Drawing a retro or manga-styled comic? Want to both make your screentones look better and be able to resize them freely without moire? Read on.
But first, an (optional) explanation.
I use two programs for my webcomic: Photoshop CS2 and Manga Studio 5. A lot of artists recommend MS5 over Photoshop for comics. Generally, it is better, since it was made for them. But there’s one big problem: its screentone features suck.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s a picture toned with MS5, at the smallest available dot size.
Here’s a real manga splash panel.
Notice the differences in the tone quality? By which I mean, they look nothing alike? Real screentone’s dots are much smaller, often to the point where they’re invisible at low resolutions.
You can also download screentone patterns for Photoshop and paint directly onto the picture with them using Pattern Stamp—I used to do this—but they’re cumbersome to work with, you can’t resize the image after applying them, and they’re very hard to create blending effects with.
So here’s the method I use for my webcomic, Yume-Hime.
However, a quick note: If you’re using this method to create colored tones in the style of old superhero comics, it’ll work perfectly. But for those of you using it in black and white to emulate actual halftone… It’s technically not “real” digital screentone: The real thing uses black dots on a white background, at varying densities, to create the illusion of gray. With this method, the dots are actually gray. But the finished effect will look so close most viewers won’t notice the difference. And it’s much easier to work with.
Anyway, I’ll be using CS2 for this, but it can be replicated on any other graphics program with importable patterns and layer settings, including Manga Studio itself and GIMP.
If You Didn’t Want to Read that, the Tutorial Starts Here
And if you’re impatient and already good with graphics programs, only the bold text is necessary.
- Download a screentone texture, or, in my case, a pack. Specifically, this one, called “Dots and Screentones, Print,” which comes with tones at several different sizes. So far, these are the only ones I’ve ever needed. If you don’t know how to install Photoshop patterns, here’s a tutorial from New Evolution Designs.
- Load your lineart and make it transparent. There are a few ways to do that. MS5 and GIMP let you do it with one button: “Convert Brightness to Opacity” and “Color to Alpha,” respectively. Photoshop is trickier, but here’s a tutorial on my favorite method.
- Color it, or paint it in grayscale, however you like. Make sure to color on separate layers under the lineart. Not like you needed to be told that.
- Select a tone pattern. This works best with a darker one. Also, beware that some tone textures have moire built into them, so don’t use one of those. I’ve found Pattern 14 from the aforementioned pack to be perfect. Pattern 8 also works.(I’ve enlarged it by 50% so the difference between the toned and non-toned versions will be more obvious.)
- Create a new layer, under your lineart but over all the other layers, and fill it with tone.
- Adjust the tone layer’s levels (ctrl+L) until the dots turn from gray to black and white.
- Set the layer mode to “Soft Light.”
Again, this is just what it looks like with the tone enlarged for effect. The effect was much subtler in the actual comic:
Previewing the Tone During the Grayscale Painting (You should do this.)
What if you want to preview how your grayscale painting will look after it’s toned… While you’re doing it? If you don’t want to, you should, ‘cause it’ll be different. For example, tones don’t like uneven blending. Gradients will be fine, but most anything blended by hand will look like a much more abrupt shift in color after you turn the tone layer on.
- Create a blank document at your image’s planned display size.
- Fill it with tone.
- Resize it to your piece’s working size. For this image, that meant 3000 by 2181 px. The pattern size will increase proportionally.
- Finally, copy and paste it to your new image (under lineart, over the other layers). Set it to Soft Light.
- The tone layer will disappear, but if you create a grayscale layer under it and start painting…
Easy, Moire-Free Resizing
One of the biggest problems with digital tone is how hard it is to resize without moire, the garbled patterns your computer generates when it can’t properly display a screentone at a certain size.
But here’s how to avoid that by keeping them at the same size, no matter how big or small you make your image. Let’s say I accidentally shrank my finished Photoshop file to 500px wide, saved over it, and closed (this happens more than I’m comfortable with), but I have the original lineart.
- Load your original lineart—you did save it in a separate file, right? Always do that—and make it transparent again.
- In a separate window, open your finished image and get rid of its lineart and tone layer, then flatten the image.
- Copy and paste it to the lineart file, under the lineart layer, and resize it to fit. Since it’s just blobs of gray, you can resize it freely without too much pixellation. And what little you will have will usually be at the edges where the lineart will hide it.
- Create a new tone layer using the method from the first tutorial.
And There You Go
One of my favorite things about this process is how you can also use it to make photobashes, patterns, and textures blend in more seamlessly with your images, something I do a lot myself. More on that in another article, maybe.
If you like this way to tone your pics, comment and let me know. If you have a better way to do it, comment and let me know. If this way is, for some reason I haven’t noticed yet, stupid and doing it all wrong, comment and let me know.