A guide on how to color a black and white sketch in Photoshop

My lovely amigos!

I’m so excited! Painted this shiba-wolf-fox wannabe the other day and had a minor break through, I must say. Been making several attempts through the years but whenever I’ve tried it, the colors always seem muddy and boring.

Not this time!

No seriously, I’m so excited. I actually managed to save the steps of this painting so I though that I might share it with you ◠◡◠

I gave this method another shot, after ranting a bit about my recent struggle with one of my latest paintings. And I’ll be damned, it worked this time! Now I wanna tell the whole world what I’ve learned, haha.

How to color a black and white sketch in Photoshop

Shibafoxwolf steps in Photoshop

This painting consists of 8 steps, feel free to try it out:

 1. Line Drawing
Pretty self-explanatory, I would say ◠◡◠ I start with a white background, then create an empty layer on top and draw a little sketch.

2. Black and white sketch
Then I create another layer underneath, block in a huge shape, lock the transparency of the layer and start fleshing it out using dark and light values. Feels so good to be able to focus on one thing at a time!

3. Gradient map
Oh, this was one of the tricks I learned! Create an adjustment layer set to Gradient Map, and create a clipping mask. Pick a suitable color scheme. This will then serve as an underpainting and prevent the colors to seem dirty. Wohoo! Picked it up from one of Stanley Lau’s videos(also known as Artgerm), so creds to him!

4. Color
Now create another layer on top, and add to the clipping mask. Start coloring. Double click the layer and adjust the underlying layer. Make a smoother transition by holding down alt.

Shibafoxwolf steps in Photoshop

5. Overlay
Same thing here. Paint, paint, paint and adjust underlying layer if you want. This layer helps to make your colors even richer.

6. Shadows
When you’re happy with the colors, move on to the shadows. Create another layer, and add to the clipping mask. Set it to “Multiply”. Pick colors and paint them in, on the entire subject(I picked light blue/violet for the white areas and local colors for the rest). Create a mask and start erasing parts where the light is hitting your object or character.

7. Bounce light
Create one more layer set to “Screen” and add to the clipping mask. Pick a dark blue/grey color add it where you think the lights will bounce. I imagined the blue sky to bounce off this little pooch, hence the blue tone.

8. Final touch ups
Create a final layer and finish the painting by adding some details where needed.

And it’s done ◠◡◠

That’s it! Compared to earlier, I managed to slap this together in no time. I’m blown away by how efficient this method is when one has figured it out. Helps you work smarter and not harder. I love it.

Then of course, you still need to know the fundamentals, in order to put down as much information as possible in a short amount of time. I have many miles of brush strokes behind me, hard(and smart) work and repetition pays off in the long run!

One more thing! I’ll post a time lapse video next Tuesday where I use the same approach for that painting I talked about. Stay tuned!





  1. MarschelArts 21 January, 2017 at 17:26

    I like this technique especially in early stages when working on client paintings. Since most of the coloration layers are adjustment layers you can react quickly to changes and make fast alternate versions. Saved me multiple times :D

    1. Andrea 24 January, 2017 at 19:55

      It’s fantastic! I haven’t been able to do it properly before though, the colors feel watery and dirty. So glad to finally figure out how to do with with less sweat and tears :D It’s definitely a life saver when working with clients!

  2. Crystal 22 January, 2017 at 23:57

    Hey, this is amazing, and I’m loving everything about it, but I’m wondering what kind of brushes you’re using. I would love to know. Thank!

    1. Andrea 24 January, 2017 at 19:54

      Thank you! :)

      Oh mostly basic brushed, and then I use one brush from Shaddy Safadi’s set, some brushes from Kyle T Webster, some from helen Mungjue Chen and then also some from Sergey Kolesov :) I can make a separate blog post and show my favorite brushes!

    2. curt 3 September, 2019 at 03:54

      This helps me because i use three phades: schematic, design, construction. (Architect) and this help to get a quick schematic in front of a client and leaves me something to work with in design phase. Thank you for posting.

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  5. max 7 June, 2018 at 01:19

    is it possible you could make a tutorial of the greyscale fox? like a video tutorial? please it would be the best tutorial, your ending piece is just beautiful


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