Friday, September 29, 2017

Days Gone 1 - Starting a "New" Comics Project, Part One

Whew! When I started my Noir Style Tutorial back in July, I had no idea just how long it would be. I'm pleased with it, don't get me wrong, very pleased that I actually took the time to document everything with an appropriate amount of detail. But that was writing, and I've really been getting the itch to actually make some comics, not write about making them.

So, I'm finally ready to sit down and practice what I preach, so to speak. It's time to start work on my next comic book story, using the style (or a variation of it) that I wrote about in the tutorial.

It's time to start work on: Days Gone #3

At this point, it would be fair for you to ask, "Where the heck are Days Gone #s 1 & 2?" And for that matter, "What the heck is 'Days Gone,' anyway?"

Fair questions.

Days Gone is my overall working title for a group of loosely connected stories about a guy (or guys) who get sucked into a fantasy world of myth and magic. Yeah, it's all Tor, John Carter, Almuric, and (heck) even Amethyst of Gem World, plus about a million other stories. So what? I'm not shooting for originality here; I've got stories and I want to tell them.

As for Days Gone #1 and #2, those are mini-comics that I published back in 1989 and 1990. Naturally, I drew these by hand and photocopied them for distribution. A mini-comic is made by taking a single sheet of copy paper, folding it twice, cutting it along the top, and then stapling the spine. This makes a small, 8-page comic.

Here's a few photos of how you make one.

Take a sheet of paper, fold it twice.

Mark it with the appropriate page numbers. Note how some
of them are upside down, and the pages are out of order.

When you fold it into book shape, the pages will fall into place.
When this is done, you staple on the spine and cut across the top.
This gives you an 8-page mini-comic.

These were some of the last comics I published, and even then I only distributed a handful of copies. Flash forward to March of this year, and I decided to scan these old comics and repackage them as part of my FANZINE FLASHBACK series. By "repackage," I mean reformat them into standard comic book pages. Which basically meant turning an 8-page mini-comic into a 4-page standard-size comic.

While I was working on cleaning those scans (I don't think I mentioned that the originals had been submerged in flood waters for about 8 hours in 2001 during Tropical Storm Allison – that certainly didn't make it any easier), I got the bug to write a new story. So, this past April (April 14-18, 2017, to be exact), I sipped a little Irish Whiskey over two evenings and whipped up a new 8-page "Days Gone" story.

Ad we'll talk more about this NEXT TIME.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Media, Netflix, CBS All Access and the Future of Broadcast Television

I've never done this before, but I'm actually going to reprint a discussion clipped from Facebook. For background, last week Star Trek: Discovery debuted on CBS All Access, a streaming service created by CBS to host their content. The unfortunately acronymed show, ST:D, is the first major series by one of The Big Four networks to be created exclusively to promote their new online streaming service.

Needless to say, a lot of people were pissed about this. After all, no one wants to pay $8 a month to watch on new Star Trek series.

So, I was bitching about it online with the mob, and this discussion happened, which I thought might be of interest to some of you.

Mike Mitchell: Right now, CBS sees that cable and traditional Network television are dying. This is a very desperate attempt to latch on to the streaming dollars out there. What they don't realize is that this is doomed to failure because their service offerings are too narrow. Unless they ripped open their entire back catalog of every CBS series that exists, and pulled them off of other streaming services, people are not going to pay for this. And even if they did do what I just said, they still probably wouldn't pay this much. $1 or $2 a month? Possibly. A buck an episode for this one new Star Trek series on iTunes? Probably. But eight bucks a month for a service that has almost no content that interests me? They really are delusional on this one.

Shawn: Ultimately in 10-15 years while there still probably will be some broadcast stations those that haven't gone under will be on life support questioning when advertising dollars will fall so low as to not justify staying open.

Launching a successful streaming service is the future. They could license their content to others, but the middleman will cut into their profits.

Mike Mitchell: Hey, Shawn, I hope you forgive me for the long post. I agree with you in principle, and you may very well be right. But looking at how broadcast has transitioned in the past, I tend to think you're wrong about there only being some broadcast stations "on life support" in the future. My model for this is drawn from the transition that radio (which was dominant from the 1930s thru the early 1950s) made when television supplanted it as the primary medium for entertainment in this country in the latter part of the 1950s. Specifically, radio had sitcoms, dramas, sports and variety shows that literally walked from radio to TV (Jack Benny, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, and too many others to name). In fact, a lot of radio shows thrived up into the 1960s. When sitcoms, dramas and soap operas left radio, those were dire times for the industry.

But then along came FM radio in the 1960s, and the modern (and still thriving) music stations were born to take advantage of the high-quality sound. At that time, everyone predicted that AM would wither and die... but it didn't. Along came Talk Radio (which isn't just right-wing politics, but includes Do-It-Yourself shows, car shows, technology discussions, financial planning, and doctor call-in shows). Suddenly, AM could (and does) make a LOT of money.

So, I think you are right in one regard: The Broadcast Station AS WE KNOW IT will probably be gone in 10-15 years. But something else will fill that void. Maybe more sports? More Public Access style programming? Probably more crappy Reality TV and TV Judges (unfortunately). It may even bring back the return of the low-cost game show.

Here's why I think CBS All Access (and most other single-source content providers) will fail to launch successful streaming services. PRICE. Most people are "cutting cable" because of the cost. Yeah, a lot say it's that there's lots of content that they don't want to see (my buddy in Seattle has no idea what channels Nickelodeon, Disney or Cartoon Network are on; I have no idea where ESPN is or when football is on a network) and are bitter about being forced to pay for it.

Now, paying $9.50 a month for Netflix is a good deal. I get American shows, Star Trek, British crime/cop shows, and a decent selection of movies and old comedies. My wife and I also like some of their original content.

Looking forward to the show, but not the cost of adding
CBS All Access to my monthly expenses
I just glanced at the CBS Prime time Line-up. The only shows I watch are: Big Bang Theory, NCIS, and NCIS: LA. Three shows. If you add Star Trek: Discovery, that makes 4. There is NO WAY I can afford to pay $8 a month to watch only four shows. And if ABC does it, too? $8 a month just to watch Inhumans, Modern Family and Agents of SHIELD? Ummmm. No. Now throw in $8 for the PBS Channel through Amazon Prime (my wife likes old BBC shows and Masterpiece). Oh, and NBC (for another $8)? All I watch there is The Good Place and Superstore. So, if each "network" comes up with its own streaming channel, we're suddenly up to $32-$56 month? Toss in Netflix or Hulu? I could easily wind up paying $70 for ala cart channels that don't get what I get now. This is why I think they are going to price themselves out of the market. People who are already cutting cable due to its cost are NOT going to pay similar costs for less content.

Finally (and wow, I've been going on a long time), I can't help but remember that Comcast (where I live) owns the cable that most people use to get Internet. All they need to do is start charging more for bandwidth and suddenly cable TV might start looking more affordable.

Thanks for bearing with me. I don't know why I got on such a roll tonight. I guess this is just stuff I've been thinking about. In the end, I think you're right that Broadcast TV as we know it probably only has 10-15 years left. But I do think they will be there – I just don't know what type of programming they will have, or what their primary role/status will be in the evolving media marketplace.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 21 - Contents (Launch Page)

© 2016 Mike Mitchell
The funny thing about blogs is that, typically, search engines list posts in reverse order. If you're looking for the latest post, that's great. But it's not-so-great when you want a single Table of Contents or an easy, chronological listing of a series.

So, here it is. A sort of "Table of Contents" for my Noir Style Tutorial, presented at the end of the series for easy access and indexing. But first, a definition:

The French word for black is noir. Over time, noir has come to reflect a mood, a tone, and most appropriately, a style. Suggestive of danger or violence, film noir is characterized by low-key lighting in a bleak urban setting with corrupt, cynical characters. In my approach, the word noir simply celebrates the color black; it is not confined to a specific genre.
– Shawn Martinbrough, How to Draw Noir Comics

This tutorial covers how to do the following:

  • Configure Poser 11 to render line art from 3D models.
  • Generate at least three renders: black, gray and outlines-only.
  • Clean up the renders in Photoshop.
  • Compositing the layers in Manga Studio (Clip Studio Paint).
  • Different "finishing" techniques: gray scale, halftones and sketch-style.
  • Saving your final images for print or web.


Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 1 - Introduction
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 2 - Tools of the Trade
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 3 - Figure & Limitations
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 4 - Inspiration
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 5 - Process At a Glance
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 6 - Step 1: Figure Set-Up
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 7 - Step 2: Turn on Live Comic Book Preview
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 8 - Step 3: Edit Materials
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 9 - Step 4: Set up Lights
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 10 - Step 5: Adjust Lighting
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 11 - Step 6: Render Settings
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 12 - Step 7: Creating Render Passes
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 13 - Step 8: Cleaning up Renders
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 14 - Step 9: Image Clean-Up / Hand-Work / Post Work
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 15 - Step 10: Quick-n-Easy Contour Line
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 16 - Step 11: Applying a Tone Layer
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 17 - Step 12: Applying a Color Wash
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 18 - Step 13: BONUS: Applying a Quick Sketch Effect
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 19 - Step 14: Saving Your Final Image
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 20 - Process "Quick" Summary
Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 21 - Contents (Launch Page)

© 2017 by Mike Mitchell

Thanks for reading. Please post a comment to let me know if you enjoyed this series (and if not, what I can do to improve it).

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 20 - Process "Quick" Summary

When I started on this Noir Style Tutorial, I honestly had no idea that it would be this long. Both in terms of content, and in terms of how many posts there would be. This is part 20, for goodness sake, and this will have run (twice a week, no less) from July through almost the end of September. There were a few times, I admit, that I struggled with whether or not I was going into too much detail. But, truth be told, if I'm going to sit down and document all of this, I'd rather be thorough so that newbies can understand what I'm talking about.

Nevertheless, I do recognize that experts are going to be put off (if not downright angry) that this is so long. So, I'm going to summarize the entire process again, but this time very quickly and with minimal screenshots. I'm also going link each example back to the main article so you can easily find your way to more detail, should you need it.

Our Goal / Summary
  • Our goal is to create a static, black & white image that looks like it was hand draw using a stark, "Film Noir" (or "Crime Noir") look.
  • We are going to create 2 or 3 renders in Poser 11.
  • We will clean them in Photoshop.
  • And do the final editing in Manga Studio (aka Clip Studio Paint).

Stark lines, deep shadows and dramatic angles
are all part of the Noir look. This page was
created using the Anomaly Process.
© 2016 Mike Mitchell

The Anomaly Process, Step-by-Step

Step 1: Figure Set-Up
This process only works with Poser 11 (Pro or regular versions), so you need to limit yourself to a figure that works well in Poser 11. I suggest Michael 4 and Victoria 4 as your starting point. We start by opening Poser 11 and setting up our figure, props, etc.

Step 2: Turn on Live Comic Book Preview
One of the cool things about this process is that it is LIVE. You see your results before you render. This makes it very easy to make subtle changes to your render. The icon to turn on the Comic Book Preview is at the bottom of the main viewport. Note that this works with all the display modes: you'll probably want Comic Book or Shaded Textured.

Click the icon to open the Comic Book Preview Options pane.

Step 3: Edit Materials
For most figures, bump maps are not your friends. They cause little ripples on the skin that look weird. I usually strip my figure of all color and make the eyelashes transparent. Note that, in the Material Room, you can assign a different weight and color to each materials group. This means that clothes can be thicker than skin, etc.

Step 4: Set up Lights
Delete most of your lights so that you have only two in the scene. For each light, you will need to increase the Shadow Preview Map Size. I recommend going as large as your video card can handle (I usually go with 4096, but never go below 1024).
Preview Shadow Map Size tops out at 4096.
Notice that this got significantly darker.
If you only read two full articles in this series, I strongly suggest you read this and the next one. Even if you're very familiar with shadow maps, you can still learn some stuff from this article.

Step 5: Adjust Lighting
I usually work with just two lights: A key light, which is placed to the left and slightly behind/above the figure so that it illuminates the head/shoulders area and makes the figure pop out from the background. And a main light, to illuminate the figure from the other direction. There are different types of lights (Spot, Point, Infinite, etc. Experiment with them to get the results you want.

Step 6: Render Settings
We are using the PREVIEW renderer, so you will need to adjust your Preview Resolution. Render Settings are available from Render option in the Menu Bar (or press CTRL+Y). You'll see the panel, and then you can make the following modifications:

See main article for Step-by-Step guidance.

This setting drives how much detail is allotted to your textures. The bigger the number, the more detail (and potentially longer render times). Remember, if you're working in b&w, the hit to your processor will be minimal. While creating each of the images in the animated GIF below, I didn't even notice a difference between 128k and 8MB.

Detail is in the eye of the beholder. You can see that the texture
resolution "tops off" around the 4,096 mark.
The shadows and lines around the top of her dress seem to remain consistent, no matter what settings I use. But the detail on the wings (the only texture map in this scene) definitely look sharper at larger sizes. Personally, I seldom see a "return on investment" by going above 4096, but you should experiment to see what works best for you.

Step 7: Creating Render Passes
The final image will be made up of two or three separate renders.

  • Outlines: No other shadows or details. You can get this by setting one of the lights to IBL.
  • Black: You want a tight group of shadows that define key facial and body features.
  • Gray: A wider range of black shadows (when we put this in MS or Photoshop, we'll set this layer to 30% - 50% opacity).

Since my finished art includes a solid black area and a secondary gray area, I usually start with the black render: It's usually got small, tightly defined areas of shadow, and I pay special attention to casting light on the jawline because it gives the figure shape.

Once I settle the pose, I almost always make a render
using an IBL light because it generates clean outlines.

A strong light from the upper left, just behind the head
helps create a nice contrast under the neck, which
gives the jaw definition. 
Get a bigger spread of black for what will be,
in the end, the Gray layer.

Step 8: Cleaning up Renders
Put the various renders into a single Photoshop file (one per layer) and then use the Threshold Adjustment to remove any gradients or soft shadows.  You may also want to fill any gaps or trim off any excess lines that might exist. Pay special attention to hands and hair, as they tend to get a lot of random artifacts. Also, watch for places where the geometric edge line breaks up (strong curves can be a problem). Save file as a PSD (preserve layers).

Step 9: Image Clean-Up / Hand-Work / Post Work
You can open the PSD file directly in Manga Studio, or you can import each image separately and build your own layer structure. Either way, once you have the renders in MS, clean them up, add detail, and so forth. Pay attention to the teeth, eyes, and hair tips. Also look for any places that you want really sharp points. NOTE: For reasons that will be apparent in future steps, you should make the majority of your clean-up efforts directly on the image layers themselves. For areas that I know I want to be stark white or pure black, I make those edits on a new "touch-up" layer that I keep at the top of the stack.

Step 10: Quick-n-Easy Contour Line
By default, the geometric edge lines are fairly consistent in width. A contour line (often called a cross contour line) is a line that gives extra dimension to a figure by going from thin-to-thick-to-thin again (or the inverse). If you have kept your figure isolated from the background, you can add a quick contour line to your figure with just a few steps. 1. Ctrl+Click the layer with the figure (add/subtract the selection if needed); this will select only the figure. 2. Create a new layer behind the figure. 3. Fill the selection with black. 4. Move the layer a few pixels up and to the right. You will see (as shown here) that the line on this side of the image is thicker, and if you look closely at the calf, you'll see that it is thicker in the middle than at the edge. NOTE: This only creates the contour line outside the figure. You will need to touch up the areas inside the image (see below). Also pay attention to

Zoom in on the figure, and you'll see areas
that require additional editing.
Always check the tips of hair, and look closely at fingers, toes, and other small areas. These tend to get gaps that need to be filled.

Always check the tips of the hair to see if you are getting duplicate lines.
In this case, I trimmed some and kept the others. It's a matter of personal preference.

Step 11: Applying a Tone Layer
If you plan to print your work (as opposed to just displaying it on the web), a shading tone can add a nice touch of old-school authenticity. You can either drag-n-drop a pre-defined tone from the Materials Panel, or add a Tone Layer. I usually use the Tone Layer because it gives me more control of the final output. I typically replace the Gray Layer with a tone. 1. On the Gray Layer, Select Color Gamut. Then hide the Gray Layer. 2. Create a new tone layer (see below). 3. Pick the settings you want. 4. Click OK and the tone will be created with a layer mask that shows the tone where the gray used to be.

Select Layer > New Layer > Tone...

Step 12: Applying a Color Wash
Sometimes you want a spot of color. Using the same steps as above, Select Color Gamut on the Gray layer, then create a new layer and fill it with a color (I like light blue).

Select the color, then fill the area (CTRL+Del)

Step 13: BONUS: Applying a Quick Sketch Effect
This one is harder to explain; if you're really interested, read the full article. But, in a nutshell, here's a cheat to get a jump start on adding a sketched fill to the Gray layer. In the materials panel, you will find MM04-volcanic eruption (we're using this because it has lots of random lines in it). Drag this on top of the current illustration. Increase its size (don't be afraid to make it huge). Again, use the Select Color Gamut to select the Gray Layer, then create a layer mask to hide the parts of the pattern you don't want to see. With some manipulation (unlink the mask and the material), you can move it around until you have something you like. You will need to add some extra lines and do some touch-up to get the best results from this technique.

I used the sketch technique on this image;
I chose this as an example because it looks
better than when the effect was applied to the fairy.

Step 14: Saving Your Final Image
One of the things that Manga Studio does better than Photoshop is scale down the tone patterns consistently. In other words, it will shrink the image, but keep the line frequency of the dot/line patterns the same. This is VERY useful for print. Chose File > Export and select the appropriate settings for your image (PNG, JPG, TIF, etc.).

And that, dear friends and true believers, is it. This is a one-post summary of the entire process.

NEXT TIME: A "Contents" Launch Page

Friday, September 15, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 19 - Step 14: Saving Your Final Image

Now that you've got the final image, it's time to save it. As with almost every other image program out there, you're going to maintain a source file and an output file:

  • Manga Studio files have a .lip extension and contain all the layers and other info needed for you to edit it in the future:
  • Output images usually have an extension of .jpg, .png, or .tif. These are "flat" files and are intended for publication, either in print or online.
MS handles this through an Export function.

For web display, I usually select JPG. For print, I use a TIFF.

If you look closely at this screenshot, you'll see that MS has two Export options: one for layered files and another one, without any other text. The Layers option lets you export as a PSD file (among other things). The second one lets you export to all the formats you see here. And, no, the sharp-eyed among you are not seeing things – Manga Studio does let you Save in Kindle format. This is a very cool feature, and one that I admit to not having used – – YET! Ditto for its ability to export as an epub. 

Once you've selected the file type, a standard dialogue box will appear asking you to name the file and put it where it goes. After that, you get this pane:

As you can see, it has the usual quality and color settings that you would expect. Note that at the bottom of the dialogue is one of the things I said was cool about this program: It's ability to scale tones for print.

By default, Manga Studio selects "For Comic" and sets the Rasterize quality to "Fast." I always set it to "Prefer quality," even though I really haven't seen much difference between the two settings. In general, I do prefer the default settings "For comic" because it does do a better job of scaling the tones I use. I have experimented with the "For illustration" settings before and have never encountered the "gaps" it references. Nevertheless, why take any chances?

Here are some images saved with the "Illustration" and "Comic" settings for comparison.

Saved with ILLUSTRATION settings.
This image has been scaled to 50% of its original size.
Click for full-size image.

Saved with COMIC settings.
This image has been scaled to 50% of its original size.
Click for full-size image.

You'll have to enlarge both of these to see that there are, indeed, subtle differences between the tones. 

Detail of the two images shown above.

Here you can see that the Illustration setting is a little darker than the Comic setting. On the Web, I must say I prefer the Illustration settings. However, in print I think the Comic settings print better (although I must admit that, as of when I'm writing this, I only have a little experience with printing these images; if this changes in the future I'll let you know).

Here are a few more examples, this time with an actual comic page instead of a single illustration.

Illustration settings: Page reduced 33%

Comic Settings: Page reduced 33%

And here's another close up, where we can see again that the Illustration settings seem to present stronger lines, at least online in a web browser. I do suspect that the tones will print better under the Comic settings, but time will tell.

Detail of the output settings.

And that's that. Once you have the final image or page output, you can put it into your desktop publishing program (like InDesign, Publisher or QuarkXPress). Or, if you're feeling bold, output it as a Kindle or ePub file! It's all up to you.

NEXT TIME: Process "Quick" Summary

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 18 - Step 13: BONUS: Applying a Quick Sketch Effect

I was originally going to end this series here, but decided I didn't want to end it with 13 parts. I'm not superstitious, but since some people are, I decided to add another quick lesson. Using the same techniques as before (right up to Steps 11 and 12, where we applied the tone and color wash), I'm going to show you how to apply a quick sketch look to your image, using things that ship with Manga Studio. In other words, I'm going to cheat to use an existing sketched image that came with the program and add it to the "Gray" area we defined for shading.

Using a background image that ships with Manga Studio,
I added it to this image and quickly gave it a sketch look.

Here's another example of the same technique, but on a different image.

Same technique as above: This look
was achieved very quickly.
Now, you might be thinking, why bother cheating? If you want a sketch look, just sketch it. And I agree. For the best results, you really should just sketch it yourself. But sometimes you're in a hurry and you just want to see quick results. So, that's why I sometimes fall back on this technique to get a jump start on a sketched look.

As before, follow the Step-by-Step instructions, which are almost identical to what they were last time (and the time before that). To save time and space, I am not including all of the screenshots – please refer to the older posts if you need more detail, with the following difference.

Short version of what we're going to do: Find a background material that has lots of random sketch lines and then overlay it on the image, using the Gray layer as a mask.


  1. In your Materials Panel, select Monchromatic Pattern > MM04-volcanic eruption
  2. Drag the MM04-volcanic eruption to your main drawing area. Then drop it; it will create a new layer. Make sure the layer is above the others (I usually sandwich it between the Black Touch-Up layer and the various render layers). Check out the details below.
  3. With the layers in the correct order, select the "Gray Layer" from the Layers Panel. 
  4. From the Selection menu, choose the "Select Color Gamut..." option.
  5. The Select Color Gamut dialogue box will open. The cursor will also change to an eyedropper. Pick a color on the screen that you want (in this case, black or gray). You can use the settings in the control to choose only from the active ("Gray") layer, or all visible layers. You can also add or subtract from your selection.
  6. Your region will be selected (you'll see the flashing lasso effect around the selected area). Click on the layer with the MM04-volcanic eruption material.
  7. At the very bottom of the layers panel, click on the "Create Layer Mask" icon.
  8. Abruptly, the majority of the "mess" will vanish, and it will only be visible inside the areas selected and defined by the Gray layer.
  9. In the Layers panel, you need to click on the small checkmark that links the layer mask's movement to the material. See image and comments below.
  10. Select the Operation Tool 
  11. Use it to increase the size of the material (make sure the mask itself doesn't move). You will need to decrease the size of the image so you have more room to work with. By default, this tool should maintain aspect ratio (which is something you want, as it will make the lines look better when they get bigger).
  12. Move the material around, resizing as you want, until it looks like something you like. Be mindful not to make the sketched lines too big or too small.
  13. Because the Gray layer has sharp edges, some of the sketched lines will appear clipped. You may also not have lines in some spots where you want them. In this case, add some extra lines on a new layer. And don't forget you can combine the sketch with other layers and effects.

1. In the Materials Panel, select Monchromatic Pattern > MM04-volcanic eruption

2. MM04-volcanic eruption
This material is included with Manga Studio (Clip Studio Paint)
Now, you might be thinking, "What's so cool about this pattern?" Well, let's take a look at a close up of what's going on inside those swirls. Just take a look at all those random sketched lines. And they flow in multiple directions. This is a great place to get some sketchy effects for a quick illustration.

2. Detail from MM04-volcanic eruption
This thing can be blown up HUGE to get these cool, almost random sketch lines.

4. Don't be afraid to play around with the settings
in the Select Color Gamut dialogue box.

6. While working at this stage, you will have a pretty horrible mess
on your screen. Ignore it for now.

7. With the MM04-volcanic eruption layer selected,
click on the "Create layer mask" icon at the bottom
of the Layers Panel

9. Unlink the Material from the Mask.
If you don't understand Layer Masks, this step may see weird. There are LOTS of good videos out there (most about Photoshop, but principles still apply here), so you should go watch some to decipher what I'm talking about. There is a small checkmark between the Material and the layer mask. You want to click on it so that it goes away. Note in the image above: In the screenshot above, I'm showing one layer with and one layer without. We are doing this so we can manipulate the material (we need to make it MUCH bigger, and move it around a lot) without moving the mask.

10. Select the Operation Tool
11. Shrink the image and then grab the corners to make the material bigger.

12. Keep moving the material around
until you see something you like.

Now, to be honest, this image is not the best example of this style. I think the two I posted above look much better than the fairy does.  So, I hid the black layer, brought in another render and dramatically altered the region of the Gray layer to create something more extreme. Now, I'm not really happy with this, either, but I did want you to see how this can look combined with other looks and effects.

13. Experiment until you get something you like.

13. Add extra lines (shown here in red) to fill in gaps or to break up hard edges.

And remember, you can combine all of these effects to create a look you like. Here's a detail from one of the few times I have used ALL THREE finishes in a single illustration:

  • Tone
  • Color Wash
  • Sketched Effect
Mix-n-match effects and finishes to get the look you want.
The key is always to use moderation, and to remember your sense of scale so that the various treatments blend together. I know it might look a bit intense in the image above, but this is a detail from a two-page illustration, so when seen as a whole, it really doesn't seem that overpowering.

NEXT TIME: Saving Your Final Image

Friday, September 8, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 17 - Step 12: Applying a Color Wash

This is probably going to be the shortest post in this entire series because, after all, it's just a variation on what we covered last time. Now, instead of adding a shading tone, we're going to add a color wash. That is to say, we're going to replace the Gray layer with blue. I call it a "wash" because I usually use a pale shade of blue.

As before, follow the Step-by-Step instructions, which are almost identical to what they were last time. To save time and space, I am not including all of the screenshots – please refer to the last post if you need more detail.


  1. Select the "Gray Layer" from the Layers Panel. 
  2. From the Selection menu, choose the "Select Color Gamut..." option.
  3. The Select Color Gamut dialogue box will open. The cursor will also change to an eyedropper. Pick a color on the screen that you want (in this case, black or gray). You can use the settings in the control to choose only from the active ("Gray") layer, or all visible layers. You can also add or subtract from your selection.
  4. Create a new layer.
  5. Select a color from the color picker (I like to use pale blue).
  6. Fill the selected area with blue (CTRL+Del) or use the Edit > Fill menu.

3. Don't be afraid to play around with the settings
in the Select Color Gamut dialogue box.

5. Select the color, then fill the area (CTRL+Del)

And that's pretty much it. You can add any color (or multiple colors) to your image to give it an extra dimension. You can even combine effects to add color and a shading tone.

Combine layers for added effects.
Click to enlarge and see blue, gray and tone combined.
I'm not going to claim that there are limitless effects, but by combining the color, gray and tone layers, I think you can see that you have a lot of options available to you.

NEXT TIME: Saving Your Final Image

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 16 - Step 11: Applying a Tone Layer

Depending on your preferences, you can stop working on the art and go straight to print. Or, in other words (it's Labor Day as I write this), "Put a fork in it, it's done!"

However, I like to add a shading tone to my work; it gives it a more finished look that appeals to me. If you're producing web comics, I suggest you skip adding shading tones to your work. Tones are dots and lines designed to simulate grayscale effects in monochromatic printing. In other words, it's an old-fashioned (but still used) technology that arranges dots or lines in a manner that lets the reader perceive varying degrees of light and dark while using only black ink.

Halftones use dots to simulate grayscale images.

If you do any sort of art, I'm sure you've seen this before. It's used to print photos in magazines and newspapers. Print comics also use the technique, but since they are printing line art, rather than photos, the coloring and shading uses Shading Tones. (I've added a list of of articles and resources to the end of this post, so scroll down for more info.)

This is one area where Manga Studio / Clip Paint Studio outshines Photoshop. Although Photoshop (and Adobe Illustrator) does an excellent job of converting images into tone patterns (and in combining vector tones with the raster line art), this is something that MS/CS just does better. First of all, it ships with a large set of tones that are ready to use: they can be found in the Materials panel.

Manga Studio (aka Clip Paint Studio) ships with a lot of shading tones ready to use.

You can just drag-and-drop them on your image, and if you select the region where you want them to appear (like behind a figure, or as a highlight zone) before you drag it over, the tone will appear only in the area you selected (in other words, it automatically generates a layer mask for you).

Yeah, you can do this in Photoshop/Illustrator, and it's easy to find or make tones for reuse. But these are ready to go without any additional work on your part.

Just some Random Materials (i.e. shading tones) that ship with Manga Studio.
Another thing Manga Studio does better than Photoshop is control the export so that, even if you resize the image, the dot pattern size will remain consistent from page to page. Now, this may not sound that cool to you if you're new to printing (and if you're doing web comics, it doesn't matter at all), but trust me: this is SUPER cool.

Say you created your comic and are sending it to the printer. You definitely don't want the dot patterns to be different sizes from one page to the next. So, you meticulously set up your tones and export all your pages and send them to the printer. But then you get a message back from them, informing you that your bleed pages are the wrong size. To keep your images and text in the safe zone, you'll need to shrink each bleed page about 5%. If you have manually set up your tones in PS/AI (or GiMP), your dots will shrink, as will the space between them. This means that your patterns will become a little darker, making your pages inconsistent from page to page.

Truthfully, this might not matter much to you, but it would drive me nuts, especially if I were using a high line frequency and the shading got clumpy on those pages.Manga Studio, however, was designed specifically for comics and creating print-ready images, so it controls that in your export settings.

Manga Studio export settings let you resize
a page without re-scaling your shading tones.

No matter what size you choose, these patterns would remain the same.
Because we're discussing this on the Web, it's actually hard to demonstrate that the tones do, in fact, remain consistent when the pages are re-scaled. That's just the nature of these technologies: Web images are designed to be more fluid and easy to change size, whereas print is designed to look great at a specific size and with specific ink settings. This is also a big factor in why there is a difference between what you see on the screen and how it looks when you print it out.

NOTE: I am aware that there is a difference between Halftones and Dithered Printing. That discussion is really beyond the scope of this article.

Applying Shading Tone as a Layer

Even though it has lots of nice tones built-in, I prefer to create a new one for my projects as a separate layer because I can create specifications that don't match the presets. Specifically, I like to use lines at a 45-degree angle. The thickness of the lines determines the darkness levels.

Applying a shading tone layer to a specific area of the illustration.

I am going to replace the gray area with a shading tone made of diagonal lines.


  1. Select the "Gray Layer" from the Layers Panel. 
  2. From the Selection menu, choose the "Select Color Gamut..." option.
  3. The Select Color Gamut dialogue box will open. The cursor will also change to an eyedropper. Pick a color on the screen that you want (in this case, black or gray). You can use the settings in the control to choose only from the active ("Gray") layer, or all visible layers. You can also add or subtract from your selection.
  4. From the Layer menu, choose the "New Layer" > "Tone..." option.
    - Select the options you want (smaller numbers = coarser tone)
    - For diagonal lines, set angle to 45 degrees or 135 degrees
    - For horizontal lines, set angle to 0, vertical lines = 90 degrees
  5. The Simple Tone Settings dialogue box will open. 
  6. Finalize your settings, and you will have a tone wherever the gray area used to be.
  7. Hide the "Gray" layer, or leave it visible – you decide what looks best for you.

3. This will select everything that is black (or whatever color you pick
with the eyedropper). You can also tell it to choose the active layer, or all layers.

3. The Select Color Gamut dialogue box will open

4. Select Layer > New Layer > Tone...

Although I usually limit myself to diagonal lines, there are lots of fun options available. I can easily see where a heart background could be useful for an anime-style love comic, or the Diamond, Heart, Clubs or Spades could be useful for a poker-themed scene.

7. Whatever was once gray, will now have the diagonal line tone.

And that's it! You now have a professional tone that will stay consistent, even when you scale your image. And remember, you can combine different layers with tones to create different effects, like having both the gray and the line pattern appear.

You will need to click to enlarge this to see the line pattern
on top of the gray pattern.
You can also add another simple tone, but with the lines going the other direction, to add some subtle shading.
Look at the upper rim of her hat to see where I added a second,
contrasting tone to add some shading to the brim.
You have a lot of options available in Manga Studio. You could apply different dot patterns to her lips and hat, use lines for the body, and so forth. The nice thing is, MS does a good job of managing the tones, so with minimal bookkeeping, you can create a library of tones and patterns and reuse throughout your entire book.

More About Halftones

If you would like to read more about halftones and tones, here are some links to books and articles.

  • The Atlas of Analytical Signatures of Photographic Processes
    (PDF) A scholarly work on halftones and their use in photography. This reminds me a lot of the type of book I read when I was in collage. Probably a little more scholarly than the average user wants, but it does include a solid history of the subject.

NEXT TIME: Applying a Color Wash