Here are some Photoshop tips and tricks that I wish I’d known when I started digital painting. The shortcuts are for Photoshop CS6, but they should be similar across versions.
- Flip your canvas while sketching. This will make anatomical flaws painfully obvious and may help you work out areas you’re having trouble with. You may literally recoil in horror when you flip it (I know I have), but after you fix the mistakes and flip it back your drawing will look much better. (Image > Image rotation > Flip canvas horizontal).
- Liquify is your best friend for fixing your sketch. It allows you to push and pull sections of your drawing around so you can fix little things without having to redraw them a million times. However, it will slightly blur the areas you push around so don’t use it on your final images because you’ll loose some detail. (Filter > Liquify…).
- Adjust the brush presets for smoother lines. Photoshop’s default brushes have spacing set to 25% for some bizarre reason; reducing the spacing to 1% will give you smoother lines. (Brush panel > Spacing > 1%).
- Rename and rearrange your brush presets. Save brush settings you like, delete the ones you don’t use, and test/rename all the brushes you download to avoid cluttering up your presets and streamline your process. Everyone loves trying new brushes, but I always end up going back to the same 5. You can also rearrange your workspace under the Window menu.
- Blend your colours while painting by selecting the intermediate colour. Okay, everyone and their mom has probably told you that blending with the intermediate colour is far superior to the Blur and Smudge Tools. What they usually fail to mention is that you can quickly select any colour on your canvas by holding the ALT key while using the Brush Tool. (I’ve programmed one of the hot keys on my tablet to be ALT so I can select colours quickly while painting without having to switch to Eyedropper Tool or Colour Picker).
- Use Clipping Masks to restrict your painting to a specific area. Need 12 layers to get the right skin tone but tired of erasing the edges of each one so they line up perfectly? Use a clipping mask to prevent a layer from exceeding the boundaries of the layer below it. (Layers panel > new layer > RIGHT CLICK > Create clipping mask).
- Test your colour and tone variety by taking them to the extreme. Using adjustment layers that max out the saturation of you painting will give you a clear idea of the colours you’ve used and the overall hue of your piece. Another adjustment layer minimizing saturation will make it obvious where you need to add more light or shadow to boost your contrast. (Layers panel > Create new fill or adjustment layer > Hue/saturation… > Saturation set to +100 or -100).
- Make your painting more cohesive with Curves. Curves will adjust the overall hue and tone of your painting, which can quickly tie all of your elements together and add atmosphere. You can also adjust Levels and Brightness/Contrast in the same way. (Layers panel > Create new fill or adjustment layer > Curves…)