Part 2 – How I use flats

When I first started making comics I was clueless about the coloring process. I would paint under my line art that was set to multiply but that was the extent of my knowledge. It always seemed like such mindless work to paint between the lines, to fill in the shapes, like I was doing what any kid could do in grade school. It took up so much precious time, but it had to be done before I could start adjusting the colors to my liking.

After learning about flatting, coloring a page became a quick and fun process. I can cut right to the part I enjoy and the part that needs my special attention.

If you goto, you can find all kinds of threads on how to color comics. That’s the forum where I learned about how to use flats. There are MANY ways to approach it and most of them involve putting your flats into channels. I’m not going to say that’s the right or wrong way but it’s not the way that works best for me. Here’s what I do.

First, I bring my flats layer into my file with my line art. I have my line art set to multiply and I put my flats below the lines so it looks like this.

HINT: If you are dragging in flats with the same dimensions as your line art, hold down the shift key as you drag in your file and it should automatically snap to your canvas and line up perfectly with your line art.

To make these colors easy to select, we need to select the magic wand tool.

Now that we have selected the magic wand, we need to adjust the tolerance down to between 3 and 5. This makes it only select the colors that are extremely close in range to the color we click on. If the tolerance is higher, more colors will be selected when we click on something, so keep it really low when using flats.

The second thing we need to look at is the box that says Anti-AliasAnti-alias blends the edges of your selection to make it look nicer to the eye and less like an old video game. In most cases this is good to have checked, but for flats we need to turn it off so it doesn’t feather our selections. Every time you select something with Anti-alias, it slowly eats away more of your selections, so make sure it’s off.

Third, we need to look at the Contiguous check box. You might be switching this one back and forth as you work because it changes your selection from just selecting the same colors that are touching each other, to the same colors that aren’t. So with contiguous unchecked, if you select a skin color in one panel, it will also select the same skin colors in other panels even though they are not touching.

Now our magic wand settings are ready for using our flats.

The first thing I do with my new flats is adjust some of the colors if I know it will work better one way or another. For instance, I know that Sonja’s skin will always be the same color on the whole page so I’m going to select all the skin colors and make sure they are all the same. Or perhaps I want to darken one of the Victuals layers becasue I know he will be a different color in one panel. This is the time I do that.

Remember, we are still not coloring, only adjusting the flats for easy selection.

Now that we have our flats the way we want, duplicate it.

I rename the duplicate, Colors, and move it below the flats layer.

Now select the flats layer again and slide the opacity to “0” so that the layer is completely invisible.

Now lock it so you can’t accidentally start painting on it.

Now the fun begins, but it takes some getting use to.

Before I adjust individual parts, I first click on the color layer and hit Apple+U(Mac) or Ctrl+U(PC) for Hue/Saturation.

I usually pull down the saturation to start with so everything is not so colorful. Just a personal preference. It will look something like this.

Now we can start adjusting specific parts. Start with the big, obvious colors, like the sky. So lets click on our flats layer and with the magic wand, click on the sky. You will notice that even though the flats are invisible and locked, we can still select from it. (Isn’t that cool!)

All the sky should have been selected and nothing else. Now click on your color layer and hit Apple+L(Mac) or Ctrl+L(PC) to bring up Levels. Adjust the sky to white and hit OK.

Congratulations! You have officially painted your sky white with very little effort.

Now go back to the flats layer and select something else. Go back to the color layer and use Hue/Saturation or Levels again to adjust it to your desired color. Slide around the Hue sliders until you are happy with the color and hit OK. If you can’t get the color you are looking for then click the colorize check box in Hue/Saturation and try it again.

Another command that I use quite a bit is Apple+B(Mac) or Ctrl+B(PC) for color balance. This makes it easy to add just a little more red or blue or whatever to a selection.

You are well on your way to coloring your page using flats and guess what, if you were simply coloring these pages without textures in a style like “Hell Boy”, imagine how fast you could do it. Here is a little recap of the Hot Keys and what they are best for with this kind of technique.

Keep selecting colors from the flats layer and adjust the color layer. Repeat until you are satisfied with all your colors. Now you’re all done! You can also airbrush inside your selection as I did below with Sonja’s hand in the last frame.

Here’s what my page is starting to look like. I know you’re impressed.

I usually don’t go to far without adding some textures which affect how the final color looks, but I’ll get into that later, along with lighting and shadows.

So you thought coloring a comic was all about using the paint brush to fill in between the lines, eh? Well, I’m sorry to destroy your childhood dreams. Of course you could still do it that way after you select from your flats, but for me this approach is super easy, quick and fun.

If you would like to see more of my tutorials then please subscribe to my YouTube channel here:

Here is a video demo of me doing all the stuff in this article:

More of this series is on my Youtube channel at BrubakerMotion.



Coloring a Graphic Novel Series (How I color reMIND)

Part 1 – Multiply and Flatting

Part 2 – How I use Flats (You are here)

Part 3 – Textures – Art Directing your Graphic Novel

Part 4 – Creating your own Texture Library

Part 5 – Adding Textures to your Flatted Page

Part 6 – Masking and Applying Gradients

Part 7 – Light Source and Shadows

Part 8 – Dialing it all Together