Friday, July 28, 2006

Be Sure Your Sins Will Find You Out... my case, the sin of Believing Thou Art Dave Gibbons, And Sticking Lots Of Nifty Design Elements Into Your Comic That Mean You End Up With Fiddling Spot Illustrations To Do When You've Already Lost Time To Being Ill And It's No-One's Fault But Your Own.
The upside is, it was a perfect excuse to play with the new free upgrade to Corel Painter (IX to IX.5, named with a fine disregard for both the Roman and Arabic number schemes). For those of you not in the know, Painter is a photoshop-style painting program with the added twist of looking like real media - oil paint, watercolour, chalk, crayon - and all of it capable of being squooged and squished (technical terms there) around in a way utterly impossible in Photoshop. I use Painter to make it look as if I'm using real paint to carefully imitate slick Photoshop colouring instead of, as I used to do, Photoshop to carefully imitate paint carefully imitating Photoshop. I think.
My first copy of Painter was version 6, which was a frustrating mix of amazing features (all the natural media stuff) hamstrung by a clumsy interface, incessant bugginess and the inability to deal with large files. Painter went through various hands before being bought up by the Corel Corporation (of CorelDraw and PhotoSuite fame), who worked hard on taming the beast, bringing the interface into line with Photoshop, and wrestling hard with the sh*te-storm of code under the bonnet. Their first try, Painter 7, received mixed reviews, but on trying a download of Painter 8 I realised that for the first time they'd created a serious tool for working on large print-resolution files. Normally I only upgrade my software with every other version number, but when Painter IX came out only nine months later, the speed improvements were so good I shelled out straight away. As with IX, IX.5 offers hardly any new features, just more speed improvements and the odd useful little tweak - like separating the eraser from the brush tool so you can select it work a keystroke. Colour handling is much better too, and best of all, it's a free upgrade if you already have 9 (though if, like me, you were still on 9.0, you need to run the free 9.1 updater first).
To celebrate this new version, I've made a Painter colour set that mimics the standard Photoshop swatch set. I'm making this, plus a custom Photoshop swatch and brush set, available for free download here. Have fun.
(NOTE: following complaints, I've discovered the Painter colour set won't open following download, so I'm withdrawing it until I can fix the problem; my apologies.)

The illustration came out quite pleasingly - it reminded me of Arno's spot illustrations for Les Aventures D'Alef-Thau. At some point I'll do a post to show the influence of Arno's work on my own.
Once I've got all my spot illustrations out of the way...



I. N. J. Culbard said...

Thanks for all the technical info. Interesting reading. Back in January I had a story printed by Dark Horse, my first in comics, for the New Recruits programme they have on. It was my first time colouring a comic in photoshop so it was kind of a baptism of fire.

I posted a couple of pages of my contribution on my blog when I first started it back in March, you can see the results here.

The links to the swatches is HUGELY useful. for that, many thanks.

Picked up The Great Game. Read it. Loved it.

Unknown said...

Yeah, that first one always puts the wind up you. Mine was a Sinister Dexter Christmas story for 2000AD, back in 1998, done on an underpowered and slightly unstable Power Computing Mac clone using Photoshop 3.04 and a mouse. Man oh man.

I had a quick look at your stuff, and it has to be said, good work, that man!

I. N. J. Culbard said...

Much appreciated.

My stories for DH - the colours were really guess work as to whether they would print well or not. I was lucky I think as the colour printed reasonably well. One of the pages in the book was misprinted (or some dilema where the colour layer had shifted from the line work). But as this was my first book, I was over the moon with this error. I pointed it out to my wife saying, "look, a misprint... it's a real comic!" I was incredibly pleased.

It was quite an experience getting the finished thing back. I used to be a member of the Comics Creators Guild (when I lived in London as that's where I come from originally, I only moved to Nottingham a few years ago). I recal meeting Bryan Talbot in the Sketch Book Club in Chelsea (where Heath Robinson was once secretary or some such), and I'd bought a copy of "One Bad Rat" (first issue) and he'd not seen it in print yet. So, for the first time, as a reader, I learned then what a gamble the process was, waiting to see the finished product as I watched him scan over my copy checking if it had got through the 'process' alright.

A swatch is remarkably useful. So a huge thanks, but probably not just from me, I'd imagine countless people will find that useful.

Unknown said...

I was lucky, as I'd already done three years of colouring via guides (which involved colouring on photocopies and then adding CMYK codes on an overlay for the separators).
Photoshop does contain a useful tool for judging if a colour is "out of gamut" (not printable) - if you double-click on the active (foreground) colour in the toolbar, you get a dialog box showing the colour swatch plus a breakdown of the colour in RGB, CMYK, HSV, Pantone and Swahili - anyway, if there's a little warning triangle with an exclamation mark in it next to the swatch, it's out of gamut, but there'll be a second swatch under the first (usually looking duller and darker) - if you click on that it converts the colour to print-safe.
The best wheeze I found, early on, was to print out stuff I wasn't sure of on a cheapo inkjet printer - it won't give you an exact proof, but it will help you avoid those real RGB-to-CMYK disasters...

Incidentally, did the Dark Horse production send you that data sheet with all the stuff about separation and ink density? I got mine about eight pages into The Great Game and it was a real pain converting the existing pages to fit the new specs (that's why pages 1-8 of issue one look a wee bit different from the rest of it).

I. N. J. Culbard said...

I got the data sheet at some point into Wild Talents, but I'd started colouring the first few pages of that 'for show' before I'd finished inking (I don't think they knew I'd already started colouring it). With Way of All Flesh (the second strip in the book), I gave the thing a bleed through look like the blur you get when magic marker colours buffer. Way of All Flesh took no time to colour at all, Wild Talents... because I'd started in complicated fashion(with no knowledge of what was required), that sort of continued throughout. But you live and learn.

I recently did a six page story for the Megazine's Small Press slot (I say recently, I did it back in February, but I suppose that's quite recent when talking comics). Overall, I was quite happy with the colouring for that, the process of colouring I mean.

With regards to the data sheet, the bit that confounded me was 'trapping blacks'. Woodrow Phoenix and Craig Conlan(two good friends of mine who I keep in email contact with) helped tremendously with the whole 'what does trapping the black mean?' question. We all do it rather differently though. I do all my line work in vectors (in Flash) and export the files as illustrator files. I then import these into Photoshop. As they're initially vector lines that are imported a bitmap they're lovely and clean already. I ensure that the K is 100% and that I have a copy in channels that's also 100% black, then convert the mode to CMYK and colour from there in. I had 48 pages with DH, the process I'm now familiar with wasn't always applied and you can see that on quite a few pages (the black on the lettering wasn't true black etc. (I ink in the computer, using a wacom, because I have more control over the line as I my hands shake too much for me to ink with a brush. Now, 'inker' purists would probably burn me at the stake for such heresy, but as far as I see it, art as aesthetic. It's a goal. How you reach it, how you achieve it, you do that by whatever means. So my light pen, to me, is just a brush. It's a much something you have to master as anything made of pig hair).

But I finished the art on that book in the late spring of 2005. I've learned a lot since then.

Okay, so now I'm looking really closely at pages 8 and 9 of The Great Game, and I've gotta say, I honestly didn't notice. There's certainly no bump in the road visually. It is difficult though when you've had to live with it. You see it for all its warts, it wrinkles. I do wish I could look at my work as objectively as someone looking at it for the first time. Perhaps then I wouldn't be so hard on myself?

Unknown said...

Waoww! I think you're the first person I've encountered who not only inks with a Wacom but uses a vector package too (I use Adobe Illustrator, but my method of drawing and importing is almost exactly the same as yours!)

(Warning to other readers; the next bit is nothing but unmitigated process porn :-)

The only real difference for me is, because I do a lot of the work in Painter, I have to use RGB files; that's why I spent ages importing my CMYK-safe Photoshop swatches into Painter.
I export the inks on multiple layers so that I can mess with the blacks in Painter - it has those useful "blender" brushes that can be used to squidge (technical term there) the edges of the spot blacks to soften them up. I also sometimes add gradients to the spot blacks (for things like the shading on cylindrical spaceship hulls).
When the page is done, I merge all the "ink" layers, and make two copies to channels; one is for trapping, and on that I bump the contrast right up to eliminate any lighter colours created by blending - otherwise you get weird blue tones under the blended areas when you trap.
I make a separate channel for lettering, then delete all the inks and lettering layers; after that I run a Photoshop action of my own devising that converts the file to CMYK, pastes the correct backing colours into each layer using the trapping channel as a template (-1 pixel), and then pastes the contents of the unchanged inks channel plus lettering into the K channel only.

It's always difficult to keep a sense of perspective about your own work. As you say, no-one else can ever see the struggle you went through in producing a page. In the end, you have to keep thinking, "on to the next thing..."

I. N. J. Culbard said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
I. N. J. Culbard said...

Illustrator's not far off. Flash and illustrator are cross compatible. More so now Adobe own Flash.

I'm actually probably going to stick full colour pages of this up quite soon on the blog. But for now, here's the inks (done in Flash) for the first page of "Monsters" which I mentioned earlier being my Megazine small press thingy...


The soft line method you apply sounds interesting. Will give that a try.

paulhd said...

You know, I understand very little of what both you are saying here - good job the end results look so great! INJ's stories in New Recruits were the highlight, and it's killing me not having a comic shop close by to pick up 'The Great Game'.

I. N. J. Culbard said...

Cheez Wiz, thanks Paul. Much appreciated. There are 'online' comic ordering services you could try.

paulhd said...

You're welcome INJ.
I still use P45, but only every 6 weeks or so. Great Game is coming my way, but patience isn't a strength.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts, on the Photoshop/Illustrator color stuff:

1) There's actually a useful tool in Photoshop, under the 'View' menu item, called "Gamut Warning". This will display out-of-gamut pixels in the image as neutral gray. (It doesn't affect the actual image file, just the display on screen.) This is a useful, quick way of seeing if your colors are too saturated for CMYK.

2) If you really REALLY want blacks in Illustrator, you should use what's called 'rich' or 'overprint' black, which is actually 60% C, 40% M, 20% Y and 100% K. This is really useful for large black areas, as it ensures a solid, dark black.

There's also an 'Overprint Black' filter in Illustrator, under Filters -> Color, but I'm not sure if it works precisely the same way.

Hope this is useful info.

Graeme Neil Reid said...

And I've downloaded all your freebies and the one I was most eager to try I can't get to work, doh! Either slow brain day or my download has changed how the computer should read it the file. Followed your instructions for the Photoshop swatches in Painter and when I come to open the colour set the file is shaded out and I can't select it :( Tried having a look at the Info for the file but couldn't get it to change to anything that Painter liked. Help me d'israeli-one-kenobi your my only help!


Unknown said...

Yeah, sorry Graeme - I just tried this myself and got the same result. seems to be doing something to the file while zipping it, so that Painter can't recognize it afterwards (on my system, Mac OS 10, the file is identified as "unix executable file" !?!!)
I've tried zipping the swatch file myself in the hope that will help - I've posted the new version at 23.20 UK time on 2nd August, you might want to allow an hour or so for the Mac server to update before trying to download it again.

Unknown said...

Drat - just tried downloading the new file myself and it still doesn't help. I'm at a loss as I can happily copy Painter resources between machines at home (including storing backups on hard disk or CD) but whatever does to them renders them useless. I've taken the step of withdrawing the files until I can figure out the problem.
Meantime, email me at and I'll try sending the file as an attachment, see if that cures it.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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