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Coloring Digital Art – Artfixed

Coloring Digital Art

image of digital art background

How to Color Digital Art

With all the different digital paint software out there, you can basically create a work of art from your very first try. However, digital painting requires practice, much like the practice a traditional painter needs. Having said that, you should also keep in mind that digital painting can be learned much faster than more conventional art, and it gives you a great outlet for your creativity.

What is Digital Art?

It is important that you understand what is digital art before you start. Digital art is not just Manga art, as many people believe. Instead, let’s define digital art as a platform on which a person can express their creativity, whether it is as a realistic, modernistic, illustrative or abstract art form. 

Digital art is not just Manga art, as many people believe. Instead, let’s define digital art as a platform on which a person can express their creativity, whether it is as a realistic, modernistic, illustrative or abstract art form. #coloring #digital #art #design

How to Start Coloring Digital Art

You want to get down to the heart of the matter and learn how to color digital art. It is not hard! but you need to know that learning How to Color in Digital Art takes practice. Yes, you will create a nice digital painting on your first try, but the more you practice these digital coloring techniques, the better you will get.

But before we start learning the coloring process there are a few things you need to keep in mind. These are important principles that will prevent you from making a gorgeous art piece and then finding it is too small or just doesn’t work the way you want it to: 

Image Resolution

Before you even start thinking about color you need to choose the right resolution for your drawing. There is no best size but usually high resolution of 300 PPI (pixels per inch) gives you enough flexibility to go either large or small with your canvas size, once your digital image is finished and ready to be printed.

Every digital image in Photoshop is made with pixels, so the larger the numbers of pixels the more detailed the painting. A resolution of 300 is probably the best place to start. you can change the resolution of your image by going to file and the image size.

You'll see the resolution settings here. When you finish your painting, you can always make the resolution smaller for uploading to social media or the web. It’s easy to go from big to small, but almost impossible to go from small to big. 

image of digital art background

image of digital art background

Coloring Digital Art Background

When you are first learning how to color digital art you want to start with a basic mid-tone grey background. Don’t start painting on a white background. Use a neutral gray because the color of the background is going to change the way you perceive the colors you lay down.

On a white background dark colors will seem too dark and highlights will not look right either. This is why it's always best to start with mid-grey colored background. 

Make Subtle Contrasts

One thing to keep in mind as you work is to keep your changes in color contrast small. Professionals know that a more professional look comes from using only slight changes. Plus, if you change color shades only slightly step by step it will be easier to add more contrast rather than take it away.

To keep from over complicating your art piece you also want to use just a few color shades. For instance, if you are working on the face, just use three to four color tones for the skin. Stick to a dark color for shadows, a bright tone for highlights and a midtone as the base color.

As you progress in the painting you can then add a little bit of black and white into the mix to accent certain areas. Choose the colors before you start painting and add them as swatches to an area outside of your painting. 

Keep Brushes to a Minimum When Learning How to Paint Digitally

If you are a traditional painter, you know that you don't have as many brushes as you do in Photoshop. The huge number of brushes in digital art software programs is both good and bad, and can actually be a setback when trying to learn how to pain digitally.

As a beginner digital painter, you always want to try all the photoshop brushes at once. This usually ends up being one big mess, and wasting a lot of your time. It's best to stick to brushes that offer simple strokes, unless you need a specific effect in a certain area of your digital painting. Just keep it simple at first. This will help you learn the techniques. 

Adding Color to a Digital Drawing or Painting 

The first thing you want to do is decide on the type of digital painting you want to do, and what you plan on doing with the painting once you finish. Do you want to learn How to color digital art anime? Or do you want to work in a more expressionistic art style? Maybe you want to learn How to color Metal Digital Art? You know, create a realistic or modern piece that you can print on metal. 

To help you make this decision you can use photographs for inspiration. You can use elements from photographs and either draw them out or use the photographs to get color inspiration. If there are elements you want to use from a photograph instead of a sketch. Import the image onto a layer then right click the layer and turn it into a template. This will fade the image out so you can trace over the element.

This is a great technique you to use when you want to add a different feature or characteristic to your painting. For instance when you want to learn how to color hair digital art? Or when you want to learn how to colour Manga art. 

You can use this technique by placing the photograph on a new layer, then creating a new blank layer. You can trace out the element or color the element on the new layer and then use it in your own composition, on your own face or with unique features you draw. 

You can also use a personal sketch. Take a photo of your sketch and then import it into Photoshop and place it on its own layer just as you would a photograph (mentioned in the above paragraph).

Create a new layer and using a photoshop brush (with your drawing tablet pen) trace over the lines in your sketch. Turn off the original layer with the scanned image by clicking the eye icon of the layer. 

How to Add Shading to Digital Art

Digital Coloring

This is where you actually begin to add in color to your digital painting. Start by adding three new layers in the layers panel. Place these new layers the line drawing layer you made.

These three layers are known as the underpainting layers of your digital painting. Always place your color layers under your line drawing, and do not worry if you pull the color out of the lines, you can always come back and clean it up later with the eraser tool. This is the order you should see in the layers panels.


Choose three to four different tones of the color you want. If you want the colors to be more realistic, search for pictures or photographs that have the color shades you want. Import the picture onto a layer and choose the color picker to select the color. Turn the eye icon off of the layer to make the image invisible when you no longer need it.

Begin to lay in the basic colors on the midtones layer. Be sure to use an appropriate sized brush size, neither small, nor too large. 
When first learning Shading Digital art techniques be sure to name your shade layers, especially if you decide to use more than one. This way, you wont be confused as to what shades you are working on.

Use something like “facial shading”, “dress shading” etc. Do the same for the highlights. This is especially important when you are working with Manga shading.

Laying in the Shading

Select the shadows layer you want to work on and add a darker tone of the color you are lying in. If using more than one color use tools like the wetbrush or the blend tool to blend and mix colors. On the highlights layer begin laying in lighter tones to show where the light is illuminating the object.

Once you have laid in the midtones, the shadows and highlights. Clean up the image by erasing the color from each layer that flows outside of the outline layer.

Additional Coloring and Blending Tips

There are a few things you can do to help your colors blend well together. You can change the opacity of the shadow and highlight layers, change the opacity and flow of the brush stroke in the top tool bar. You can also merge layers, rasterize them and add a bit of a gaussian blur or a bit of noise to the colors.

Not every painting uses the same techniques and you will need to practice using different opacity levels, use different brush types, paint flows and brush opacities. It is a matter of practice and finding your own style.

When you decide to control the drawing and painting in Photoshop, you become a digital painter, and like a traditional painter, you will need to practice using the brushes, the erasers, the blend tools and filters to get the effect you want.


Digital painting can be lots of fun, no matter the style you want to convey. It can be a great way to learn manga art, or to create a beautiful piece that you can use when you want to learn How to color metal digital art. But as with any hobby or interest, it takes practice. You won't create a masterpiece on your first try, but with these tips you might create something you are prefectly happy with.

About the author

John Thatch

John Thatcher is a computer science educated artist. He uses technology to solve artist problems. His friends don't like it when he speaks of himself in the third person. But John does it anyway, because he's a rebel.

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