Fanart Tutorial: How to Digitally Color a Scanned Pencil Sketch

Even if you don't own a graphics tablet, coloring sketches is a good skill to develop.

Digital fan art example | © Jae Bailey

Digital fanart example | © Jae Bailey

Beginner’s Guide to Creating Fanart is a column by contributor Jae Bailey. In this column, Jae offers digital fanart tutorials and advice for aspiring artists.

Welcome back for another fanart tutorial for beginners! If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, do that first and then come back. In it you can find advice on which software and hardware to use, as well as general tips and links to YouTube tutorials, including a YouTube video that explains how to use adjustment layers to touch up your images. You may wish to review this video now, since adjustment layers are a great way to touch up a scan of a pencil sketch.

This brings us to the topic of today’s tutorial: digitally coloring a scanned pencil sketch! Whether you have a graphics tablet or not, this is a good skill to have when you’re starting out as a digital artist. If you don’t have a graphics tablet, the method I’m about to introduce to you is a great way to add a touch of color to your sketches. If you do have a tablet, but don’t feel confident sketching digitally, this might help you a lot too.

Personally, I prefer to sketch digitally since it allows me to try out different things, knowing that if things go wrong I can just click “undo,” delete the layer, or resize a whole chunk of the drawing. However, pencil sketching does offer some definite advantages: I find it faster to sketch with a pen and pencil and sketchy, loose lines actually look nice, rather than scraggy and horrible like most digital sketch lines.

For this tutorial I’ve done a pencil sketch of Bucky Barnes, aka Marvel’s Winter Soldier, as he appears during one scene in the latest Captain America: Civil War trailer. And first things first, I scanned the pencil sketch and improved the scan a bit, according to tutorial 1.

In the figure below I’ve illustrated how I add color to pencil sketches. The steps are as follows:

  1. Create a new layer above the sketch layer.
  2. Set it to multiply.
  3. Play with the brush settings and colors to get a feel for things.
  4. Fill the entire multiply layer with one solid color.
Scan of a pencil drawing being colored digitally. The color layer is set to "multiply" above the sketch layer. Different brush settings are also illustrated. | © Jae Bailey

Scan of a pencil drawing being colored digitally. The color layer is set to “multiply” above the sketch layer. Different brush settings are also illustrated. | © Jae Bailey

As you can see in the next picture I’ve chosen a very dark color to fill my entire layer with. Unless you want the background to be white, I always suggest choosing a color and filling the whole layer with it. Ideally this should be the color you want your background to be.

Right: scanned sketch, left: sketch with dark color layer set to multiply. | © Jae Bailey

Right: scanned sketch, left: sketch with dark color layer set to multiply. | © Jae Bailey

Because I chose a very dark color, you can hardly see the lines in the image, but some of them will show up again once i start adding lighter colors, so this isn’t a problem. The lines are visible enough for me to know where to lay down the colors.

On the same layer I filled with one color I put down lighter colors. So I just select lighter colors and paint over the top of that dark color. I only chose to work with a couple of colors here to keep this quick example simple; therefore I selected beige and blue (orange and blue are opposites, and therefore provide an interesting contrast in images). You can continue on and go into as much or as little detail as you want during this coloring phase. If the sketch lines appear too dark, you can change the opacity of the entire line layer.

Progress by using different colors on the multiply layer. | © Jae Bailey

Progress by using different colors on the multiply layer. | © Jae Bailey

Once you feel you’ve put enough color down you can start polishing the image. To do that I normally create a new layer above both the sketch and color layer (set to normal, rather than multiply) and paint over the top of both the lines and the colors. However, since this image was just a quick tutorial sketch I chose a different route for this image. As you can see below I chose to basically apply the equivalent of a bunch of Instagram filters. The fun part here is that these aren’t pre-set filters, I’m making those filters myself, so I’ve got a lot more options than on Instagram! This is quite fun and can really enhance both a sketch or a finished piece of art—and it’s neat when you’re starting out with color, which is why I’ll discuss applying filters in the next tutorial!

Finish with overlays and adjustment layers, a.k.a. the Instagram filters of digital art. | © Jae Bailey

Finish with overlays and adjustment layers, a.k.a. the Instagram filters of digital art. | © Jae Bailey

Enjoy coloring your pencil sketches!

Read Part 3 of Beginner’s Guide to Creating Fanart.

About Jae Bailey (17 Articles)
Jae Bailey's life-goal is to invent a job that combines science, fandom, and really hot curries. Jae holds a PhD in Physics in one hand and a graphics tablet pen in the other.

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