Digital Comic Art Retro Style

Retro Comic Book Art

Download files for for this tutorial [ 13.9 MB]

Digital Comic Art – Part 1: Setting the scene

Start building up the digital comic art background with simple elements and applied filters…

The birth of digital comic art

Digital comic art has been around since the late 1980’s, with comics like Shatter.
But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 90’s that things really started to happen.
Batman: Digital Justice by DC Comics was a great example of a Digital Graphic Novel.
Illustrated by Pepe Moreno on a Macintosh II system with 8MB of RAM and a 45MB hard disk drive.
Digital Justice truly pushed the boundaries of where comics could go, even though the system on which Pepe worked seems antiquated by today’s standards.


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Step 01

Create a new document by going to File > New.
In the dialog box, set the preset size to Custom.
Then set the width to 45cm wide and 32cm high.
The resolution should be set to 72 pixels per inch. and the mode set to RGB.
Don’t worry about contents.
Click OK.
Then click on the foreground colour in the Tools palette and set the colour to R:85, G:39, B:121.
Click OK again.
Go to Edit > Fill and chose foreground colour.
Click OK


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Step 2

Now set the foreground colour to black by clicking the little black-and-white icon under the colour in the tools palette.
Select the Gradient Tool on the Tools Palette, and in the options bar at make sure the Gradient Tool is set to ‘Foreground colour to transparent’.
Then drag your from the top downwards and release it to Create a Gradient.


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Step 03

Go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Artistic > Sponge and set Brush Size to 1, Definition to 2 and Smoothness to 2.
This will help give the background a more textural feel, something similar to paper.


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Step 4

Now brighten the layer a bit.
Open Image > Adjustments > Levels and set the Input Levels from left to right as: 0, 1.53, 224.
Then click OK.
This brings out the texture a lot more.
Now save this document to your hard drive.
See jc_low_comic.psd (in the download) for reference.


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Step 5

Create a new layer by going to Layer > New > Layer and then call the new layer ‘circle 1’.
Now using the Elliptical Marquee tool in the Tools palette, draw a circle and then fill it with a gradient.
Set the foreground colour to R:141, G:3, B:80, and the background colour to R:205, G:95, B:142.
Then draw another circular selection in the middle and delete part of the gradient.
Don’t forget to switch the Gradient tool options in the options bar so it uses both colours.


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Step 6

Click on the circle 1 layer in the Layers palette while holding down Control (or Command on a Mac), and then click Select Layer Transparency.
This creates a selection around the circle 1 shape.
Create a new layer and call it ‘circle stroke 1’.
Then, with the foreground colour set to black, go to Edit > Stroke and set the Width to 3 pixels.
This creates a black stroke around the circle shape.


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Step 7

Keep the foreground colour black, but make the background colour: R:130, G:76, B:136.
Then go to Filter > Brushstrokes > Spatter and set the Spray Radius to 14 and the Smoothness to 7.
Click OK.
Keeping the background colour purple will help the keyline to blend into the background more.
Now select the ‘circle stroke 1’ layer and the ‘circle 1’ layer in the Layers palette by holding Shift and selecting each layer.
Then go to Layer > Merge Layers.


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Step 8

Rename this layer ‘circle colour 1’.
Drag the layer in the Layers palette down to the Duplicate Layer icon.
Then use the Move tool from the Tools palette to move it to the right so it’s offset from the original layer.
Now set the blending mode for this layer to Overlay at the top of the Layers palette.


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Step 9

Create a new layer and call it ‘circle fill’.
Then select the Magic Wand tool from the Tools palette and make sure the Tolerance is set at 32 in the options bar.
Then click on the circle colour 1 layer in the Layers palette and click the Wand in the middle of the circle, so that you’re selecting the empty hole.
Then go back to the new layer, set the foreground colour to R:130, G:0, B:76 and the background colour to R:15, G:11, B:13.
Then use the Gradient tool from top-left to bottom-right to fill the selection.

The natural look
When working with Photoshop, try to avoid using the obvious tools and filters, because the result will look like it’s been produced by digital software.
The trick is to make it look like it’s actually been created naturally rather than digitally.


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Step 10

Make another new layer and call it ‘starburst’.
Then, using the Polygonal tool, create three selections like the above image.
When you’ve made one, hold Shift so that you can draw the other two selections.


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Step 11

Now set your foreground colour to R:70, G:13, B:27, then the background colour to R:163, G:31, B:34.
Use the Gradient tool to fill the selection with a Radial Gradient.
Once you’ve done that, turn the blending mode for this layer to Overlay and deselect.


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Step 12

Using the same techniques as above, create a new layer and call it ‘floor’.
Create something similar to the above image.
Then save the resulting Photoshop document to your hard drive.

Digital Comic Art – Part 2: Start working in Photoshop

With the 3D elements rendered, bring them into Photoshop…

Transparency effects
You can achieve some nice transparency effects by enabling Wet Edges in the dynamic brush palette.
If you use a pressure sensitive tablet play around with the dynamic options, because you can achieve some really nice results by letting the stylus pressure control the opacity of
the brush.

3D renders
Using 3D rendered objects can actually help you get a more accurate result rather than trying to draw something from scratch.
You may find that you can actually build something in 3D Quicker than you can draw it.
Then you can use it as a base layer in Photoshop and trace over it or apply filters to get the desired look you’re after.


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Step 2.1

Open our original Photoshop file and then also open girlren.tif.
Go to Select > Load Selection and in the Source field, make sure Document is set to girlren.tif and Channel is set to Alpha 1.
Then choose New Selection under Operation.
Click OK.
This will now create a selection around the figure.


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Step 2.2

Go to Edit > Copy and then switch back to our illustration.
Go to Edit > Paste.
Make sure the girl is pasted as the top layer in the Layers palette.
If not, move her up by dragging the layer to the top of the Layers palette, then call the layer’ girl 1′.
Use the Move tool to position It as the above image.


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Step 2.3

Now open the Levels dialog box (Image > Adjustments > Levels) and boost the contrast of her by setting the Input Levels from left to right with 0, 1.00, 210.
Click OK.
Depending on how you rendered your figure, you may need to compensate more or less within the Levels dialog box.


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Step 2.3

Duplicate the girl1 layer, then click on the Transparency Lock at the top of the Layers palette (the icon next to the word ‘lock’).
Now set the foreground colour to R:254, G:169, B:252.
Then go to Edit > Fill and fill the layer with a pink colour.
This should fill the figure and nothing else.
Then unlock the transparency for this layer by clicking on the icon again.


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Step 2.5

Zoom in to the top part of the figure’s head and shoulders.
Then set the opacity for the pink figure layer to around 50 per cent in the layers palette, so that the figure underneath shows through.
Open the Paths palette and create a new layer by clicking on the new paths icon.
Call it ‘costume 1’


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Step 2.6

Click on the Pen tool in the Tools palette and then draw around the figure’s arms and head like the above image.
Delete parts of the pink layer so that the figure’s head and neck show through, as do her shoulders and arms.
It should give the Impression that she’s wearing a pink jump suit.


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Step 2.7

Staying with the Paths palette, click the Make Selection icon at the bottom of the Paths palette so it turns the paths into a selection.
Then press Delete on your keyboard so that it deletes the pink areas you’ve selected.
Once that’s done, turn the opacity for this layer back up to 100 per cent and deselect.


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Step 2.8

Now link the two girl layers together and merge them so they become one.
Make sure the layer is still called ‘girl 1’.
Now move down towards her feet and, using the Pen tool, draw around the right leg as above, turn it into a selection and then delete it.
Call the path ‘layer leg 1’.
This will give the impression that she’s stepping out of the circle shape.


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Step 2.9

Use the Pen tool again to create a new path layer and call it ‘boot’.
Draw around the remaining foot to give the impression that she’s wearing a high-heeled boot.
Something similar to the above will be fine.
Then turn it into a selection and fill it with a pink similar to that of her suit.
Make sure you fill the colour on the girl1 layer.

Digital Comic Art – Part 3: Introducing natural effects

Add the gun to the image and give our heroine some hair.
Then start to apply some natural media effects…

Know your Pen tool
Explore the Pen tool and practice drawing curves with it by using the convert point.
This is great for generating vector art within Photoshop, as well as creating clean and precise selections.


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Step 3.1

Create a new layer in the Layers palette below the girl 1 layer and call it ‘hair 1’.
Then create a new layer in the Paths palette and also call that ‘hair 1’.
Next, use the Pen tool to draw a shape similar to the above image – this will give the impression of large flowing locks of hair.


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Step 3.2

Turn the path for hair 1 into a selection, then use a foreground colour set at R:233, G:25 , B:36 and then the background colour set at R:163, G:31, B:34.
Use the Gradient tool across this selection as in the above image, making sure that the hair appears behind the figure.


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Step 3.3

Create another new layer and make this the top layer in the Layers palette.
Call it ‘hair 2’.
Then create another layer in the Paths palette and also call that ‘hair 2’.
Using the Pen tool enables you to create the hair in front of her head.
Fill it with the foreground colour (not a gradient) this time.


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Step 3.4

Now link the hair layers with the girl layer and merge them into one in the Layers palette.
Use the Select Transparency option to create a selection around the figure.
You might have to rename the girl layer as ‘girl 1’.
Now create a new layer above the girl and stroke the selection around 3 pixels with the colour black.
Make the background colour a dark purple and apply the Spatter filter to the outline after you’ve deselected.
Rename this layer ‘black outline 1’.


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Step 3.5

Staying on the black outline layer, select the Brush tool.
In the Brushes palette, select a brush at around 3 pixels and have only the Wet Edges option selected.
Then paint in around the figure, focusing on the area around her head, face and hair.
Also paint around her neck and shoulders and arms.
See above for guidance.


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Step 3.6

Let’s also add some white highlights to her suit.
Use a larger brush size and set the foreground colour to white.
Then paint some highlights around her legs and on her chest, just enough to give the impression that the light is catching her suit.


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Step 3.7

Open gunren1.tif and load its selection channel.
Go to Edit > Copy and paste it as the top layer in the illustration.
Call the layer ‘gun 1’.
Then go to Edit > Transform-Flip Horizontal, and then Edit > Transform-Scale to scale the gun to a similar size to the one in the above image.
Then move the gun into position so it looks like she’s holding it.
You may want to use Edit > Transform > Rotate to re-position the gun slightly.


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Step 3.8

Set the opacity for this layer to around 50 per cent so you can see the figure below the gun.
Now create a new path in the Paths palette and call it ‘gun 1’.
Draw a path around the butt of the gun so it looks like it’s resting on her shoulder, and then turn the path into a selection and delete it.
Once you’ve done that, set the opacity back to 100 per cent.


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Step 3.9

Open Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and set the Hue to -32 and Saturation to around +54.
Leave Lightness at 0 so the gun is more saturated and has a reddish cast to it.
Then click OK.
Create a selection around it, create a new layer and call it ‘gun outllne’.
Stroke it with a black outline and apply the Spatter filter.

Aim for imperfection
Natural media tends to be imperfect. whereas digital art can be all too perfect.
The real world is full of imperfections, so try to make your illustration reflect this.
For example, simply adding grain can make the whole illustration have a totally different feel.


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Step 3.10

Using the same techniques you used for touching up the woman – that is, adding black paint lines and white highlights – do the same for the gun.
Apply the touch-ups on the gun outline layer in the Layers palette.


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Step 3.11

Now open gunren2.tif and do everything that you’ve just done to the gunren1.tif file.
Position the extra weapon as in !he above image.
You’ll also have to fill the inside of the barrel with a very dark colour.
Also, try using the levels to boost the contrast of the weapon.
Once you’ve done all this, save the illustration to your hard drive.


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Step 3.12

Create a new layer and call it ‘face elements’.
Use the Brush tool with Wet Edges applied to paint a mask on the figure’s face, and then add further black outlines and white highlights to strengthen the mask.
Also add a few black outlines to the figure’s lips and hair and some white highlights to her hair.
Save the file to your hard drive.
See jc_low_comic.psd in the download for reference.

Digital Comic Art – Part 4: Highlights and lowlights

In this section, add the black-and-white preliminary draw effects and give the illustration a half-completed feel…


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Step 4.1

Flatten the illustration by going to Layer > Flatten Image and then resave the illustration with another name so you don’t overwrite the original illustration.
Now duplicate the flattened layer.
Staying with the duplicated layer, go to Filter > Artistic > Cutout and set the number of levels to 8, Edge Simplicity to 1, Edge Fidelity to 1 and then click OK.
Then set the blending mode for this layer to Overlay and the opacity to around 5 per cent.


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Step 4.2

Now open Image > Adjustments. > Colour Balance and set the colour levels for the mid tones to: +81, -68 , +26.
Click OK.
Again, flatten the image.
The illustration should now look a lot richer in colour.


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Step 4.3

Once again, duplicate the flattened layer and then go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold and set the Threshold Level to around 31.
This should give you a nice black-and-white pen-and-ink look with a textural feel.
Call this layer ‘black and white’.


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Step 4.4

Switch to the Lasso tool and then loosely select the right-hand side of the image and let the selection go down the center of the figure.
Once you’ve done that, go to Select > Feather and set the Feather Radius to around 222 pixels.
Click OK and then press Delete on your keyboard so that the right-hand side now shows the layer beneath and there’s also a gradual blend between each of the layers.
You may need to press Delete again to get more of the figure showing through.


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Step 4.5

Create a new layer and call it ‘laser 1’.
Use the Lasso tool to create a selection shape coming out of the left weapon, and fill it with a white colour and stroke with black.
Inside this area, create a number of smaller selections and fill them with black.
Once you’ve done that, add the Spatter filter.
Save the file to your hard drive.


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Step 4.6

Create another new layer and call this ‘arrows’.
Add a number of arrows as above and also add a few white diagonal lines in the black area of the circle shape.
You can also add a few black highlights around her boot and a few white highlights around the floor.
Use the Lasso tool and the Brush tool for these elements.

Digital Comic Art – Part 5: Dramatic finishing touches

In this final section, the focus is on the fire coming out of the gun and the text.
You’ll also add the Grain filter to give the illustration the feel of an old page from a comic…

Adjust levels
Levels is a great tool in Photoshop.
Once you’ve completed this project, see if you can adjust the levels even more for varying effects.
Also try adjusting the Hue and Saturation of the illustration to see what interesting results you can get.


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Step 5.1

Create a new layer in the Layers palette and call it ‘fire’.
Then create a new layer in the Paths palette and also call that ‘fire’.
Use the Pen tool to create a path shape coming out of the righthand weapon.
Once you’ve done that, select an orange colour as the foreground colour and then turn the path into a selection and use the Gradient tool to make a gradient in the selection.
Make sure the gradient goes from orange to transparent.


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Step 5.2

Now use the Lasso tool to make some thick dark edges to the fire.
Also add a white jagged shape in the middle of the fire, again using the Lasso tool.
Once you’ve done that, create another new layer and call it ‘red dots’.
Then add a number of red dots with the Brush tool similar to those above and then turn the blending mode for this layer to Screen.


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Step 5.3

Add another new layer and call it ‘fire 2’.
See above for reference.
Add a few larger shapes with the Lasso tool around the gun and fill them with a red colour.
Set the blending mode to Overlay.


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Step 5.4

Now you need to add the large sound effect KAPOWWWW.
Create a new layer and call it ‘K’ and do the same in the Paths palette.
Then use the Pen tool to draw the letter K.
Once you’ve done that, turn the path into a selection and fill it with white.
Then use the Brush tool without any dynamic effects on and after you’ve deselected, paint around the letter K quite loosely.


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Step 5.5

Follow the same procedure as in the previous step, but now do it for each of the letters until you have a number of layers that together spell out KAPOWWWW.
Once you have done them all, merge all the letters together so there’s only one layer spelling the word KAPOWWWW.
Rename the layer KAPOWWWW as well.


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Step 5.6

Select the Magic Wand tool and select all the white areas of the letters, holding down Shift so they all remain selected.
Using the colour yellow, select the Gradient tool and create a gradient from right to left – again, setting the Gradient tool so that it goes from yellow to transparent.
Then select the whole of the word and create a red stroke around it.
Set the stroke option to Outside and the pixel width to around 3 pixels.


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Step 5.7

Save the illustration and flatten it, then save this new flattened version to your hard drive.
Now open the Colour Balance dialog box and set the Midtones to +61,0, -56, and then set the Highlights to +23, 0, -49


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Step 5.8

Now go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Texture-Grain and set the Intensity to 27, Contrast to 49 and the Grain Type to Soft.
This should now give the comic illustration a nice grainy texture and complete the look we’re after.


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Step 5.9

As a finishing touch, you can create a new layer and add a speech bubble.
Once you’ve done that, you can add the Grain filter to the layer as well.
You may also want to add other elements or thicken parts of the outlines around the character to give it more strength.

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