Coloring Comics

Question 5 from Alan: What is a good process for choosing colors that look good in your comic, and that look good together? I've read about color theory before, but as soon as I sit down to actually color my comic, it's like "Ok, now what? I guess I'll just go back to choosing colors at random until it looks decent." The only piece of color theory that has stuck with me is that shadows should be a cooler color. That makes sense to me because if an object is lit by a yellow light, the unlit shadows would appear bluer in comparison. This plays into my working theory that colors will look good together if you make it look like everything in the panel was lit by one colored light source. But I haven't read anything confirming or elaborating on that theory. Since I said a lot, I'll repeat my question: If I have an uncolored comic page, what is the step-by-step process I should go through to choose colors that will look good?

Question 6 from Anonymous: I am not professional in using coloring applications like photoshop and gimp If i 'd like to do it manually, what is your advise to me, what is kind of colors can i use? thanks alot

Topic: Comic Coloring
Answered: Yes
Episode: Episode 2
Time mark: 44:30
Full Ep. Notes: Ep2 Show Notes


Tools to color comics outside of digital:

  • Watercolor
  • Construction Paper
  • Collage
  • Oil Paint
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Sky is the limit - I say, experiment and commit

Listener Advice

Suzanne from the Netherlands writes:

Hi Patrick, I am listening to the podcast section about color. Here is a handy (and free) website for choosing a color scheme: It's also possible to check color schemes that other people have made. Love the podcast!

Further advice from indie coloring specialist, Egypt Urnash

Some general color strategies you could use:

  • just color stuff with the native color they “are”, then throw a few layers on top. A multiply layer to draw shadows with, all the same color. Usually blue. A screen layer to draw highlights with, all the same color. Usually yellow. A solid color layer to tint the overall tone of the panel, possibly one to desaturate it if you’re on a gloomy day. This can get you a long way without really having to think about color. Shading everything with the same color really unifies a page.
  • do things look unclear? Desaturate, put a layer at the top of your stack full of solid black and set it to “saturation” mode. Now you can see it as greyscale. Adjust colors on things so you don’t have two things that map to the same grey level next to each other, turn off the desaturation level, things should look a lot better.
  • limited color. Pick 3-6 colors that look good together and create a mood. You can use sites like colorlovers for this, you can use books like Color Index or Designer’s Guide To Color 5 (I’ve gone through multiple copies of those, I especially love DGTC5 because it groups by moods), eventually you get to a point where you can pick them off the top of your head. Now draw EVERYTHING with those colors. Even if they’re not “supposed” to be that color. I love doing this; in “Five Glasses of Absinthe” I limit myself to 2-3 colors per page, and change them through the story based on the mood I want, the location, the time of day, or which character is controlling the narrative. Use these colors at varying opacities and in different blending modes to make things richer, everything will stay related.
  • even more limited color. What if the whole thing is in B&W with a spot color dropped in to signify important things? Frank Miller does this brilliantly in some of the “Sin City” stories. I’ve stolen this from him shamelessly for very different upcoming projects. Works with lusher greyscale plus a spot color, too.
  • symbolic uses. In “Decrypting Rita” I use very limited palettes – white, a midtone, and a dark color, surrounded by black gutters. There are multiple worlds in the story, each with its own pair of colors. This lets the reader quickly say “oh this is a green panel, it’s from the sky pirates world”. It’s similar to the trick I mentioned stealing from Miller.
  • Desaturate. It’s tempting to make every color super saturated. Don’t. Pull back on that, grey things out a little. That way when you want something to pop out and be super-noticeable, you can make it really saturated and colorful.
  • Oh yeah: DELETE YOUR DEFAULT COLOR SWATCHES. I find it’s super easy to just go “derp grass is green” and grab the most lurid green in the world if I have a bunch of default swatches. If I have to decide just what green I want then I’ll actually think about it and how it fits with the rest of the image. If I want a super intense glowing green for the grass that’s a perfectly valid decision, but I want to have MADE it rather than just picked the first thing that my brain registered as “green”.

Check out Egypt's interview with Adam on episode 38 of Gutter Talk.

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