The illustration with the completed designs.

Before proceeding with the painting, I fill in flat colors and often separate them with layers.

As I paint, I lock the area that I'm working on. This way, your brush strokes will never exit the current layer. For example, if I'm painting the hair, I lock the hair layer. To achieve this, click 'lock transparent pixels' in the Layers palette. Once locked, a small lock icon will appear beside the layer name. Unlock by clicking 'lock transparent pixels' again.

I begin by applying the dark tones to every area. Before applying these tones, I determine my light-source/direction.

Next, apply the light tones to every area. At this time, also add additional darker paint, and other light color (possible shine areas).

Continue by adding details, painting the design, and other areas that still require attention (hair, eyes, etc.). Again, paintover may be done both during and after painting. For tutorial purposes, I split most of this step for the end.

Paintover, and last bit of details.

Here are some close-ups for clarification.

Lastly, I decided to add some additional design, a logo for the illustration, and finalized the crop. This concludes the tutorial.


Sports Battle 800x600

Sports Battle 1024x768

Sports Battle 1280x1024

Sports Battle 1680x1050