Apr 27 2009
Though MacMerc.com is, strictly speaking, a Mac site, this tutorial has been made “PC-friendly” for viewers of The Lab with Leo Laporte (my show notes are here). As I (Rick Yaeger) am, strictly speaking, a Mac guy, this PC-friendlifying of this tutorial may be a bit rough. I have done my best to catch all the Command-this’s and add (Ctrl-this on the PC) wherever I could, but a few might have fallen in the cracks.
If you’d like to partake of the original, PC-unfriendly version of this tutorial or any of the other Photoshop tutorials I have written, I welcome you to do so, but they will be PC-unfriendly and are likely to stay that way unless demonstrated on The Lab with Leo Laporte. If you would like to see any of these tutorials covered on the show, please contact The Lab and make your wishes known. I will be only too happy to comply if it means I get to be on TV.
Thanks and enjoy playing with the tutorial.
Hey man, if somebody takes a picture of something and then you
get Photoshop to draw the same thing right on top of it, only going outside
the designated original art to make it looks somewhat comic book like, what
do call that? I call it my latest tutorial!
Use this baby to convert your digital pictures and scans into
comic book style illustrations. Nothing can take the place of talent …except
for maybe a relative who works high up in the business…but this tutorial will
get the idea across without requiring much artistic talent at all.
Disclaimers, conditions and preparations
Start with a good high resolution RGB image–at least a 5″ by 3″
image at 300ppi–that you’ve color corrected and sharpened. If the image is
bad, the result of this tutorial will also be bad–I can’t stress this enough.
I will give you some extra steps to fix a few quirks of the process as we go,
but having an image that crisp and vibrant in the first place will go a long
way to making this effect really pop.
I will be using three different images in my demonstration to illustrate various
challenges and subtleties of the effect. The first is a picture I took on my
trip to San Francisco at the Sharper Image. Behold!
How can you go wrong making a comic book illustration from a picture of a comic
book hero? We’ll be tweaking how this tutorial effects this caped Kryptonian
in the Optional Stuff at the end of the tutorial.
The second is a shot that my buddy and steadfast Photoshop tutorial beta tester
“Digital” Bill Douthett took while he was on a trip to San
Francisco. Here you’ll see him with the sledgehammer wielding alpha geek Patrick
Norton on the set of the Screen Savers.
This image is going to give me a bit of trouble because it seems to have been
taken on an unlit set, probably after the show was finished taping, which has
caused a bit of digital grain in places. Also, Bill (the dude on the left) is
pretty close to the camera flash and it’s giving him an odd pallor. These kinds
of things are very common in digital shots taken in uncontrolled environments.
But those shots are just the kind on which you might like to try this kind of
effect, so we’ll have to address those issues with extra steps in the Optional
Stuff section. No biggie.
The final image is also from the set of the Screen Savers and features not
only Patrick Norton (geez I hope Pat likes comic art…he’s in this tutorial
a lot), but Leo Laporte…the man who graciously provided this image and the
one at the top of this page (Thanks, Leo!).
This image was more than likely shot by a professional photographer, with a
pretty fancy, if not schmancy, camera. The lighting and clarity is great. The
only thing that may challenge it as a comic book panel is that it is brimming
with rust, brown and beige–needs a bit more oomph to make it in the same universe
with the Man of Steel. This pic of Pat and Leo will be the main focus of this
I’ll be using Adobe Photoshop CS version 8 but I have also successfully tested
the steps involved and they work just dandy on Adobe Photoshop 7 and may even
work on lower versions and possibly Adobe Photoshop Elements.
So, if you’re ready, let’s get started…
If you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to alter the image before
Step 1: The Displacement Map
Okay I’m going to start with the picture of Leo and Pat and I go Command-A
(Ctrl-A on a PC) to Select All and Command-C (Ctrl-C on a PC) to Copy and then Command-N (Ctrl-N on a PC) to start a new image
document the same size and resolution as the original. When you are confronted
by the New document dialog box, choose Lab for the Mode type.
Everything else should be set properly, so click OK.
This new document is going to be used later on in the tutorial, but I wanted
to get you to copy the image now before we apply a bunch of layers and filters
to it. With your new document started, hit Command-V (Ctrl-V on a PC) to paste and open the Channels
palette and click the channel marked “Lightness.”
Go to Image>Mode>Grayscale. Photoshop will ask if it is okay to flatten
the image–it is. Photoshop may even ask if it is okay to discard hidden layers–that’s
okay too. This will leave us with a pretty nice black and white rendition of
the original image.
Now when we eventually need to use this document we will be using it as what
is called a displacement map. We’re going to use the highlights and
shadows of the original image to distort something. It’s an effect that is usually
used on water droplet effects or when warping one image onto another. But I
think I’ve come up with a fairly unique application for the effect here. It
will look really cool, but you’ll have to wait. You will also have to save this
document as a Photoshop (.psd) file. Go Command-S (Ctrl-S on a PC) and save the document
somewhere where you’ll be able to find it later. Set the Format to “Photoshop”
and name the file “DispMap.psd”
Keep that file open but switch your attention (and Photoshop’s) to your original
Step 2: Tone
Open up the Layers palette if it isn’t already and duplicate the Background
layer. Name this new layer “Tone”
We’re about to do some things that may make you wonder if I know what I’m doing.
Well, I wonder some times too. But trust me for now. Go to Filter>Artistic>Poster
Edges… and plug in a value of 0 for Edge Thickness, 0 for Edge Intensity and
1 for Posterization and click OK. Not bad.
Now go Filter>Artistic>Cutout… and set the Number of Levels to 4, the
Edge Simplicity to 3 and the Edge Fidelity to 2 and click OK. Scared now? Here’s
what mine looks like…
Now go Filter>Blur>Smart Blur… and use a Radius setting of 6.0, a Threshold
of 80.0, set the Quality to High and the Mode to Normal and hit OK.
I know. It might not look promising, but it will improve. Actually, this layer
will set the tonal foundation for our color, but not the color itself. I could
have made tone and color on one layer, but I had inconsistent results and this
method provides greater control…which you’ll see later.
Step 3: Color
Duplicate the Background layer and drag it to the top of the layers currently
listed in the Layers palette. Name this new layer “Color” and set
its Blending Mode to “Color” Since this layer is only here to add
back the color of the original photo to the tonal map we created in Step 2,
we really don’t need any of the detail in the shot, just the color.
Go Filter>Noise>Dust & Scratches and set the Radius to 10 pixels
and the Threshold to 0 levels.
This has brought back the natural color of the image back into our effect…which
would be fine…if we were going for a “natural” look. But we’re not.
The kind of comics this effect has been created to emulate are those from the
first early years when the colors were almost entirely homogenous and extremely
Go Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and leave the Hue at 0 but bump the
Saturation up to 80 and the Lightness to 50.
That’s as far as we can go with color until we get some ink to define these
Step 4: Ink 1
Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, Â© 1996, 1998 MICRA,
Duplicate the Background layer once more and drag it to the top of all the
layers currently listed in the Layers palette. Name this layer “Ink 1″
and set its Blending Mode to “Multiply” This layer’s sole purpose
is to keep the shadows black. That’s it.
Go Image>Adjustments>Threshold… and give it a setting of 25 and click
Now if you take a look at the edges of black areas this effect produces, you’ll
notice that they’re very rough and pixelated and look nothing like the ink strokes
in a comic book. The ink in the old comics was laid down with a brush or a pen
and gave a very smooth look. We’re going to try to achieve a bit of that now…
Go Filter>Stylize>Diffuse and click the radio button beside the word
Anisotropic before clicking OK.
Step 5: Ink 2
Guess what? You’re going to duplicate the Background layer again and
drag it to the top of all the layers currently listed in the Layers palette
again. This time, name this layer “Ink 2″ and set its Blending
Mode to “Multiply” This layer will draw the detail back in our image.
It is very important that you reset your Foreground and Background colors to
default before proceeding, so hit the D key before it’s too late!!
Go Filter>Sketch>Photocopy…and use these settings: Detail of 12 and
Darkness of 15 and then click OK.
Now, that has probably added a bit too much detail and schmutz to the image,
so we’ll tone it down in some places and strengthen the good details in the
Go Image>Adjustments>Threshold… give it 100 and click OK.
We’re going to run the Anisotropic Diffuse here too… go Filter>Stylize>Diffuse
and select Anisotropic before clicking OK.
Not bad, but the thing I really like about comic book art is those brush strokes
in the shadows. You know what I mean? They’re almost like a woodcut effect and
they add shadow while also defining the curvature and shape of the object they
shade. There is no way to faithfully duplicate what only God-given talent and
years of practice can produce, but I’ll do my best…
Step 6: Ink 3
I bet you think we’re going to duplicate the Background layer again, huh? Nope.
Make a new layer at the top of the layers list and name it “Ink 3″.
Go Edit>Fill… set the Contents to Use: 50% Gray and the Blending to Mode:
Normal, Opacity: 100% and leave Preserve Transparency unchecked. Click OK.
Go Filter>Sketch>Halftone Pattern… and set the Size to 2, the Contrast
to 25 and the Pattern Type to Line. Click OK.
Now is when we get to use that displacement map we built in Step 1. Go Filter>Distort>Displace…
and set both the Horizontal and Vertical Scales to 25, the Displacement Map
setting really doesn’t matter since we’re using a map that is custom fit, but
set the Undefined Areas setting to “Wrap Around” just in case. Click
OK and Photoshop will ask you to show it the file you want to use as the displacement
map. Point it to the one we created earlier and click Open.
What you see might might disturb you, but have courage–it will all work out.
Go Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur… and set the Radius to 2 pixels and click
Go Image>Adjustments>Threshold… and set it to 120 and click OK.
Now go Filter>Stylize>Diffuse and select Anisotropic before clicking
Set the Blending Mode of the Ink 3 layer to Multiply …hmmm…looks weird
Hopefully, you have followed this tutorial straight through and you still have
the Background image in your clipboard from when we copied it in Step 1…we’ll
soon find out.
Hit the Q key to enter Quick Mask Mode and hit Command-V (Ctrl-V on a PC) to paste whatever
you might have in your clipboard there…it should be the image we started with
only in red or whatever color you have Quick Mask set to display…if not or
if you’re not sure, open the DispMap.psd file we created, hit Command-A (Ctrl-A ona PC) to select
all and Command-C (Ctrl-C on a PC) to copy and then come back to Quick Mask mode in your comic
book image and hit Command-V (Ctrl-V on a PC) to paste. With me still?
Still in Quick Mask Mode, go Filter>Blur>Smart Blur… use a Radius of
6.0, a Threshold of 80.0 in High Quality, Normal Mode. Click OK.
Hit the Q key again the exit Quick Mask Mode and return to Standard Mode (aka
Marching Ants Mode). You should see selections around the lighter parts of your
Go Layer>Add Layer Mask>Hide Selection. This will have lightened or obliterated
the horizontal lines from the highlights of your image, but it will still leave
it looking like everyone and everything is made of wood with very deep grain
The layer mask you just added to the Ink 3 layer should automatically be selected,
but if it isn’t, select it now. Go Image>Adjust> Threshold… now, here
I’m going to ask you to make a judgment call… start with a value of 200 in
the Threshold dialog and adjust it to your own liking. I found 200 to be fine
for the picture of Superman and the one of Bill and Pat, but this image with
Pat and Leo needed to be set at 225. So I’ll leave it up to you. When you’re
happy with it, click OK.
See how the displacement map warped the horizontal lines so that they show
the contours of the wrinkles in Leo’s shirt. Niiiice.
If you’re happy with the way your image turned out, that’s awesome. You need
go no further. But for steps on plugging in your own color, adjusting the tone,
whitening the whites (notice Pat’s teeth?) and adding that cool dot pattern
effect that comics have, continue on to…the Optional Stuff…
the Optional Stuff:
Remember that shot of Digital Bill and Pat? I went through all the steps of
the tutorial with that shot and came up with this:
I guess it’s not horrible, but the guys are looking a bit green. Superman was
never green…Batman wasn’t green…and the Hulk was…was…a really bad movie.
Anyway, I digress. We’re going to fix the color problem by creating a new layer
above the Color layer named “Painted Color” with its Blending Mode
set to “Color”.
I opened up my Swatches palette with the default colors loaded, selected a
suitable skin tone color and began to paint over their faces with the Brush
tool. I didn’t have to be too careful: I can paint over the black areas without
hurting anything and if I did paint somewhere I shouldn’t, I can just erase
Hmm…but Bill could use a whitening treatment on his teeth…
One weak spot of this tutorial is that it kills the whites of people’s eyes
and teeth and, in comics, everybody has gleaming white teeth. We can fix this
rather simply. Make a new layer just above the Tone layer and name it “Whites”
and leave the Blending Mode as Normal.
Grab the Brush tool and make white your foreground color and go in and paint
in white where you want white. If you make a mistake, use the Eraser tool to
Now those are a couple of Pepsodent smiles! But I don’t like their tone…
Often the original image is a bit dark and that darkness just gets worse and
worse as you develop the Tone layer for this effect. It’s easy enough to fix.
Select the Tone layer in the Layers palette and go Image>Adjustments>Levels.
You’ll see a nasty looking bar chart (a histogram if you like) with a black
pointer under it on the left, a white pointer under it on the right and a gray
one in the middle. Grab the gray one and drag it to the left to lighten the
Tone layer or drag it to the right to darken it. I lighten the Tone layer of
this image and got this result:
I think all these images need a bit of a dot screen effect to really sell it
as a real old school comic book…this sounds like a job for …Superman!!!
I really don’t like applying filters to an image unless I leave myself a way
out. Using layers is the best way I know to do this. So to add the dot screen
effect to finalize this image of Superman…
…we’re going to create a new layer below the Ink 1 layer and name it “Dot
Go Edit>Fill… set the Contents to Use: 50% Gray and the Blending to Mode:
Normal, Opacity: 100% and leave Preserve Transparency unchecked. Click OK.
Then go Filter>Pixelate>Color Halftone… use all of the default settings
except change the Max Radius to 4 pixels and click OK.
Now set the Blending Mode of the Dot Screen layer to “Overlay”
Now I leave you with the finished versions of the other two images:
Dialog Balloons and Lettering