Turn a Pencil Sketch Into a Colorful and Dynamic Character Illustration

Sketching out a character illustration can be a lot of fun. Giving that sketch life can be a challenging task, however. In this tutorial, we will explain how to use Photoshop’s painting tools to turn a pencil sketch into a colorful and dynamic character illustration.

In this process, we will show how to manipulate your sketch, block in your colors, and finally how to add lighting and texture. This tutorial also includes a video to help guide you along the way. Let’s get started!

Tutorial Details
  • Applications Used: Adobe Photoshop CS4
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Estimated Completion Time: 3h +

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Final Product What You’ll Be Creating

Video Preview

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

Step 1

I have always enjoyed painting cartoon characters. Once I come up with the idea, I usually draw the character directly on paper and then scan the sketch.

Step 2

You surely know the feeling when you aren’t satisfied with your pencil sketches. For example, the proportions of the character aren’t right or it could be more dynamic. As we work digitally, we can solve these problems very easily and fast. Therefore, the sketch needs a few preparations before we can start with the coloring process. Open the sketch in Photoshop and duplicate the layer.

Step 3

Use the Lasso tool and select the head. After that > right click > select Inverse > Delete. Because we duplicated the layer before, we now have the head on a separate layer.

Step 4

Right click > Free Transform.

Step 5

Hold Command/Ctrl and scratch the head a little bigger. Pay attention so that the head is at the same position on the neck as before.

Step 6

The same can be done with the legs. Duplicate the first layer (Sketch). Select the legs with the Lasso tool > right click > select Inverse > Delete.

Step 7

Right click > Free Transform.

Step 8

Move the crosshairs to the beginning of the legs and rotate the selected area.

Step 9

Now that we can rotate the whole body, duplicate the first layer (Sketch) and select the last three elements with Command/Ctrl.

After that > right click > Convert to Smart Object.

…and that’s the end of the preview!

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