Getting arty with graphics: Part 3

This final instalment will show you how to introduce colour to a scanned drawing or modified picture. Reminder: if you have a black and white image, make sure that you change the mode to 16 million colours or RGB (some people may prefer CYMK). In Paint Shop Pro select Colours-Increase Colour Depth-16 Million Colours (24 bit) and for Photoshop select Image-Mode-RGB Color (or CYMK Color). The image will still appear black and white, but it will allow you to introduce new colours. If you don’t change the setting, you will only be permitted to select greyscale tones.

There are many different colourising techniques and each user will have a preferred method. The tools you pick will strongly depend on the type of image and the desired effect. Sadly, the free version of Microsoft Paint (included with Windows) offers very limited features and is not recommended for colourising images.

Choosing your brush

The Brush tool (also called the Paint Brush tool) can be customised to create a range of styles and strokes. The four key areas to adjust are: shape, size, opacity and colour. Programs such as Photoshop give you around 50 choices under the Mode setting, but start with Normal before diving into unfamiliar territory. Once you get a feel for the tool, then try some more experimenting.

Shape: the brush shape can create various stroke effects on an image. Most beginners tend to stick with the standard circular option, but the other shapes can help in trickier areas such as edges. For a more traditional look, pick a shape that softens towards the edge of the brush. Small, hard-edged brushes take on a very cheap look that is reminiscent of PC graphics from the early 1990s (which is okay if that is the look you are trying to achieve).

Size: the dimensions of your picture will play an important role in determining the brush size you pick. Somewhere between 32 and 64 is a good general brush size. If you are working with a small image and find that you are forced to use an undersized and sharp brush setting, try increasing the size of the picture. Then increase your brush size, paint your colours and reduce the image back to its original dimensions.

Opacity: often overlooked, this setting can be used to create classic water colour effects. The opacity is a measurement of how much can be seen through the brush stroke to the background. At 100 per cent, you won’t be able to see any of the underlying colours or texture. At 50 per cent, the brush stroke is half transparent and the resulting stroke is a blend of the brush colour and the colour(s) underneath. For best results, pick a setting between 20 and 35.

There is an important trick to watch. Unlike traditional brushes, most graphics programs create a stroke from the time the mouse button is clicked until it is released. If you hold down the mouse and fill an area, the colour will not ‘build up’ or overlap. When you drag the mouse over an area already painted in that same stroke, it will not darken the colour further. However, if you release the mouse button and then click it again to paint another stroke, the colours will build up. Note that some advanced filters can add effects such as bleeding and soaking, but you are not likely to encounter this behaviour with normal settings.

The reason for using a low opacity setting, rather than simply picking a lighter colour, is that an opacity setting of 100 per cent will wipe out any colours underneath it, rather than blend with them.

Colour: don’t be tempted to rush in and choose your colour. If you are using a low opacity setting you will need to pick a much darker shade (but, ultimately, this will depend on the colour of the background).

Remember that colours on screen may appear different to printed versions. This can depend on your printer quality, print options, paper stocks and gamuts (some monitor colours cannot be reproduced by printers; likewise, some print colours cannot displayed on screen).

Finally, don’t overlook the power of layers. Switching between layers can disrupt your creative flow, but separating the colours into their own layers will allow you to apply filters, adjust colours and experiment with more blending options without having to repaint the entire image.

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