Basic Step by Step Art Tutorial Using Paint Tool SAITable of Contents
IntroThis tutorial will describe the step by step process I go through to make my original Pokemon art. The tutorial is made for Paint Tool SAI (you can get it here), which is a lightweight Japanese art software that, in my opinion, kicks Photoshop's ass in terms of digital painting. Not that Photoshop is limiting in any sort of way, but the easy blending and greater pressure sensitivity of SAI makes painting so much more efficient.
Some notes before I begin:
- There are two sides to creating every drawing: the technical process itself (such as the specific brush settings, layers, etc.) and the artistic application (such as deciding where to shade and how dark to make the shadows). This tutorial will focus mostly on the technical process because the application of artistic concepts is either mostly intuitive or must be picked up from studying objects in real life, not from a tutorial.
- The way I draw changes all the time, and if you feel like this tutorial is not for you, just pass it by. This may be helpful for beginners just starting out in digital painting because I try to be very specific and clear.
- This tutorial assumes that you have a tablet. If you're remotely interested in reaching your artistic potential, a tablet is pretty much required. For 99.9% of the population, a mouse just doesn't offer the stability that you need when drawing on the computer, although maybe with undying patience and/or extreme skill you could get similar results between a mouse and a tablet. For me specifically, I use a crappy, ancient 4x5 Wacom Graphire tablet. They've been taken off the market (a testament to how old it is) but so far it has served me well and, as a hobbyist, I see no need for anything more elaborate.
And with that said, let's begin!
This is by far the most important part of the drawing, and perhaps the one that's most heavily reliant on that intuitive, artistic application I referred to earlier. While almost every other step in this tutorial can be skipped depending on your style of drawing, no drawing should be skipping the sketch. If your sketch sucks, then your final drawing won't be that great either, so make sure to take the time and make everything right before moving on. It may be tempting, say, when you're trying to draw a specific hand position but it's not coming out quite right, to be lazy and blow it off, convincing yourself that as you progress, it'll just fix itself own, but in the end you're going to be forced to go back and make it right.
Other than that, feel free to be as messy and use as many layers as necessary when making The Sketch. A lot of people just put the sketch on one layer, but if you draw a really nice head but find yourself constantly having to readjust the body and the background, it wouldn't be a bad idea to just stick the head on another layer on top so you can work more freely.
Also, sometimes my first sketch is too confusing to make anything out of it. Don't hesitate to make another, cleaner sketch on top of your preliminary one if you feel that'll make things easier to see. In this case, since the drawing I'm doing is pretty simple, it wasn't necessary.
Making the sketch is more or less drawing what you want. There's not really any specific hints or tips I can give, except that using guidelines is really helpful, especially for placing facial features in the correct place. Anyway, here's a sketch of Pikachu that I will be using for this tutorial:
When you're done, merge all the sketch layers (if you have more than one) and lower the opacity to around 30-50% so you can use it as a reference for your outline.
Well.. prepare yourself... this is hands down (at least to me) the most tedious and boring part of the process. I've struggled with making nice, crisp freehand outlines for years, before eventually ditching them for a more painty, messy style without clearly defined outlines. However, the need arises for a really nice outline a lot, such as making these Pokemon art stock images. Luckily, SAI has a great tool for making lineart. On the left hand side where all your layers art, click on the paper button with a pen on top next to the New Layour button, like so:
This will create a Linework layer, a special layer with unique tools made specifically for creating outlines. Basically, every stroke that you make on this layer will turn the line into an object that you can manipulate. For example, you can drag the line around, make it thinner or fatter, change the shape of the curve, etc. There are a few pros and cons to using the Lineart layer:
- Less stress when making the outline. For me personally, there's a lot of pressure to keep my hand steady and make my lines perfect. However, because you can adjust the lines after you draw them, you can simply drag it around until it's exactly as you want it.
- Automatic smoothing. Often when you make a stroke freehand, it turns out shaky and imperfect. The program will automatically fix the bumps for you though, which is a huge relief when making large arcs and stuff.
- Ability to adjust the pressure. You can adjustments to the pressure of the lines, making them thicker or thinner regardless of how much pressure you put on your pen when initially drawing them, which can help make your outline look more varied and polished.
- Flexibility. This tool is not good for really detailed outlines, mostly due to the automatic smoothing that I mentioned above. Just as that feature can be a blessing, it can also be really annoying as it transforms your lines into something that you might not have wanted, especially when it comes to making really tiny details.
- You can't select and move a large portion of the outline. This has the potential to get really annoying, because I often find myself in a position where I like the outline I made in a specific part (let's say the fingers on a hand), but it's just a bit out of place and I want to move all the fingers up a bit. If you were working with just a regular layer, you can simply select the fingers and drag them up. However, on the outline layer, you can't, so you can either redraw everything or wait until you're done with the outline, rasterize the layer, and then move it up.
- Crappy eraser. You'll notice that due to the vector nature of the lines, when you try to erase only a bit of the line to thin it or whatever, it erases in ugly chunks, which contributes to the small detail problem. This is because the eraser doesn't really erase the pixels itself, but rather the strokes you made. So if you want to thin out a line you have to adjust the pressure, which can get a bit annoying.
Basically, I would say that the Linework layer is good for simple images but for anything complicated with a lot of small details, you're better off freehanding everything. Of course, you can also do a combination of the two and use the lineart layer to get all the large shapes out of the way and then freehand the details.
Anyway, whatever you choose, make a layer just for the outline and make sure it's above your sketch layer. I don't have a specific brush width that I use, since it depends on how large my image is to begin with and what sort of look I'm aiming for. I normally work between 3px to 5px though.
Quick tip on freehanding the outline
If you do decide to freehand everything, a good way to allow yourself more room for mistakes and keep the crispness is to enlarge your sketch. Go to Canvas > Change Resolution and enter in new, larger dimensions for your image (make sure Constrain Proportions is checked). I recommend making the image two times or three times larger than the original. Don't be alarmed by the nasty, pixelly look that your sketch has after, which is inevitable when you make the image larger than the original. Make your outline on top of enlarged sketch, and when you're finished, go back to the Change Resolution option and enter in the original dimensions of your image. The image will shrink and you'll notice that a LOT of imperfections that you made on your outline are less noticable or maybe even completely eliminated, depending on how large you stretched the image in the first place.
Using the Edit tool of the Linework layout
But anyway, if you decide to use SAI's special Linework layer, which I will do in this tutorial, if you mess up on one of your line, you no longer need to erase it and start over! So long as the curve of your stroke is line or less what you want, you can drag the line to the place that you want it to be. For example, let's say I have this: I'm making the outline of Pikachu's ear and I want that line moved more to the right.
Instead of erasing it and starting over, I can drag it to where I want it to be. Click on the Edit button to the left of the screen where all the brushes and tools are or, as a hotkey, just hold Shift. Hover over the defective line. The line should become highlighted with blue.
Now, hover your mouse over the endpoint of the line. The point should turn pink. Then, while still holding down Shift if you're using the hotkey, click, hold, and drag the endpoint to the place where you want to line to be. In this case, I moved the line more to the right, like so:
You can manipulate the outline a lot more using the Edit tool. Feel free to play with it and just drag around the line to see how much you can distort it!
Rotating the canvas
When making outlines, it's a lot more natural for your wrist to make swift vertical strokes. However, when you have to make a long horizontal line, it's harder to get it right since your wrist just doesn't bend that way very well. When you're actually drawing on a physical piece of paper, you turn the paper at different angles when making lines to accomodate your wrist because your wrist only naturally goes in a few different directions while the lines are going everywhere. In our example, Pikachu's bottom chin looks like just the type of long, horizontal line that can give us a bit of grief, as highlighted below.
Thankfully, SAI has a really nice tilting feature that allows you to rotate the image to change the angle that you're working at for the image. The toolbar for it can be found directly above your canavas:
The default setting for the rotation should be at 0 degrees. Click on the arrows to rotate the image. I changed the angle to 90 degrees so the horizontal line will now be vertical. It should now be pretty easy doing that horizontal line. And just to show how useful the dragging outline thing is, I messed up anyway but no worries, because I was able to drag the outline to the right place.
I'm out of tips, so I'll just jump right to the finished outline. Here's what it looks like once everything's all said and done (you can also turn off the sketch layer at this point because there's no need for it):
Refining the Outline
You can just stop there if you like the look, but if you want a more polished look, you can adjust the pressure of the lines, which is another selling point for using the Lineart layer. In order to adjust the pressure, click on the Pressure button next to all the other tools for the layer on the left side of the screen:
This tool is great if you want to taper your lines. Tapered lines get thinner at the edges and are thicker in the middle. Here's a visual example:
Both of the lines are made using a 5px large brush. The top line is tapered while the bottom line isn't. You can see how much better looking the tapered line is, and while Paint Tool SAI already does an excellent job of sensing the pressure being applied to the pen and tapers the lines for you (since you naturally apply less and less pressure as you finish up your lines), but you can accentuate this effect with the Pressure tool.
Using the pressure tool is pretty similar to just editing the lines itself. Once you'd selected Pressure in the toolbox, hover over the line you want to change and it should turn blue and indicate specific points on the curve where your line curves. Click and hold on one of these points, and drag it to the left or the right. This will thicken or thin the line surrounding that specific point. I chose a specific line on Pikachu's leg that I really didn't like:
And here's how it looks after I tapered it:
The line looks a lot better now. Basically, just go through the rest of the outline and change the pressure wherever you feel it necessary. And just to illustrate how big of a difference this process makes on your outline, here's an animation that shows the outline before the tapering and after:
Quite a difference, isn't it? In fact, you probably can't see the entirety of the difference because the animation above is shrunken to less than half of the original size of the actual drawing, so if you view it in real size you'll definitely a lot better how it improves the lineart. It may feel like a waste of time going through each line and thinning out the edges, but it really helps make the outline look a lot less clunky and a lot smoother and refined, which is what we're going for.
Finishing it Off
Alright, so now you're basically finished with the outline. It's still in that "special" Linework type layer instead of just a regular layer, and if you have no new adjustments to make concerning the tools that the Lineart layers provide, it's time to rasterize the layer. Rasterizing the layer basically changes the layer from a special layer (such as a Shape layer, Adjustment layer, etc.) back to just a regular one. Why rasterize? Well, perhaps the most compelling reason is that you cannot make any adjustments to the layer outside of the adjustments that the specific layer type allows you to. So basically, if you're working on a Linework layer, you can't use just a regular Brush and color over it. The only changes you can make are with the Pressure, Edit, Curve, etc. tools that the layer gives you, which obviously limits your ability to adjust your outline however you want. Also, if you cannot save your file as a PSD file if you want to do further adjustments in Photoshop (which I will do later in this tutorial).
Anyway, in order to rasterize your lineart layer, make sure it's selected on your list of layers and go to Layer > Rasterize Linework Layer.
Now that you've rasterized the layer, you can go in and use all the other tools of Paint Tool SAI to adjust the outline that you've been missing out on. For example, I decided to really thin out the outline around Pikachu's cheeks and back stripes (because they're "soft" color boundaries) and adjust his foot. Here's the *finally finished* product!
And so ends the most annoying part of the drawing. Everything from here on out is fun and a lot less meticulous. :)
Setting it Up
Woohoo, now that you're over the "outline hump" as I like to call it, it's now time to color everything in! First you've got to make sure you're able to color within the lines. The easiest way to do this is to create a base color layer underneath the outline that basically provides the boundaries between where you should and shouldn't color. To put it in simpler terms, it prevents any color from going outside the lines.
In order to go about this, select the Magic Wand tool located above the toolbox on the left:
This is basically the Bucket Fill version of Select. Now you want to Magic Wand everything inside the outline. If there are little gaps in corners and stuff that the Magic Wand can't reach, go back and use the regular Select tool and fill them in. Anything covered in blue means that it's selected. Here's what your image should look like at this point:
Now, make a new layer for your base color and move it underneath the outline (from here on out make extra sure that you're not accidentally working on the outline layer sure it's happened to me once or twice and it really messes things up). Then, fill it in with the main color of your image. Just to check in, here's how your layers should look up to now:
Okay, now that you've gotten the base down, make a new layer on top of that layer, which will be used for the secondary colors (such as Pikachu's cheeks, eyes, and back stripes). Basically anything that's not yellow and does not touch each other should be in this layer. Or you can make them all on different layers instead of just all on one secondary color layer. It doesn't really matter, so long as it's not on the base color layer. I chose to use only one extra layer since it's more convient.
Now, making sure that the secondary color layer is directly above the base color layer, turn the secondary color layer into a Clipping Mask. To do this, just check the checkbox that says Clipping Mask where all the other layer options are.
A "mask" basically provides boundaries as to where a layer will show. By making the secondary color layer a clipping mask of the base color layer, anything that you put on the secondary color layer will be restricted to the boundaries of the base color layer. So because the base color layer is all the space within the outline, anything that you put in the secondary color layer will also be within the outline. If you try to color outside of the outline, it won't show up. Here's a visual example:
So basically any extra details and colors that you want to make should go in layers on top of the base layer with the clipping mask turned on.
Okay, so now that you've made the secondary layer a clipping mask, it's time to select all the secondary elements of Pikachu. Just use the Magic Wand tool. This is what your screen should look like when it's done:
Color each thing in whatever color's needed.
You've gotten everything set up for the shading and highlighting. Now it's time to actually do it! Turn on the Preserve Opacity option for both the base layer and the secondary color layer to lock the boundaries and prevent any leakage outside of your outline.
Now change your drawing tool to the Marker. This is the tool that I use for basically all the coloring. Here are the settings that I have mine set to do most of the coloring work:
The only two things I noramlly ever adjust are the Blending and the Shape of the brush.
One of SAI's strongest aspects is its amazing blending capabilities: it can literally create a huge spectrum of shades from just two different colors. It saves so much time since you don't have to make like 5 different degrees of dark colors just to create the shading; just 2 or 3 (if that) will suffice. If you're making soft shadows and are aiming for subtle transitions, turn the Blending up closer to 60-70. If you're looking for a hard, distinct difference, lower the Blending to around 10 or 20.
The next setting that I change is the shape of the brush, which can be changed from the dropdown list highlighted above. For this tutorial, I'm just going to use a simple circle since there's not really a specific texture that I'm going for. If you're looking to create a painty feel, or a furry texture, you should definitely change the brush shape. Here's a summary of all the different shapes and the strokes they produce in this handy dandy chart:
The actual shading and highlighting process
This is another step that falls mostly in the realm of "artistic application" that I can't really explain. Basically, just make sure when you're shading that you're mindful of wherever the light source is that you decide to choose and be consistent once you've decided on that. Other than that, shade away based on your intution or based off the reference image if you're using one.
There's my first layer of shading. Everything seems kind of flat and bland, so I decided to add on another, darker and more pronounced layer.
I'm going to stop there with the shading. Shading and highlighting are just way too damn fun, so you have to make sure not to get carried away and make overexaggerated shadows and highlights unless it helps to emphasize the material of the thing your drawing. In Pikachu's case, I'm shading in fur so there shouldn't be huge variations in shadows and highlights. If you're shading in a smooth, shiny object like metal or anything under harsh, strong light, then you can pile on the darker shadows and super light highlights.
With the shading done, it's time to move onto the highlights. Since it's fur that I'm coloring, there shouldn't be super bright highlights. I just used a light yellow and made very subtle light spots on Pikachu's forhead and back. Not much else to say here.
Another thing that you can add that adds depth and makes the drawing more interesting are backlights. If there are two different light sources placed at specific locations, there can be a backlight effect in which there is a distinct, bright highlight on the edge of the object, even if there's a shadow. Normally this doesn't happen for everything but I like adding backlights anyway because it makes the image more interesting and the already existing shadows "pop" a bit more. Here's Pikachu with the backlights, with arrows pointing to them:
Again, be careful not to go too overboard with this because it is really fun to do. Since you're going for a sharp, distinct line, make sure your blending is turned down to 20 or so. As you can see, this spices the image up a lot more, although it probably won't necessarily happen in real life (similar to the white eye shines that are omnipresent in every single cartoon image although if you look at actual photos of eyes they're rarely ever there... it just adds a spark that can't be achieved with anything else though).
Smoothing out the colors
You can skip this step if you like, depending on what kind of feel you're aiming for. If you look at the Pikachu drawing so far, you can see that the colors rather "painty" and the transitions aren't really smooth. I normally like this look, but because I want to make stock images that people can use for graphics and stuff, this isn't really the "typical," flexible for any purpose coloring that I want. I basically just want to smooth out the colors.
To do this, select the Water tool:
The SAI water tool is the ultimate blending tool. These are the settings I use and I pretty much never change them besides the size. Now, lightly go over the areas that you want to smooth out. Make sure not to press too hard because otherwise you'll end up blending too much and getting and overly-smooth feel (unless of course that's what you're going for). You just want to get rid of the harsher color transitions. Here's what Pikachu looks like before and after the smoothing:
Now that I'm finished with the main yellow body, it's time to move onto Pikachu's secondary elements, such as his red cheeks, brown back stripes, and black ears. Go to your secondary color layer(s) and follow more or less the same process as the body.
I didn't do the eyes because they require more attention to detail than the rest. Of course, Pikachu's eyes are different than a human's in that he doesn't really have eye whites, and conventional images of Pikachu have relegated his eyes to nothing more than two black circles with a white eye shine. However, I'm going to go for a more sophisticated method and add more detail. There are many, many different ways to make eyes, but here's an upclose, step by step process that I took to create the eyes:
- I basically just colored in the outer edges a darker color that's lighter in the middle. I'm choosing at this point to make Pikachu's eyes a brown-red color.
- I made clearly defined black pupils in the middle of his eyes. For this I set the blending to close to 0, since the pupils need to be dark and distinct from the rest of the eye.
- To highlight the difference between the pupil and the rest of his eye and to make the eye more interesting, I added a brighter red around his pupil. This gives the eyes more depth.
- I used a 1-2px large brush (you can even use the Pen tool) with close to 0 blending and made small, verticle (relative to the pupil) lines to make the eye look more realistic.
- I added the omnipresent white eye shines that give the eyes life. Make sure not to go too overboard with these eye shines. Do these on another layer if needed because you don't want the shine to blend in with the rest of the eye.. they should be completely separate.
- I could have finished there, but because it was weird seeing Pikachu with super detailed eyes (since most of the time we just get those black pools that Nintendo calls eyes), I decided to tone it down a bit and just made the whole thing less bright and flashy.
Putting it all Together
Now, you can just stop here if you're happy with what you have. However, I always like to tidy up the entire image and "unify" everything by making a "blanket" color layer. Although it's not really that important because Pikachu is just more or less all yellow, if you have a character with a lot of different colors and each color seems as if it's acting independently and isn't really meshing in with the larger picture overall, doing this would be a good idea.
To make this blanket color layer, make a layer on top of ALL the other layers you have so far (in my case, the blanket color layer is above the secondary colors layer and the eye layer), just under the outline, and make sure the clipping mask is turned on.
Now just go over your shading in one color. I chose blue because it's directly opposite to orange and I thought it'd compliment Pikachu's yellow-orangeness quite well. Don't be afraid to use a bright color because the idea of this is to introduce another tint to the image that makes it more interesting and just pulls everything together. However, you don't want to make your blanket shading too noticeable or else your drawing will just look like a bright, blue (if that's the color you chose) mess. The point of this is to be subtle. Smooth out the transitions with the Water tool after you're done.
There's a definite, but at the same time, subtle difference, isn't there? If you don't like the look just skip this step but I think as long as you don't overdo it, a bit of blanket shading never hurts.
If you decide to finish here, it's time to Export your picture and share it to the web if you're into that. Or, if not, it's still good to change your .sai or .psd file into a universal format. Go to File > Export As > .png (PNG). I recommend always exporting as a PNG format because, although they take up the most space, it will give you the highest quality and leave all the pixels virtually untouched. Handling your drawings definitely isn't the time to be stingy with disk space.
Feel free to read on anyway if you're not finished!
Extra Touch Ups
You're basically done with the "artistic application" at this point. I like to do a few extra adjustments in Photoshop.
Coloring the Outline
Right now we just have a solid black outline, which is okay but sometimes you want it to be more subtle and not so obvious. The solution is to color the outline a different color. Turn on the Preserve Opacity option for the outline layer and change the color of the outline to something less harsh, like a dark brown color if you have something that's mostly yellow (which is exactly what I have).
Extra Accessories and Effects
Well I thought it was time to hang up my tablet and call it a day but I decided on a whim to add some electricty coming out of Pikachu's cheeks, because, well, why not?
If you want to know how I made it, well I pretty much just improvised the whole way. I started out with random branches (like tree branches) coming out of cheeks, used the water tool on the edges to make it look more realistic and give it a glow effect, made more squiggly, random lines on top, and added white glow on a layer at the bottom. (I do realize how unhelpful that description was but sometimes there's not really a way to explain it besides to just look at an actual photograph and try to replicate its effects as best you can,)
Adjustments in Photoshop
Obviously, completely disregard this section if you don't have Photoshop.
At this point, if you didn't just initially save your file as a PSD, it's time to export your .sai file into a .psd! Just go to File > Save As and in the file name just add a .psd at the end and it'll automatically make your file into a PSD. You can also go to File > Export As > .psd (Photoshop), which will also get you in the same place. Load Photoshop and open up your file there.
Paint Tool SAI gets you the best of the digital painting world but Photoshop still wins hands down in everything else. A lot of different effects can spice up your drawing. For this tutorial, I'll scale down the effects and just go with the basics: adding a slight blur to the outline and adjusting the lighting.
To add a blur to the outline, you need to first duplicate your outline layer. Go to Layer > Duplicate Layout and press Ok. Turn off the Preserve Opacity option (in Photoshop it's the button with the squares next to "Lock"). Then, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and a box will pop up like so:
Adjust the amount of blur to whatever number you like. For this tutorial I used a 4.7 pixel blur. Then, turn down the opacity of the blurred outline layer to around 50% or so, because you don't want it to be too noticeable (again, subtlety is what you want).
This basically just softens up the whole image and adds a nice effect that's pleasing to the eye... not sure how else to describe it!
Another adjustment that you can make, if necessary is the lighting. To do this, go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. It's better to work with adjustment layers than to directly apply the adjustments onto the color layers themselves, because adjustment layers offer a lot more flexibility in terms of changing them whenever you want or turning them off completely if you decide to scrap the adjustments.
Anyway, you should get a window like this:
Just use the sliders highlighted to alter the lighting to however you like it. For Pikachu, I just upped the brightness and darkened the shadows a bit by sliding the sliders on the left (the shadows) and the right (the highlights) a bit more to the middle.
And yep, that's it. You (or should I say I) are finally done! Breathe a sigh of relief. If you stuck it out through this whole tutorial, props to you for your undying patience!
Just to make sure we're all on the same page, here's a last look at what the layers look like by the end of this:
And here's what my finished product looks like!
I overlayed the image on a dark background since it looks way more epic, especially with the electricity that you can't really make out on a light background.
And that concludes this ridiculously long tutorial. I tried to be very thorough so I hope if you tried to follow it that you didn't get lost anywhere. I hope this was helpful to those who genuinely wanted to learn and to those who were just curious as to how I made my art. Thanks for reading! :)
Posted on Jul 19, 2014 | Number of Views: 359494