Visual Personal Project: Comic Effects Via Photoshop

One of the past assignment options we had was to create a comicbook effect. There’s a video tutorial for GIMP (via Brian Short’s blog). However, I didn’t use GIMP for this assignment because it’s lacking some useful features that will let me get things done faster for this effect. Instead, I tried to see what I could do with Photoshop. My goal was to get something done that looked decent while also requiring much less effort than GIMP does. Although I wasn’t able to get edge detect filters to make nice outlines for the image I used, I think the end product turned out fairly well:

The comic book effect I produced via photoshop

The end result of my experimentation


The tutorial assumes a total beginner’s level of experience, and tries to get people up to speed with some basic concepts of photoshop. Also, you may want to install the Universal Fruitcake font that Brian Short linked me to in his post if you like following along as closely as possible. You’ll want to install it before starting photoshop to be sure that the program detects it. Past versions haven’t detected a font I installed after starting photoshop.

Process details, tutorial, and original image after the break.

Base Image

For a base image, I decided to use something comparable to the one that Brian used in his post. I’ve uploaded the full version of the image here, so feel free to download and follow along.

The image I used as the base of the assignment.

The raw image I used in the assignment. Feel free to download it and follow along; I’m releasing it for use under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License.

Making the Halftone

The Base of the Image

First, I open the image in Photoshop and select the whole thing by pressing Control-A (Command-A on OSX) or by choosing Select > All through the menu. I copy it to the clipboard by pressing Control-C (Command-C on OSX). Then I create a new image by hitting Control-N (Command-N on OSX) or by choosing File > New through the menu. Click Ok without changing any of the size settings; it should automatically be the same size as the image in the clipboard. Paste the copied image into place by pressing (Control-V). To get the effect to work neatly, you’ll have to increase the contrast a bit. So go to Image > Adjustments > Levels.

The levels settings I used and the resulting image.

These are the levels settings I used. You don’t have to use the same image or the same settings, just make sure fine details you’d like to keep in the final image are in high contrast to their surroundings.

Once you’re done adjusting it, double click the layer name, which should at this point be Layer 1. The layer name will become editable. Enter Ink Color into the box and press enter to name the layer.

Copying Layers

Now Right Click (Control Click on OSX) the Ink Color layer near its name. A context menu should appear. Select Duplicate Layer from it. In the box that pops up, enter Smooth Glow into the box labelled As, and click Ok. Alternatively, you can click Ok and rename the layer the way I first showed you.

Now make a third instance of this layer, except name it Halftone Effect instead of Smooth Glow. The layers should now be named (from bottom to top) Ink Colors, Smooth Glow, and Halftone Effect. Don’t worry if the layers are named diferently or in a different. You can rearrange the layers by dragging them into place within the Layers dialog. You can also rename layers by double-clicking the name of a layer and entering text. You can hit enter to finish editing the layer name. Now click the eye icons next to Smooth Glow and Halftone Effect to hide them. You can click in the same place to unhide them, but right now we need to create an inking effect.

Using Filters

Now click on the Ink Color layer and make sure it’s selected, and let’s get filtering. Choose Filters > Filter Gallery from the menu. Then under the Artistic folder, choose Cutout. See the screenshot for the settings I used.

The Filter Gallery previewing the settings I used.

The Filter Gallery previewing a cutout filter. I used the settings on the lefthand side of the screen, but feel free to experiment.

Click Ok. Then click the space where the eye icon was next to the middle copy. The image should go back to looking like it did before you applied the filter. The layer you just made visible should be named Glow Effect. Select it by clicking the thumbnail icon directly to the left of its name. Choose Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. You can just crank the sliders to the right and hit Ok, but experimenting is OK too. In the Layers dialog, click the dropdown box that currently reads Normal. Instead of Normal, set it to Screen mode. Then set the Opacity (to the right of the mode drop-down) to around 35%. Don’t worry about precision; you fiddle with it later.

Now select the topmost layer and make it visible. It should be named Halftone Effect. Choose Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone. In the box that pops up, leave all but the topmost box unchanged. Set that to somewhere between 8 and 30 (try experimenting). Set it to Multiply mode instead of Normal mode, and set its opacity to around 85%. You should now have an image that resembles the final product somewhat.

Making it a Panel

Tidying up the Layers Panel

Layers can be grouped into folders to help keep them organized. You can do this by holding down shift and clicking the top-most layer that will be included in the group and then clicking the bottom-most layer to be included. The layers in the layers box should all turn a shade of blue to indicate that they are selected.

how layers look before grouping them

This is how layers should look before you group them.

Then, click the menu indicated by the red arrow. This is called the Layers Menu. Choose Layers Menu > Group From LayersIn the resulting pop up box, enter Comic Panel as the Name and click Ok.

An image of layers successfully grouped

The comic book effect layers grouped into a folder.  You can expand the folder by clicking the down arrow next to it. You can also ignore the layer named Backup; I made to help to experiment with this process.

You can move all members of a group by selecting the group folder and using the Move Tool. You can also expand the group and move specific members by selecting them.

Making the Canvas Bigger

Now we need a white space around the panel to put the panel into. Normally, the panel would be placed into an existing document, but this way will teach you about resizing the canvas. Choose Image > Canvas Size.

Photoshop's Canvas Size Dialog

This is how you adjust the size of the image canvas without scaling the image. The grid of arrow buttons at the bottom is used to tell photoshop where to add or remove canvas area from. Experimenting with this is the best way to learn how it works.

In the dialog that pops up, don’t touch the grid at the bottom unless you want to experiment. By default, it adds pixels on all sides of the image.  If you’d simply like to proceed forward, set the units to pixels. Then, add a few hundred pixels to the give the comic panel some breathing room. Don’t worry about making the image too big, you can always crop it down later. Once you’ve entered the new dimensions, click Ok.

End product of canvas size expansion

Now the image is starting to look more like a comic book panel.

Making Borders Easy with Layer Styles

This one of the cases where Photoshop is much better than GIMP. Double-click the grey area to the right of the Comic Panel group’s name. The Layer Styles dialog should appear.

A screenshot of the Layer Styles dialog.

This is one of the most powerful features of Photoshop. We’ll just be using it to give things borders.

Click the stroke checkbox on the left to enable it, and move the window so that you can see the previews it generates. Drag the Size slider up to around 20px and set the Color to Black. Then click Ok. You have now applied a style to a group of layers. You can also apply styles to individual layers.

A partial screenshot of the Layer Styles Dialog in the Stroke subsection

The Stroke segment of the box allows you to give anything a border as long as it has a shape, regardless of whether it is a raster or vector object.

An important thing to note about layer styles is that they can be saved as presets, or even copied and pasted between layers or groups. This makes them very powerful and very convenient for making things look similar quickly, among other things. You’ll notice that the layers dialog now displays the style on the layer group.

Yellow Boxes

A shape added with the shape tool

I added a textbox with the Shape tool. See the leftmost side of the picture to find the icon for the shape tool and where to look for it in your own copy of photoshop.

Now we’ll add the text boxes. Pick a yellow color to fill the two boxes you’ll be adding. Now, select the Shape Tool from the Toolbox on the left. Then click and drag on the image to add a new shape. It will show up in the Layers panel at the right as Rectangle 1. Then, right-click the Comic Panel group and select Copy Style from the context menu. Then, right click the rectangle’s layer and select Paste Style. The rectangle should now have the same outline as the Comic Panel group. Now, select the font that you would like to use for your text. I chose
 to follow in the footsteps of Brian Short’s original post for this class.

Select the Text Tool (the T in the toolbox), set the color to black, and click and drag to define a text area. Then begin typing. You’ll quickly notice that the text is miniscule. Select all of it, and set its size to 72pt if you’re using the same base image as I am. Otherwise, experiment to find a comfortable size. Then, use Edit > Transform to adjust the size of the rectangle to fit the text. You may want to group the rectangle and the text to move them together for layout purposes. Repeat the process to create a second rectangle with more text.

Exporting for Posting

Once you’re happy with how the image looks, it’s time to save it. File > Save for Web will bring up a window that lets you try out different image settings for export. A warning: this may run slowly until you set the image size lower in the Image Size area.

The Export for Web Dialog

It lets you choose your file format and scaling in the same window.

For this project, the settings I used here are good enough. You could also turn down the Quality setting safely, or save as .png. Different file formats are good for different types of images. For images with high detail and many colors, .jpg usually works fine. Images with transparency and/or simple colors should instead be saved as .png. You can also use .gif where the number of colors is low and transparency is limited. However, image optimization is a whole seperate topic that could fill a few very heavy books. Read up on it if you’re interested, or experiment a bit: the 2-up and 4-up tabs allow you to compare how different save settings will make the image look.

Once you’ve decided on the export size and format, click Save and you’ll pick a place and name to save the file to like any other program. That’s it for this tutorial!

3 thoughts on “Visual Personal Project: Comic Effects Via Photoshop

    • Thanks. Are there any effects or techniques that you’d like to see tutorials for? Although the hands on instruction in the lab has been super-helpful, I feel like having some screenshot-laden text references for some basic techniques/tools would help people who are struggling with a totally new program.

  1. Pingback: Album Covers Without Sound |

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