Most of my usual work is either hand-drawn and colored or vector drawing in Illustrator. When I draw (or finish) digitally, the coloring usually happens in Illustrator as well. But, that’s not how most of the comic world works. Some people hand-draw, some people digitally render, but in either case… the digital coloring process typically happens in an application like Photoshop. It doesn’t have to be Photoshop, but a lot of colorists use it, and that’s what I use, so that’s the perspective from which I’ll usually talk.
At a very high level, the digital coloring process goes something like this:
- Scan or import your black and white line art (usually 600dpi resolution)
- Perform any digital cleanup or level adjustments to your line art to make it solid black and as clean as possible.
- Lay down flats (flatting) for all the bits on the page that you are going to be coloring.
- Render lighting, shadows, and other effects to characters, objects, and backgrounds.
That’s a bit of oversimplification, of course, but that’s it in a nutshell. Earlier this year I realized that in order to work in mainstream comics, and especially if I wanted to collaborate with others outside of my own creations, I needed to learn and develop skills working in the manner in which most professionals work. To that end, I began learning how to flat pages. There are lots of different ways to flat, and this isn’t going to be a tutorial on flatting anyway… but some ways produce better flats than others. The main point in the flats is to provide easily select-able areas upon which to define final color and apply effects to finish the illustration later. Flatting can be a time-consuming process, and it is something that many professional colorists will sub-contract out to have done for them so that they can focus on the effects work.
Here is an example of a pin-up illustration that I flatted recently. It’s an illustration of Marvel’s Phoenix character and was penciled by Renae de Liz and inked by Rob Norton. I grabbed the original line art from Digital Webbing where they had posted this as part of a collaboration project going on there. The first picture is the flats composited with the line art, and the second picture is just the flat colors alone (i.e. the part that I did).
What you mainly go for is unique colors for all the individual elements that might be colored or shaded differently later, and no instances of different objects that touch having the same color. This makes the work of the colorist later tremendously easier to be able to go and highlight each selection quickly and apply reference colors and effects. Note that while this illustration uses mostly appropriate colors for different parts of the character, flatting doesn’t require it. Often the person doing the flatting will not know what the final colors will be and semi-random color choices will be made at this stage. It’s not important to get bogged down trying to guess the color scheme during the flatting stage. It’s most important to block out every individual thing that needs to be colored.
There are some bits of this piece that could be broken down further, depending on the colorist intentions for the piece. Easy examples are… the fire in the background could be broken into different pieces… and the cloth wrap around her waist could be broken down to the different layers and even the different twists that show alternate sides of the cloth as it flows. You should always check with the colorist before you begin work to find out how far they want you to break down layers and costumes. Some will want everything broken down, while others will only want you to hit the large bits and they will make those smaller decisions as they apply their style to things.
FYI, this is the sample page I supplied to get the gig working on the Tellos Project. I will be posting another blog post about another recent pin-up coloring flat I produced that is a bit more detailed and, I think, more impressive than this one. Stay tuned!
If you are interested in requesting my services as a Flatter, please use the Contact page and provide me with as much information as you can about your request.