I always start off with a pencil sketch so that it's easy to make necessary revisions as per the client's feedback. I like to draw on the Canson 9x12 medium tooth sketch pad, with a Derwent F pencil (I don't like soft pencils for initial sketches, they smudge easily).
Once I'm done, I scan the sketch and size it to 300 dpi for print resolution, and I name the layer "Sketch." The following scanned and re-sized image is in RGB at 4x5.6 300 dpi:
I then proceed to trace the image digitally and try to achieve a smooth, fluid outline. Although I work in Photoshop CS5, Adobe Illustrator CS5, and Corel Painter 12, for this image I used only Photoshop and the Wacom Intuous4 Medium Tablet.
I used the Pen Tool to trace the image, and although challenging at first, it's a tool worth knowing how to use. Here's a good tutorial you can start with:
For this image I used a 3 pixel size hard brush, and no pressure sensitivity. I also like to create my outlines in color - it makes for a smoother and finer looking final image, to have the outlines match the color on the inside of the object.
I started by creating two layers on top of the Sketch layer: the first was a blank white layer which served as a background (I named it 'Hannah', after the character), and the one on top was the outline layer on which I did the tracing, which I named 'Outline'. I eyeballed the Hannah layer out so that I could see my Sketch layer below, but once the outline was finished, I eyeballed it back in to have the white background visible.
Once I traced the entire image, it ended up looking a bit rough, not all the lines were matched and locked perfectly, so I had to manually do some finishing touches with the Brush and Eraser Tools (both hard at 3 pixels). I should have included the before and after image, but I forgot, so here is the Outline layer after I manually polished it up after tracing with the pen tool:
I then duplicated the Outline layer so that I had two outline layers, and I merged the bottom outline layer with the Hannah layer below. It's a step which makes coloring much easier. I then proceeded to create another Background layer as the base layer for the final image. (You can do this beneath the Sketch layer since you may still need it for reference. Once you're done, you can eyeball the Sketch layer out and you'll be left with the white background layer, where you can change colors, add a background, etc.) So now I have a top Outline layer, the Hannah layer below it, the Sketch layer below Hannah, and the Background layer at the very bottom.
I then proceeded to lay down the base color on the Hannah layer, for which I used the Paint Bucket Tool. The colors do not get filled in completely, there's usually some white unfilled spots in the image, especially in the corners, so once again I used the Brush Tool to fill those spots in manually. Once I was done, the image looked something like this:
Then I polished some facial features. I used the Dodge and Burn Tools for the eyes to achieve some depth (3-4 pixel brush and 0% hardness on both). I created a new layer on top of the Outline layer and I named it 'Sparkles' - it's for the shine in the eyes. I manually drew two circles, one at the corner of each eye, and I set the layer on a 1% Gaussian blur and 95% opacity.
I created another layer beneath the Outline layer, and I named it 'Lips'. I manually traced the mouth with the Brush Tool, set the layer on a 0.7% Gaussian blur and 30-40% opacity. I used the Dodge and Burn Tools to create some shine and contrast.
I created another layer on top of the Sparkles layer and I named it 'Stars.' I added some stars in the flowers in Hanna's hair, and I set the layer on a 0.8% Gaussian blur. The image ended up looking like this:
I then proceeded to the shadows and highlights, so I created two more layers on top of the Hannah layer - I named one 'Shadows' (35% opacity) and I named the other 'Highlights" (30% opacity). I usually do the shadows first, for which I used the Magic Wand and manual Brush Tools. I set my brush to 0% hardness and I used the Magic Wand to select the area that I wanted to shade in. I then used the Eyedropper Tool to copy the color of the selected area, and I clicked on the Color Picker to make that color darker. For shading, you want to make the new darker color warmer, to give the image some contrast and depth. So for shading the skin, I used an orange with a bit more red in it, for the hair I used orange with a bit more brown in it, for the dress I used blue with a bit of purple...and so on. I manually painted the shadows in on the Shadows layer. I did the same on the Highlights layer, but I only used white.
When shading and highlighting, you want to remember which areas on the object will cave in, and which ones will protrude. Where the object caves in you will add shadows, and where it protrudes you will add highlights, where light will hit the contours.
As I painted in the shadows and highlights, I used a 1-3% Gaussian Blur for each selected area. I blurred the selected area before I moved onto the next selected area. For smaller areas, like the hands and hair, I used a 1% blur, and for larger areas like the dress, I used a 3% blur.
Once done, I zoomed in close and used the Eraser and Brush Tools to manually erase outside the lines and fill in inside the lines, to make the image look like this:
I then proceed to add patterns, final highlights, and polishes to the image. I created another layer on top of the Hannah layer and I named it 'Pattern.' I then filled it with a floral pattern in Photoshop, I sized it down to a size I was happy with, and I set the layer on Overlay with a 66% opacity. To erase the pattern in the other areas I went on the Hannah layer, I selected the front of the dress (Magic Wand), I went to Select on the top menu bar, and I clicked Inverse. I then went on the Pattern layer and I clicked Backspace - this deleted everything outside the front of the dress.
For final highlights, I went to the Hannah layer again, and I used the Dodge Tool (still 0% hardness), and I painted beneath some of the already highlighted areas. Once done, the image looked like this:
I then saved the imaged in Photoshop format (remember to save the image continuously as you're working every 5 minutes or so), and I saved it again in JPEG format. For print quality you will probably want to save it in TIFF, and some publishers or clients will request it in CMYK. If you're doing anything for a client, make sure to always confirm the specs and format BEFORE you start sketching, and get it in writing, as in your standard Work-For-Hire Agreement.
I saved this image in JPEG format, maximum quality, and I opened the JPEG image in Photoshop once again (this image was flat, meaning no layers). I went to Image in the top menu bar, then to Apply Image, and I set the image on Multiply with a 30% opacity. This gave the overall image more contrast, depth, and vibrancy. Sometimes I even like to add a 1% noise to give it some texture, but I didn't do it this time. The final image ended up looking like this:
This image is for a children's game, and here are some other characters we created:
Hope this tutorial helped, and thank you for reading!