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Digiavalons BIG tutorial
By DigiAvalon   |   Watch
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Published: July 23, 2004
© 2004 - 2019 DigiAvalon
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EDIT: Finshed image is:

Everyone always asks me about how I do my images. So here it is, a HUG tutorial for Photoshop. This thing I really big! Basically you may want to save this, copy paste, fav what ever and look over the images while you read, and take it in strides. This tutorial requires basic Photoshop skills “meaning you have used it once or twice before. Please read and leave all question and comment here, I hope this will be of help to you all.


*TIP: it helped to have a tablet for this, because its pressurized. HOWEVER before I had a tablet, I used the OPACITY next to your bush settings to very my shades from lighter to dark, to create that idea od presser. It requests a littler more work of course, but just remember to start light and build up with brighter/darker hues in color. Everything I am doing to teach you does NOT require a tablet, you can do it all with a mouse, you just need build up your colors/hues/light and darks. Everything is done using the build up method so you mouse users will have no problems, you just might want to work with more opacity settings and colors then I do.

Step 1 ^__^ the thought process.
Ok you have an idea for a drawing. Its easy to simply just start sketching, and I do that a lot and the art evolves as you go. However for my best work you’ve seen here I thumbnail.
What is a thumbnail you may ask?
A thumbnail, or sometimes also quick sketch: is basically a smaller version of what you want the image to look like. By doing a lot of these you can test out different poses, views and elements in the picture so in the end you have a clear idea of what you want the finished sketch to be.

Step 2 The sketch, from rough to tight blue
I sketch with blue col-erase pencils because one I am an animator and to, I find they are lighter easier to erase, and less smudging. That’s said draw with what ever u want but I recommend them ^_~
Ok I sketch out the basic shapes based on my thumbnail, bg first then I begin to rough in my characters. Keep things lose and light until the very end, and remember correct, correct, correct! Again having your thumbnail helps you already know what you are doing, so I suggest not drawing ball and stick joints but using cylinders, and circles loosely to create the rough forum. The slowly add you details. I like to work from the bottom up.
Ex I drew the bg, then roughed Miko and shadows poses and anatomy, then tightened shadows leg, tighten Miko then put shadows hand on her chin…
See I kind work things up.

Step 3 (Optional)
If you choice to ink before using the computer: When you are finished, inking in your style you can erase the extra pencil work, and scan in your image to Photoshop. “I don’t erase my pencil because using a blue pencil make it easier to filter it out…” Anyways I use 200dpi keeping the file large. Then I do a level adjustment, trying to get the art as close to black and white as possible. However if a little back or white is left where you don’t want it simply go over with the opposite color to fix it up. Then I select all the white, select the inverse, crate a new layer and fill it in black. I lock it and I have a clean line art to work from.
For this picture I just inked in Photoshop. No tricks here lots of practice, but being zoomed in to about 200% helps. Also just because you make a mistake or change your mind on some of the traditional inking in your original drawing doesn’t mean you can’t try fixing it later on the computer.
aramaki Made a great inking tutorial, and since this is mostly a Photoshop tutorial, I didn’t want to get to into inking. However I highly suggest if you want traditional inking tips to take a look at this tutorial.


*TIP: Tablet users, I keep all my settings at 100% again if you are still new to your tablet you may also want to use OPACITY here and there. Also using the pressurized brushes “in Photoshop 7 they are auto ready in other versions its diff, if you need help with this just ask.

*TIP: One last thing before we start, the biggest rule you will ever learn: SAVE OFTEN SAVE MANY!!!
Meaning save a lot, when ever you feel you’ve completed something. Also save many copies of your file, because you may make a mistake and want to go back “usually using lots of layers helps correct this from happing and make it easier to go back but not always” also if a file get messed up “and it DOES happen, then you will have several other copies to go back too.

Step 1
Before I do anything in Photoshop I like to decide weather or not I’ll have a border, and make sure the image is adjusted, moved or cropped to fit my final canvas. This makes it easier so I don’t have unless space, or not enough space later. First I make my canvas the final size. I us a grid to select the area I want to be my main image without the frame, select inverse and fill black on a new layer on top. I then adjust my sketch to fit my newly made bored the way I want it.

Step 2
Photoshop inking tips. As you can see on my screen shot, my rough work gets messy. That’s why for more complicated pictures that require a lot of per though and mistakes, I like to ink on the computer, so things stay clean crisp and easy to fix when I make mistakes. Notice the dark blue lines over my original art. Sometimes my work becomes bluer by all the construction so I find it helpful to tighten and continue to correct elements of my art right over top of my original work. Remember these three steps: Correct, correct, correct! If something doesn’t seem right chance are it isn’t and if you can fix it, I suggest doing so. It causes no harm to try roughing in a different hand or changing the hair if it seems to not work. Remember these little things will bother you though the whole picture if you don’t fix them as best you can.
That’s said once I have a clear understanding of my image I begin to ink.
I find its very helpful to ink in layers. EX. When I go to do the hair I will draw Miko’s hair, then on a new layer shadows hand. This means my lines for Miko’s hair stay nice and smooth, and look right. I don’t have to worry about working around the hand and messing it up. I simply then would clean my mess and merge down. I won’t provide a screen shot for this because its really up to you how you do these things, but my advise is to draw the bottom elements in full, then work up from there. It may seem like more work but in the end I have found it really helps you keep the original shape correct. If you have more questions on this later please feel free to ask.

Step 3 :The sky
Now that you are happy with your inked image. Before you stare coloring you need to know your mood and light source. That’s why I suggest always doing you full bg before anything else.
To the right of the image you see a close up of my layers. I recommend labeling and color coding you layers. (do this by right clicking> layer properties) If you are like me you may end up with 40 + layers.
Anyways you can see how I have broken down my bg. Each layer has the rough color and layout of each part of the bg.

*TIP:You see I used the Photoshop leaf brush for my leafs. Why? Well this is just a rough idea of what I want, I will from there go and add more detail later on. Its helpful to use a Photoshop brush when you can, just to give you an idea of what you want.

I am going to stat with roughing in the sky. Because for any image you want to start off with you light source; the sky in this image will set the mood for the rest of the image. From there I suggest working up. In this case I work from the sky>to water> to tree> to leafs. Buy doing this I save myself the trouble of doing unnecessary work.
So lets start the BG. First now that you have your rough layout you no longer need to see you lines.
Hide them.
Ok now for this mood I want a sunset, with orange hues, ending in dark clouds. I will rough in the dark clouds first on a new layer. I will also rough in my sun, and my floating castle, so I can make sure I get a good compotation. I will use a lot of layers to try different things, and experiment.

I find clouds require a lot of practices and trial and error. I spend a lot of time surfing DA and looking at other peoples clouds to give me ideas. Remember where the sun is, will be the brightest spots. For the dark storm clouds its where the lighting is.
So here is my method for how I color.
Rough>Basic>dark>shadows>light areas> reflected light or highlight.
I use the airbrush to make the clouds fluffy, and kind of dab the color around with my tablet. The more layers you have the more new things you can try, I suggest using a diff layer for each color. As for colors instead of using dark and light of the same color try using different colors.
Ex I used blue for the dark spots not black, and a light orange for the final highlights, no white. Avoiding grays will help you make your art more colorful.

First the castle is just an extra element, I don’t want to over do it on detail. So I simply us an almost black to drawn and shade in the whole shape, then I add a little blue to highlight.
The lighting is a bit more fun. I purposely put this in this image/tut to show people who I make stuff glow!
Ok first I suggest looking at some pics, there are MANY different ways to do a lighting style. For this one I sketch the main lines, and shrank the brush to have different sizes of lightning. I also want to make my lighting glow. Now here is the trick I learned to make something glow, and it works 99.9% for all of my art.
Drag you lighting layer to the new layer icon, this is make a copy layer. Now we have two lightning layers.
Next I kick on the top lighting layer, because I want to see what I am doing. I then go to:
Image>adjustments> Hue and saturation. I provided a screen cap of what this window looks like for those who don’t know.
I suggest taking a close but lighter color form your original. I choose a lighter blue, I keep the saturation high, because I want my glow to be bright and vibrant. Of course try different things to see what works for you.
I then take the bottom layer “my original darker color.” And go to:
Filters>blue>Gaussian blur. I use about a 2.5
The I duplicate the blurred layer until I get the glow I desirer (Usually about 4 times. )
I merge those layers together and I have my lighting.

*TIP: the key to glows is experimenting, for the lighting I added another almost white color to make spots appear even brighter. What ever you make glow, you will have to play around to get the effect you may want.

Finally I add a bit of reflected glow on the clouds and castle. I will also add a few stars. I only want a few because the sun is still out, and most of the area. For this I simply pick a lighter yet still bright color “depending on which color the sky is” and dab a few different sized dots around. The I will just us a smaller brush with a lighter top and dot inside each of my darker dots. This is another way to create the glow effect. You can also use star brushes, just be careful what you choice, you don’t want everything to look the same.

Step 4
WATER: First off I am NOT very good with water. So this part is short.
I simply do this again in layers. First of, the farther out the ocean goes that darker it gets, so on water layer one I make a light to dark blue gradient.

*TIP: use the box selection tool to keep the area selected for you water/gradient. You don’t want to color more then you have too.

Now because this is a sunset I want to reflect some of those colors in the water. On water layer two I make another gradient. However this time I am reflecting the colors of the sky so the color will be brightest at the sun. So I Have a pinky color and a pinky orange color for my gradient, making sure the lighter color is closer to the sun.
New on my top layer of pinky and orange, I carefully erase parts of the layer. I uses a kind of up down bumpy road idea > ~ < see how that key goes up an down? I do it just like that only more random and continuing across the page. I start of with a thick brush, and press lightly, then move to a small brush and press harder. It will take time to get the first waves the way you want, be patent and if you have to redo it, go ahead.

*TIP: The eraser tool is your best friend, not just to clean up mistakes, but like here we added wave texture, and you can use it to soften shades, make hard shadows extra I use the eraser a lot!

*TIP: here I want to avoid extra unnecessary work so I simply unhide my line, and only work on the arenas that will be seen.

Now because of the reflection of the sun we will see less blue out to sea, so I only do about half way. You also want your waves to get smaller as they go out further. (because I have a tree in the way I simply choice to use the tree as my blue cute off, however we will go back and add more blue later.)
Ok now we will make yet another layer of a brighter orange/yellow color, and this time airbrush it in around your sun area. I then do the same erasing technique. Much smaller this time, we see less waves as we get further away, so you want to keep the ones closer to the sun very small/thin.
Finally I merge these layers down so I have now two layers, my original blue gradient and the pinky yellowy one. I will then carefully use the erasing tech to add some small blue waves further back.

*TIP smudge tool will help make things blend better, but only blends on brush stroke at a time, not all over them at once or you will get a mess.

I want the few blue waves to blend in nicely, so I may save a copy of my top layer incase I don’t like my erasing shapes and want to go back. Anyways now that you are done, feel free to add more highlights on the waves if you wise. Like I said I am not good with water yet.

*TIP for this project in particular because the sun is setting in the water you can create a reflection! Simply duplicate the original sun layer. Drag it up on top of you water layers. Go to image>transform>flip vertically.
The use free transform, to make it a bit shorter, keep the width the same, just change the height a little, this will give a perspective illusion. Next you will want to clean up any mess, by using the rectangular selection tool, and deleting any mess that may appear, to clash with the original sun. You may also use the airbrush which ever works. Finally, I want the reflection to be a slightly different shade, so I use my “hue saturation” tool to make it appear a little more yellow. Finally use the eraser tool to create the waves like before and you are done!

Ok for this step it will be a bit longer. Again we want to start rough, we can clean and tighten things up later.
I start by keeping my line layer on so I can apply a sep layer of shadow all over the tree branch. I want to get most of my darks an lights highlighted first before I apply the texture. I find in doing this is easier to now do it all on one layer, so I can correct and smooth things out as I go. You want to create the illusion of volume, first then shadows. Often art will look flat because we focus too much on the shadow shapes and not the shapes of the object.
Once you have finished rouging in your color, and tighting things up a littler its time to add texture. Make a new layer and set it to Multiply mod. MULTIPLY mood will create the effect of what ever you put over it, will be darkened, but all your original shading and shadows will still appear.
Now trees can be done so many different ways I suggest looking at real or drawn trees and picking a style you like.
I picked a cartoony style, because I don’t want the image to look too real. Basically I draw veins going up the tree branches and following the flow of each stem. Next I do littler half circles to sow volume and texture. Notice I keep it really rough?
I do this for two reasons. One because of the amount of texture and how small it will appear in the final image, will mean perfection is not going to be notices. Two because its an organic shape I WANT it to appear rough. I suggest adding a slight blur just to smooth those lines into the trees. Now we have are volume, and our texture. Time to add highlights, and shadows.
I pick a gray like light brown. You can use their highlights to add more volume and shape to the tree, by following your bark shapes. I also added some shadows cast by the higher up stems.
*TIP: Keep you texture layer un merged. Later when I color my characters I may want to add more shadows, so its easer when you have an object that may require more shadow/highlights, after you’ve added something to your picture, to keep the layers un merged, for easy change.


Since this is a cartoon styled image I have decide to keep the Photoshop leafs. I have used the hue/saturation to make the top leaf layer light green. I then made a new layer and put darker leafs slightly on top. Notice I keep the leafs closer together, near the back? This helps create a less Photoshop, more cartoony look. I keep adding more layers till I have the leafs the way I want. I put a screen cap of the two Photoshop leafs I used. Remember you just have to get the general idea down, you can always come back latter and add more detail if you want.

So now the elements of the bg are complete! Remember though you may want to do more later once you have finished you characters.

Ok I am not going to walk you though EVERY step to coloring, because once you’ve figured out one you pretty much get it all.
My method is basic>darker shade for volume/shadow>highlight>erase mess. Now you can have as many basic, shadow tones, or highlight tones as you want. Uses an many layers or none if you want. I find ether the eraser or smudge tool are both great ways to blend colors, and create good highlights. Again practice and play around.
Also layering colors is helpful, working from the bottom up makes less work, you don’t have to erase of clean areas you will simply color over later.
The coloring tips I will give will be for:
Metallic objects

Lets start with leather. First I make the gray/blackly base color. I personally like to color outside my lines and clean up later. You can use the magic wand tool to select areas and color them, but I found it left empty pixels that can be seen in the final, so I started to do it like this.
Next I take a darker black and make my shadow shapes, and darker cloth folds, in a new layer. Using the eraser and smudge tool I can sharpen or soften the color. This isn’t something I can teach it comes with working and trying things. However I personally find the smudge can make those cloth folds and highlights work very well. I also something find the bgs can overwhelm my coloring, so I will often make a white layer, I will turn on and off, so I can concentrate on my color, when the bg becomes distracting.
Now I make a new layer for the leathers shine.

*TIP: I often use blue or purple as a base shade of shine for my leather, I find it works a lot better then whites and grays. Again I choice other colors over grays when I can, or am mix of gray/color.
The thing with shiny objects is they will reflect things around them.

You can use a reflected color also to help show the mood. EX if I wanted to make the characters appear brighter I’d use an orangey shine or use a combination of colors. I want to use more purple colors because shadows set colors scheme is black and purple, so by making the reflection purple, it keep with his theme.
For this leather it’s not super shiny, so I am not going to add any more reflected color. I will get more into reflected color when we come to the metallic later. So for this I am simply going to add some medium purple blue, and the brighten sports with a less purple brighter blue.
You can do leather many different ways, clean sweeps, is what I usually do, but in some places you can use the smudge tool to make kind of zig zag shapes, to add a little texture like I did here.
Finally I like to add one last highlight layer with a lighter blue, but I will only add this lighter shade in a few places, to show were some are lighter then others. Then I erase the mess and am done.

*TIP: final leather tip, look at leather, and look at how different styles of leather are done in art. This is the best way to understand things.


*TIP: if you can save you metallic colors for last. A metallic object like silver or gold, will reflect the things around it, so its often helpful to have those objects already shaded.

*TIP: for silver and gold I try to stay away from yellows and grays. Try more brownie copper colors for your golds, and darker browns for gold shadows. Adding only a little bright yellow to highlights makes the gold appear more gold and less yellow.
For silver I use blue/gray or purple/gray hues. And I don’t use bright white for highlight, try using a light blue. This keeps more color to the object.
Remember work your way down to those lighter colors, like we did in the glow. EX you use a dark blue/gray as you base, so when you highlight, don’t just throw in white, add a medium blue, then a little light blue over top, it gives a better look to highlights.

Ok lets start with the base color, I picked a medium burnt orange color for my gold. New I will want to define volume and shape by adding a darker brown color. The I will two more darker, almost black browns for the really dark spots. I keep the edge with a little of the original color, to show there is still light hitting those dark areas.
Finally I add a few highlights along the rim and on the end closest to the light source.

*TIP: You can also add highlight reflect colors if you light source is a different color. EX In Nightmare Device “for those who don’t know see feature dev on my page” I had and extra green light source. I added a few extra bright green sports on my metallic colors. Simply make a new layer and apply a darker shade then a lighter shade of what ever color your other light source is. If you follow the edge of the object closet to the light source “or perhaps a reflected material, but I try to avoid too much reflection” you can make the metallic appear more reflective.

*TIP: the best advice I can give for matallics it to look at them while drawing.


Again for the anime hair style I will follow the same basic method I always do. I start off with Miko’s brow base, then add the shadow areas. I try to keep the shadows sharp, to show more hair texture. This is a great place to use the smudge tool, to bring those strokes up into nice shape ends.

*TIP: You can add as many different tones of shadow you want, but try not to go over three or four we still have to add highlights.

Also we all know how most anime characters have that nice little ring of highlights from there bangs to around the back of her head. Keep in mind where ever you want you highlights to be, try not to add a whole lot of dark shadows there. NOTE: you can see in the first image how I avoid the area I plan on highlighting.

Now its time for the highlights! Remember the no gray/white rule! Instead I pick an off yellow/brown for my first highlight. I will round in a zig zag halo around the head.
Now lets use that smudge again to sharpen the highlights. And add a little on the ends close to the light.
Finally add the final highlight, use the same step and you are done!

Ok guys I know it was long, but I wanted to give you the best I could, I hope it helped you all out. Any question please leave them here. Feel free to ask me whatever and I will do my best to help you. The best advise is to look, experiment and correct ^_~ remember the more ideas, style and tutorials you look at the more options there are. Please forgive spelling and grammar…
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anonymous's avatar
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berriisplash's avatar
[link] Made this using your tutorial (as well as a combination of many others)
berriisplash's avatar
Can I work on an artwork simular to this one to help me along on creating digital scenery like this? I'll credit you in the description.
DigiAvalon's avatar
Yes If you want to use the tutorial to try and make a similar thing that's fine, if your crediting and saying that's what you were doing.
berriisplash's avatar
Thank you, I will do so in a future post! I'm sorry for the late reply ^^;
DesertdustSariah's avatar
nice tutorial and a huuuuuge description
MistakenDeath's avatar
MistakenDeathStudent Digital Artist
Is that a Gaia Online window i spy hiding in the task bar? [Lovly tutorial]
ScourgeX's avatar
ScourgeXHobbyist Digital Artist
An awesome word isn't good enough to describe your tutorial. Thank you very much for sharing :)
CupcakeVigilante's avatar
..... *is totally speechless*

<8D Totally what I needed >w< *clings* You are a very nice person for posting this :'D

...And is pretty art too ^^

...Why is everyone better than me at everything? xD
llama-doll's avatar
Does this work with photoshop elements? its amazing
Vinkon's avatar
I got one thing to say YOU ARE TALENTED! This is psycho you really got something there !
Poki-art's avatar
Poki-artProfessional Digital Artist
thank u thank u my Master
thanks for lot of useful tips, for this fantastic lesson.. i realized much things and i realized again one thing - its a method 'of tries and mistakes' and the best way to learn it to experiment by my own and look at new things or pictures, or seeing other things and learn from them how to do things, and to look at other pictures for get an inspiration or idea for shading/texture... Thank you!
RenaInnocenti's avatar
RenaInnocentiHobbyist General Artist

cloudwindgate's avatar
cloudwindgateStudent Digital Artist
very cool
Passingsorrow's avatar
i know you posted this a fare time ago xD but thanks for sharing your knowlage on how you do color things in photoshop, im going to try and change the way i go about lighting and all to yours! its really wonderful!
BrigetteMora's avatar
BrigetteMoraHobbyist Filmographer
Thanks, I've been looking for ways to refine my techniques. I'll see if any of this works for me.
niips's avatar
:P *shot'd* didn´t understand
Hunta666's avatar
yey thanks ^^ will help alot cos my stuff atm is just flat =|
mvjnz's avatar
mvjnz Digital Artist
is your file big enough?

here's a tip, when saving images in photoshop, choose 'save for web'. then it makes them as small as possible without compromising image quality, and people wouldn't have to wait 5 minutes before your tutorial loads.
Goddess-Mayura's avatar
Goddess-MayuraHobbyist Digital Artist
Hey ummm i know this is a very dumb Question
but can u do this on opeancavans? Please answer
DigiAvalon's avatar
no idea haven't used it.
anonymous's avatar
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