A Guide to Coloring Manga Pages


Note: I have created all colorings shown here in this article.

Note: In this article, it is assumed you have basic knowledge of graphic editing programs and access to necessary scans.

After running a poll on twitter, it appears like a lot of people have attempted to color Berserk pages, but didn’t go very far with their attempts. This guide here is meant to give you a couple of valuable tips for starting out. You don’t necessarily need to be an artist for this, but having first experiences with digital art will help you greatly.

Tools

First, you need the right programs and tools.

I personally recommend to use the free image editing software krita, which has a lot of functionality to offer and is specifically made for digital painting. Krita is also what I use. Commercial programs such as Clip Studio Paint, Paint Tool SAI and Photoshop are also suited for coloring. What’s important is the program of choice should supports different layer blend modes in the layer options.

What is also important is a digital drawing tablet, such as Wacom or similar. It is also possible to color with a mouse, if you have one that is ergonomic and possess a high resolution (high DPI). All of my colorings are created with a gaming mouse, with a handful of exceptions.

Quick Start

For a quick start, we are going to use a simple coloring approach that is suited for beginners. I will also pick a page that is simple to color and features a single character to show you the basics.

These are the types of brushes you need to start out.

  • The airbrush is used for applying soft glow effects or shadows
  • The hard edge brush is used for assigning base colors and also assigning rough shading
  • Multiple blender brushes (or mixer brushes in photoshop) to smooth out rough shading

Naturally you can use different or textures brushes to create different styles and looks, but these are the most basic brushes that you will need. Feel free to experiment!

We will get to each brush type later. But first, let’s start with some layering basics.

Layering Basics

This is the secret to coloring manga pages and it’s actually quite simple.

For one, you have your layer containing the outline and the other are the layers containing the colors.

To start coloring right away, select the layer containing the outline, select in the blend mode options the blend method “Multiply”. Now you can place all your colored layers below the outline layer. Like so:

There are other ways of preparing a page for coloring, such as erasing the white colors and converting it into transparency. The multiply method is the quickest and laziest way.

This is the basic setup you need to create any coloring you want. Next, we’re going to take a look at assigning the base colors and shading.

Assigning Base Colors

This is probably the most tedious and time consuming part of coloring. To assign the base colors, you need a hard edge brush and an additional line tool can assist you. I’ve already started doing so for presentation purposes, but I will start over to show you a more efficient technique.

Select the line tool and follow the outlines like so:

Once you’re done (and you’re gonna be done quickly), select the bucket tool, navigate to the Tool Options tab and set the “Growth Selection” to around 2 pixels. Then fill in the area you just created. Quick and easy, works in Photoshop as well.

The grow selection parameter prevents white or transparent fragments to be left when the area is being filled. To avoid this it’s also possible to use a extremely sharp brush without any anti-alias instead.

Note that we are currently ignoring other aspects of coloring here, such as picking a proper color scheme and making sure the colors harmonize overall.

Shading

We assigned a base color which means we can start shading.

So I have prepared another layer below the line art layer, “Griffith Skin Shading 1”. Select the base color layer “Griffith Skin”, right click, and click on “Select opaque”. What this does is to create a selection using the alpha channel of the base color layer.

There is a very good reason for creating a new layer for each color you are using: it is much easier to change the color (HSV-Color Shifting filters) to create a certain look with filter effects or adjust the color scheme if your page is more complex. In can be a real life saver, actually.

Now we select the shading layer “Griffith Skin Shading 1” again and then we can start shading without actually going over the base color’s bounds.

For shading, I normally use a darker base color than the one I’ve used here. The resulting coloring will look rather bright because of this. So I’m picking this beige color, select the hard edge brush and proceed placing some rough shading spots, assuming the light source comes from the front (see the red arrow).

After that, I pick a blender blur brush to smooth out the colors that I just applied.

This technique will give you fast and natural looking shading. This also gives you more control over what areas should be really smoothly shaded and which rather sharp.

Depending on how realistic you want your coloring to be, you add at least 1-2 shading layers more in the same way and perhaps one or two shadow layers.

Don’t beat yourself up for accidentally picking the wrong layer, it still happens to me too…

Coloring For Intermediates

This is the end of the beginner section. If you want to figure out some intermediate techniques for coloring, read on.

Layering: Good Practices

Proper layering is half the work. It is important especially if the page you want to color consists of multiple panels.

  • Use one layer for each color. This makes it easier to color shift and adjust colors in a more complex page
  • Always name your layers. When naming, be descriptive: call the layer what it actually contains (characters, objects, colors…)
  • Group layers that belong thematically together, if order is not important
  • Creating too many layer groups can make your coloring messy and confusing to navigate. I personally prefer to name them using a naming convention without using too many layer groups, e.g. “<Character> <Object> <Type>” => Griffith Armor Base”, “Griffith Skin Base”, “Casca Shoes Shadow” etc.
  • when creating multi-paneled pages, panel layer masks or masks that are using “Erase” or “Destination In” blend-modes in the layer settings can be used to keep the edges of the panels clean and limit the colors to one panel.
  • Use the layer color feature to distinguish your layers more easily so you can find them quicker (Krita and Photoshop offer this feature). My effects layer are usually either orange or brown, like here:

Layering Example

My recent colorings are usually structured as follows, going from top to bottom:

  • Multiple Effect Layers: Lighting, more shadows, glow & gradient effects, saturation & color adjustments… just to name a few
  • Outline Layer
  • Scene Shadows
  • Character 1 Shadows (optional)
  • Character 1 Shading Colors
  • Character 1 Base colors
  • Character 2 Shadows (optional)
  • Character 2 Shading Colors
  • Character 2 Base colors
  • … (add more for more characters)
  • Background Base Colors

Coloring Approaches

There are two basic approaches you can use when coloring, but it is possible to create blends of the two. Feel free to experiment around.

Simple Regions (beginner)

This is the default approach that you intuitively use when you start coloring. You just assign each object in the coloring (e.g. the color of pants or skin) a single color. This approach can easily escalate in a couple of hundred layers depending on the page’s complexity.

One of the earlier colorings I created back in 2017

Through usage of filter effects or tinted shadows a simple region approach can look like a painterly approach. This is the case with this coloring. Note the blue and brown reflective colors in Guts’ armor. In this case, they are placed above the line art using the blend mode Screen or Overlay, but it is also possible to place them below the outlines.

A coloring that I finished recently

Painterly approach (advanced)

Instead of assigning regions, you let the background and environmental colors affect the color of objects and characters. The shading color is the color of the lighting present in the scene. This focuses mainly on the shading and lighting itself not on correct colors, and is recommended for scenes with a strong light source. Painterly approaches use only a couple of layers.

Example of a painterly approach coloring (WIP). Note the red and purple background colors as shadow colors, and the beige/orange as shading color.

I only recommend this approach if you have considerate experience creating (digital) art.

Choosing a color palette

A good palette is key for a good coloring job. Colors affect mood and atmosphere and it’s crucial to stay true to the nature of a page. As rule of thumb, use warm colors if you want to convey:

  • danger (red or black/yellow)
  • threats (red)
  • surprise (yellow)
  • energy (orange/yellow)
  • strength (red)
  • love (red)

Use cold colors if you want to convey:

  • sadness or shock (dark purple, dark blue)
  • melancholy (dark blue)
  • tranquility (light blue)
  • peace (green)
  • fear (dark purple)

Characters, Panels and the Environment

For a good color job,

  • the character colors
  • the overall color of a single panel (including all characters and their environments in one panel)
  • the overall color of an entire page (including all panels together)

must be coherent and harmonize with the other. For example, you shouldn’t use highly saturated colors next to desaturated colors in one coloring. Saturation should be controlled by the lightning of the scene instead, where saturation increases close to light sources, and decreases in shadows. This isn’t always an easy task to achieve if you wish to provide high quality colorings.

Some things that may help you accomplish this:

  • Always draw a quick sample color job first to see how your color choice works out with . This is where you can still fix your environment palette and make adjustments. This is also exactly why the “one color per layer”-rule is so important.
  • Base your environment colors off the character colors you have chosen.
  • Other way round works too: pick a few environment colors, color the character with your usual palette, then apply environmental lighting to them as final step. This is helpful e.g. when making pages with lots of environmental light, like fire, in them.
  • If possible, try to balance your page between cold and warm colors, such as using combination of yellow & blue, orange & blue or purple & orange.

If you have further questions or feedback, please let me know!

Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think about this topic in the comments section below!

If you enjoyed this article, consider getting the book for more!

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