Epic Clean Up Time!

by Zephos on November 27, 2012

Thank you everyone who attended my webinar in partnership with the Vancouver Animation School last weekend!

I had a great time demonstrating my drawing process live for the first time in front of other people! I was a bit nervous at first, but thanks to the awesome enthusiasm of those who attended, I quickly forgot my inhibitions and just had a heck of a lot of fun drawing! Incidentally, I didn’t jump off the third-story window! Which is great, because I just checked and my home doesn’t have a third-story.

The webinar was only an hour long, so there were a lot of things I wanted to follow up on in depth, including a request to go over my rather unconventional sketch clean-up method, and what better example to use than the very sketch we were working on during the webinar!

During the webinar, I asked participants to pick various character features right as I was drawing, and the result is what you see here! A saddie sad, sexy girl with long hair and an apple in her hair! All she needs is a name now, and I figured since she was drawn for a demonstration, why not Demo-chan? …Yeah, with a name like that I’d be crying too. Okay, how about Saddie? She’s a Saddie Sad Saddie!

Step 1: Scan it in!

Clean Up: Step 1

Here we have our lovely Demo-chan Saddie, except now she’s all nice and finished like! This sketch is fresh from the scanner!… A ten year old scanner I might add, so it is a bit on the faint side. Why don’t we create an adjustment layer to help darken the lines up?

To create an adjustment layer, go to the top menu and click on [Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels…]! Now that we have a new spiffy non-destructive Levels adjustment layer, check out the panel with numbers to the center right, as shown on the screenshot below. The ideal numbers differ on how faint the image is, but in this case, 100/0.50/240 did the trick.

As a side note, there are usually at least 3 ways to do the exact same thing in Photoshop and creating an adjustment layer is no exception, but since the top menu is usually the most obvious, I’ll usually default to it in this tutorial just for clarity.

Step 2: Cleaning Up!

Clean Up: Step 2

Clean up time! Now, when it comes to anime and manga, “normally” what people consider cleaning up is taking an actual inking pen or tracing over digitally to get a nice clean configuration of black lines. In my case however, I like the wabi-sabi raw nature of pencil lines, so I simply gave it a quick polish and darkened the already existing pencil lines!

WARNING: The above technique is not conventional among anime/manga artists and is a bit unique to my current style (I currently know of only two other artists who do it). I’ll be officially teaching more traditional techniques in the actual Introduction to Anime & Manga Illustration course… unless you ask for this method of course. ^_~

Okay! Everything is all good and clean now, let’s convert this sketch into a transparency! There are two ways to go about this. First, the easy way! Under the Layers tab to the center right of the screen, change the Blend Mode from normal to Multiply. Yup that’s it. You can now color under your line artwork!

Now the obvious question, why NOT do the above method? Well, for one thing, Multiply tends to be a bit unpredictable with color mixing since it amplifies color instead of merely covering over the layers below like the Normal Blend Mode does often leading to unnaturally dark colors.  It works well with pure black, but other colors, especially light ones can be troublesome. Also, if you are trying to do layer effects such as Outer Glow or Stroke with light colors, you’re gonna’ have a bad time.

Time for the hard way! To start, select the ENTIRE canvas by either going to [Select > All] on the top menu, then go to [Edit > Copy Merged] as shown above to copy everything you see on the canvas at once! Okay, now time for the tricky part, brace yourself!

Step 3: Create a mask!

Clean Up: Step 3

In technical terms, we are converting the luminosity of the sketch into opacity using a mask layer. In layman’s terms, we’re pasting what we just copied into a big black rectangle and hoping the universe doesn’t explode.

On this step, go to [Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All] to create a Layer Mask. In actuality, there are many different ways to create a mask in Photoshop that all work for this, but hey, it never hurts to pick the first thing on the list due to laziness (Except when it is the leading cause of workplace fatalities)! Just make sure you fill it with the color you wish the line art to be  (In this case, pure black) and you’re all set!

Step 4: Paste that image! Paste it good!

Clean Up: Step 4


Now that the mask is created, let’s go into the CHANNELS tab, select the Mask channel and paste the entire image into it, finally hit [Ctrl+I] to reverse the image! This part can be a bit confusing, because most people don’t deal with the channels window compared to the home turf Layers window… that and it just looks all kinds of weird.

So then, what is a mask? A mask in Photoshop is like sticking a piece of masking tape on your friend’s face and then throwing a can of paint at them. When you peel the tape, the area will not have any paint on it, albeit your friend might be too busy repeatedly punching you in the face to notice the difference.

To put things in a more technical manner, a mask acts as a stencil where anything that is BLACK will block visibility and anything  that is WHITE will show it. So when an entire mask is an image and the actual filling is black, it will create a perfect transparent overlay of your sketch!

As a side note, don’t forget to reverse the image in the mask channel with [Ctrl+I] as mentioned above, otherwise welcome to opposite day!

 Step 5: Profit!

Clean Up: Step 5

You’re done! Just flip back to the Layer tab and you’ll see your newly found beautiful transparency all ready for colorin! No ugly white background that comes with using Multiply included!

Although it takes a bit more time, I personally find this method far more elegant when it comes to working with your line art in the long run, especially since you will be working with pure transparency as opposed to a  imitation transparency. You can even easily change the line color by changing the fill color from black or add layer effects freely!

Ironically, some graphic manipulation programs have the ability to do this with a single click! Unfortunately, Photoshop, at least to the best of my knowledge, isn’t one of them.

Although it looks complicated, the whole process can be done in about 10 seconds and as with most things in Photoshop, you can automate it using Actions. Back in the day, I also created a filter that can do this with Filter Forge in just a click, although I’d recommend doing it manually as shown in this tutorial for large images.

Step 6: Finishing Touches!

Clean Up: Step 6

We’re done! Of course, there are always little things you can do to make a sketch look just a little extra presentable!

In my work, I like to create a silk screen effect using an extended version of the mask technique mentioned above as well as sometimes even add a vector mask for clean up and a quick runic background for some flavor! Needless to say though, this post is getting little bit long, so these will be secrets to look forward to another day! ^_~

Thank you for reading and for all those who attended the webinar I hope we cross paths again in the near future! Until then, may all your sketches be clean and beautiful!  ~^_^~.

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