I was asked by a member how I got the "inked" look to my Reel Heroes covers, so I decided to describe the long, tedious process here. It's been a while since I did a long-winded write-up on one of my covers, so I think you'll forgive one now.
So here goes:
Ideally, the drawn effect would be created by manually tracing a photo and hand-colouring everything. This is very time-consuming, and frankly, requires an experienced illustrator's hand to look good. (The actual Reel Heroes covers are done by hand, with varying degrees of success.)
For my series of Avengers Phase One covers I couldn't afford the time to do every panel by hand, so I sought out a filter to do it for me. There are many good commercial filters that give a robust hand-drawn look, but I couldn't find one that matched specifically what I was after. (and some of those filters are plain out of my price-range.)
Bearing in mind that I had to apply the comic-book look to 7 or 8 images for each cover, both the main figure and the background panels, I wanted an automated approach. I first thought I could automate this entire process with a Photoshop Action, but no such luck. Each step in my process needed hand tinkering. I experimented quite a bit, and you can see some progress between my first Iron Man and the last Avengers cover.
In the end the procedure was mainly this:Step 1: The linework.
(Make a copy of the original image first. You will need an untouched version for later stages.)
First I used the standard Poster Edges
filter to do the heavy lifting. The settings all varied from image to image, but generally I went for a strong line. That filter also creates a lot of noise in darker areas, so it will have to be cleaned up by hand. You sometimes get a better result if you "clean up" the image before applying the Poster Edges
filter, using the Surface Blur
tool at various settings. Experimentation is the key.
I then used the Color Range
selection tool (Under "Select"
) to make a selection of only the black in the image. I copied that selection to a separate layer so I would have an isolated version of the black outlines created by the Poster Edges
filter. Then I went in and manually erased (with a layer mask in my case) all the noisy bits. I also cleaned up some of the rougher edges at this point. Here is where a pen tablet comes in handy.
Cleaning up the Poster Edges
outlines got me only so far, so I drew additional outlines by hand, usually the mouth, tracing the jawline and creases in clothes and other areas I felt needed some enhancements.
I then used the Stroke
function to add a slightly thicker outline to the contours of the figure. This only works if you've isolated the figure on a transparent layer or you can easily select it against a simple background. Otherwise you'll have to draw that outline by hand as well.
That takes care of the linework.Step 2: The hashes, or crosshatches.
I did two things here. First I made a copy of the black only layer I isolated from the "Poster Edges"
process. I then applied a Motion Blur
filter to it at about a 30-40 degree angle. I then used the Sharpen
or Sharpen More
filters repeatedly to make the motion blur look like tiny lines. Then I masked the entire layer and went in with the eraser to bring out these small hatches in shadow areas, creases in the clothes and face, and I also used it to feather the edges of large black areas.
Second, I found an image of speed lines from a Manga tutorial and overlaid that on my image, set it to multiply and again masked off the entire layer. Again I could go in with my eraser and bring out these speedlines where I wanted them. Please note I rotated the speed lines to match the angle of the "Motion Blur Lines" I created in the previous step. You could also angle this layer perpendicular to the other hashes and get a crosshatch effect, or apply this same Speed Line layer twice at different angles.Step 3: The colours.
Here you go back to the copy of the original image and apply any filters you think will give the painted or drawn look. I used a combination of the Dry Brush
filter (good for hair and facial details) and the Cutout
filter at different settings. I applied the filters on separate copies of the main image, stacked them on top of each other and used the Opacity slider to find a good combination. Sometimes I just used the Dry Brush
filter because the Cutout
filter is too recognisable.
Most times the colours benefitted from a strong saturation increase to give them that comic book pop. I applied that as a separate Adjustment Layer so I could control it better.
Step 4. Season to taste.
Note that I don't apply any colour halftone or raster effects which every tutorial out there emphasises so heavily. Comics have been printed with excellent colours for the last fifty years so that dotty look is just a throwback to a slightly insulting stereotype of what the "Comic Book Look" is. Comic art is neither simplistic or coarse any more, so it's time the aesthetic prejudice caught up.
Here is a close-up of the Captain America linework: