Is it CHEATING to let an AI color your art?

9 min read

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RobotCatArt's avatar

So in case you haven't been in the loop, in the past 24 hours or so, Someone released a tool that uses a neural network to color anime lineart. You can find it here:

It just takes a jpg image and starts the coloring process for you, depending on the quality of your input image and contents, the results could range from meh to pretty amazing. Of course, you can specify colors and tweak it even further, and a lot of people have posted some really great looking results:

I have no doubt many people will use this to some effect or another. In fact, I think if this tool was released two years I might not have even bothered trying to seriously learn to color, since it'd be so convenient in comparison and my focus was more on making manga. There's a lot of people who stick with pencils and pens, but find digital hard to get into, or traditional colors too messy. This tool would allow them to finally get to see their own works in color. Others might put it in their digital workflow, or let it take over their digital coloring completely.

The question is, would this be considered cheating?

To answer that question, we'd have to examine what are some cases that can be considered cheating right now. The one that most people immediately think of is probably tracing. Generally most people can agree tracing is cheating, especially if you present it as your own work. The next one that comes up a lot is copying. However, already we're starting to get into a grey area. All fanart is basically copying the design and ideas of a popular franchise, so a lot of copying is already accepted. The times where drama seems to flare up is when the copy is too close to a well known work of another artist or official merchandise, such as copying the entire composition in addition to the characters. Some popular artists have ran into a bit of trouble when passing these 'studies' off as their own work, but it seems as long as you reference your source and don't try to profit off of it, its acceptable.

1485565894420 by RobotCatArt

However, this tool doesn't really fall into the former 2 categories, but instead its more comparable to a photoshop tool or shortcut. For example, many artists use custom brushes to make their workflow much faster. Why draw every strand or rock crack when your brush takes care of the grunt work for you? Or the use of applying existing photo textures, a very common and accepted technique. Photobashing is straight up taking photos and cutting them up and putting them into your composition, and using layers, filters, and color adjusters, in combination with some digital painting touchup to make a completely new work, and is considered standard practice in the concept art industry.

So back to our original question. Is using this filter cheating, or is some level of use okay? I mean, if someone straight up says they colored it, but used the tool 100%, then I'd consider that cheating, but if they disclose they used the tool to color it, then it would it be okay? What if they used it, but then altered it by hand in addition to the AI coloring, like in photobashing, or altered it significantly so it becomes more or a reference? Would it be okay for them to say they painted it? Or they'd have to disclose they used it in some way during the coloring process?

I can already see a few uses I might have for it. For example, it seems to be able to calculate a very aesthetically pleasing color palette, while introducing a bunch of additional hues that fit your overall color scheme. It'd be extremely useful for setting up scenes or color profiles to get really interesting colors as a base reference:

1485555411481 by RobotCatArt

Also, someone already made a short animation with the tool:

I really do want to try my hand at animating portions of VRO, and having it be colored automatically would save so much time. Of course I'd disclose my use of it.

Right now it seems the neural network was most trained on pastel type coloring, but in the future other coloring styles would become readily available. I can easily see this tool becoming a standard filter in the next version of Photoshop or Clip Studio Paint. When it does, it'd become widespread pretty quickly, and I'm sure there will be some huge schism on the digital artist scene regarding its use.

What do you guys think? Is it cheating? Or just another tool in a digital artist's arsenal?


I read through everyone's comments, that sure took longer than I expected. It seems people are pretty split regarding whether using the tool is cheating or not. However, most people agree that credit should be given if you do use the tool. A few comments brought up 'collaboration', which is a viewpoint I hadn't considered. There's also the issue of commissions, which make thing a lot more complicated.

Either way, it seems like as AI become more prevalent, thinks will be shaken up in ways we might not be able to control.


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AlexMehler's avatar
since i like drawing much more than painting im alright with it .. more art faster .. but its probably very limited and needs lots of brushing up , especially environments
PaintedLiger's avatar
I don't know. Personally, I think if someone wants to use an AI to color their artwork, that's fine. They can do that. But not for commissions. If someone's paying you for a full-colored artwork, and you do the lines and then pop it in the auto-coloration app, that's cheating someone out of their money, and that isn't ethical. If they're paying you for a sketch, or just the lineart, and you put it through that AI, then whatever. Just as long as you're not charging people more for something you're not even doing half of. Shrug 
5agado's avatar
The problem is that "cheating" is more of a ethical and moral concept. When considering instead a more utilitarian view, you can see that once AI will get better that humans in coloring (and other art-related steps for that matter) it would not matter much, or better: it will matter a lot  for many, but what society will do at that point will be highly unrelated to such opinions, and instead focused on the most effective and efficient path (notice that effectiveness here includes also intrinsic quality of the resulting art, is not just "fast and cheap").

Dummy example: if I want to offer my services as human calculator (doing additions, multiplications, divisions, etc.) I better be doing something really extraordinary as a plus for you to choose me instead of a much cheaper and faster basic calculator. If I cannot accomplish this, than there is no point in using me for the task. Are you cheating by using the calculator? In a normal context, not at all, you just chose the optimal option.

On my side I am experimenting and developing more and more techniques that use a mix of automation and machine learning for art purposes, and I believe we will soon [what is soon?] be able to automate the process making it pretty much impossible to distinguish between human and machine artists.

And here some automatic colorization for my works: The Rapture by 5agado
sakuyatogane's avatar

Yes, there are some lineart fanart I like, I enjoy sprucing it up with colors.

FiddleMyJiggles's avatar
I'd say it's more lazy than cheating. Plus an AI doesn't know what you want the end result to look like, all it knows is what spaces to fill with colors. When I was on, there was a brush someone made a brush what was a bunch of anime base bodies & heads:… It's not gonna help people draw anatomy better & this applies to this AI. Why bother drawing if a machine's gonna do it for you?
Genisay's avatar
I'd call it experimental.  Artist are always playing with new techniques, and this one happens to produce a very distinct sort of look.  After a while, you start being able to tell when it was used.  These are some pretty decent ones too. I've played with this program myself, and some of the images I've tried to do didn't get results nearly this nice.
I could see people even combining this 'style' with hand painted portions as well to develop new looks, or to more quickly get a base to start from to save time, then further stylize into something more uniquely their own. If this becomes more common, I don't see it ruining or as cheating art any more than using Photoshop and Coral Painter to achieve digital paintings or special effects. Instead, I see it as just another tool artists can possibly add to their bag of applications and techniques, and something that can expand into new ways of doing art. No different than the invention of anything else that changed the way people approached art.
MallonIllustration's avatar
It's not cheating, but it's going to put a lot of people out of work eventually.
True Words actually we are prepared for a really long time that automation will replace more jobs it's nothing that comes unexpected at all for art though it's a bit crazy who would have thought about it but art overall is a creative process a individual result even if machines can do it it will stay unique sure it could save a lot of money on many sides the question is how will it be used and how the saved resources will be in the end directed and into whose pockets ;)

If we overall all can benefit from it i am for it in any place of life if only a small portion gonna profit from replacing jobs with more automation it is the wrong way and will cause more problems in society later on that it's gonna solve.
ChazzVC's avatar
It's hardly any different than using bucket fill, I don't see what all the fuss is about. 
Ravvie-Kun's avatar
I personally hate coloring. It's not that fun. On the rare occasion I make lines steady enough for it, I use it.
xXSilverCellistXx's avatar
It honestly depends, though something like this for animations would be VERY useful. I tried to do animation and I can confirm that it is a pain to color every single frame. It honestly depends on how it's used in my opinion. 
EGGv2's avatar
This actually looks incredibly useful for animators tbh LOL 
NebulaDreams's avatar
I think it's a fun tool to use, and the effects can be nice, but I wouldn't use it as a crutch. It can't replace actual color theory.
Reenaki's avatar
i honestly think its cheating. And i will never stop coloring by myself.
The big threat that I fear is that if this continues,artists wont have any role in the future. If AI can color like this,almost anyone can have a perfectly good piece of art with much effort. NOW BEFORE YOU SAY IT,yes,im aware that the person WOULD have to draw the lineart. But still, im pretty sure AI will someday be able to draw that aswell. I hope that day never comes.
Artists already have a hard time as it is,but if AI take over the art field,we are all DOOMED. It would be impossible to tell the difference between someone who worked hard on something themselves,and someone who just ran some stuff through AI. Unless mentioned. Which will,in my opinion,greatly dishonor legit artists
i dont pride myself on it,but i refuse to believe someone who has used AI to make something as an artist. I will show them respect for drawing the lineart. But if someone asks me to critique a work colored with AI,I can assure you I WILL ignore the color an only review the lineart.
also the fact,that it pretty much sucks the fun out of being an artist,it sucks the fun out of trying new styles of coloring,of learning,of improving,and most of all,I feel like it sucks the fun out of finishing a piece of art,and just sitting back and being proud of what you did.
Shen-fn-Woo's avatar
I honestly think you're taking it way to seriously.  One, AI will NEVER take over the role of the artist.  It will never steal anything from artists either.  While it may be possible for it to draw things for someone someday, the issue is that it is not a mind reader and will not get everything done to specification.  It lacks imagination, and that's something only the artist has. 

Besides, would you really want to pay absurd prices for that sort of thing anyway?  It would be in ridiculously high demand.
Reenaki's avatar
gendemo's avatar
I have a related question, but I can't find a a discussion on this. Hence if you can direct me there, I'd appreciate it.

What is people's opinion on colouring in other artist's line art? Its just for fun, not to sell or nothing. Should I message the artist and ask permission?

thnx, GD
RobotCatArt's avatar
Should be fine as long as you have permission, but you probably can't use it to promote or sell unless you're actually collaborating with the artist
howjustrightxxo's avatar
Krinmu's avatar
A little bit late to the party, but I don't think you would really define it as cheating as long as you credit the ai.

The only thing I'm really worried about is that weather or not we can distinguish the difference between hand drawn and AI as technology keeps on advancing. If the difference between AI and hand drawn truly disappears, that's when I think that things are getting to out of hand because there are people who honestly want to get recognized by their way of coloring and art. Of course this is just my opinion, but it would definitely make me feel better if someone can look at a painting and tell it was painted by an AI or by hand. I feel like the AI should be kept to around nothing to detailed, because if it starts interfering with very stylized coloring styles of certain artists, that's where I draw the line.

But I do think that it's a really neat tool to help express something quickly, but I don't think it's something you should use all the time if you truly want to keep that traditional or maybe even professional feel.

I feel like a similar debate started when digital art was becoming more widespread too, but even though traditional paintings may be a thing of the past, you still give them recognition (Like have you seen those Star Wars concept arts that where traditionally painted. F***** amazing)

Happy arting!
Weissboard's avatar
When I buy something, I go by the final result. I do not know if you hand painted it or used a computer. all I go by is whether I like it or not. I'm not an artist, so doesn't make sense to advise, just appreciate.

Looks like a fun tool, but I may be missing something here. Is there  a way to download the result to your PC or do you have to post it to Twitter?
JaliosWilinghart's avatar
I dont think its cheating at all. Not even close. This great advancement can bring much more good than harm. Just like the elevator, the bike, and Photoshop. All can be argued to only be "tools of the lazy", but in reality they can all be great tools for people to not only improve their lives, but also give them abilities they would not else have at all.

I, as well as anyone else, should have respect for skill. But just imagine how many more people can show their artistic visions and works with this tech? Art is not about limiting it to only a few being able to properly express themselves according to their vision. Living, breathing, art, is about not just one doing so. But many. This can free up many artists to be able to express themselves, as they have yearned for. Life is too beautiful to be limited for only the few to express it to be so.
CRUMVIII's avatar
This is the most amazing thing I've seen in the last few months. <3
Night-hearted's avatar
Interesting. Neural networks are starting to get better and better every year, and it's possible that one day they might even be able to create their own artwork of a professional quality and replace human artists entirely. O_o For now, though, I could see how this would be immensely useful in applications such as animation. Maybe someone will start working on a neural net that is able to do in-betweens given a few key frames.
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