advanced photoshop

Top tips for digital painting

Posted in:
General, by Adam Smith

Photoshop painting tips for lighting and texturing images

Paint directional light

Aalem Al-Langawi /

Fill background
I start by simply filling the monochromatic base background colour to unify the base colour of each element that is contained within the piece.

■ Draw outlines
I create an outline layer for both the character and the background environment; in this case, the clouds and sky.

Summon round brush
I begin painting with the basic solid round brush, and also the soft round brush with the Pen pressure mode assigned, in order to fill in the basic colours of each element.

Define light direction
I decide where my source of light is positioned so I can start filling the deeper colours that form the areas of shadow, then approach the midtones and finish with the highlight areas.

Create focal point
To make my character stand out, I finalised it by setting a deeper Transfer rate (about 45%) in the brush settings to give it a sharp hard edge, and worked closely on the subject.

Blur focus
For the clouds in the background, I used the soft round brush to give the impression of an out-of-focus camera effect without having to rely on the use of a filter.

Top tips for digital painting

Balance out colours

Marta Dahlig /

“The Color Balance tool can be a great starting point when you are still trying to figure out how your shadows, midtones and highlights should be balanced. It can also improve the final result quickly.

For example, I have a tendency to use hues which are more on the yellow side.

I sometimes correct this using the Color Balance tool, adding more blues to the shadows and less red and more green to the highlights. It helps practically every time, especially for portraits.”

Top tips for digital painting

Build up colour

Miné Jonker /

“This final design fittingly captures a sense of chance through the playing cards and cleverly fits in the idea of diamonds and resources, along with the vibrant colours you’d associate with the continent.

I do most of my painting with the Brush tool, set to a low opacity. I then slowly build up the colours, as you would in a traditional painting with actual paint.

This gives the colours lots of depth. I also use lots of subtle textures over each other.”

Top tips for digital painting

Don’t get lost in layers

Benjamin Ang /

“I picked one of my favourite characters from the Darkstalkers franchise and painted her as if I was painting a Marvel trading card in the early Nineties.

Whenever I’m happy, I flatten my layers and move on. I find this method more productive as it eliminates time wasted on second-guessing, and going back and forth between multiple layers.

I always remind myself that the software is supposed to help me work faster. Just remember to keep your original line sketch, as it often holds your purest thoughts, which are usually the best.”

Top tips for digital painting

Keep working digitally

Alexander Draude /

“The houses in the images are, for example, spot-on architecture from the place it’s set.

I do prefer paper, but for client work I keeps everything digital. Photoshop helps me a lot when it comes to masking areas of an image, and final colour adjustments or details, of course.

On the advice front, if you’re feeling rusty, it helps to do small speed paintings to keep your mind working digitally.”

Top tips for digital painting