How to Remove Lines From a Drawing: Convert a Drawing Into a Digital Painting

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Traditional painting by default is not very precise. The brushes are made for creating big patches of colors that may become details when observed from a distance. When you try to paint at a smaller scale using a tiny brush, it turns into a drawing. 
In digital painting the border between drawing and painting is quite blurred. In the end it boils down to one difference: if you're trying to control the stroke, you're drawing; if you want the stroke to be free and expressive, you're painting.
The problem occurs when you want to be expressive with your strokes and make them behave at the same time. It's not possible in traditional painting, but in Photoshop we can do it quite easily, without overusing the Eraser Tool. Do you want to know how to turn a piece of line art into a beautiful painting and make the lines obsolete in the process? Follow me then!
Before we start painting we need to define the areas that the brush shouldn't cross. If we didn't do it first, we would need to control every stroke afterwards. By defining the borders we'll force the brush to work only in the areas we want it to without bigger effort. This may feel boring and time-consuming, but it's like creating refined line art—it will pay off later.
You can use your own line art for this purpose, or download the one I've used. The line art doesn't need to be perfectly clean of lines, but clean of meaning—if there's a spot you need to guess something, it's not clear.

drawing line art

Create a New Layer (Control-Alt-Shift-N). Use a hard brush, like my Ink, and a bright color to draw the outline of the character. Be precise, and don't leave any gaps.

photoshop draw outline

Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the area outside the outline (including out-of-outline areas inside the main outline). Then invert the selection (Control-Shift-I).

photoshop select outside

Create a New Layer and Fill the selection with the Paint Bucket Tool (G). You can now remove the previous layer (outline).

photoshop fill outline clipping mask

The shape we've just built will be our main Clipping Mask. The role of a Clipping Mask is to define the area that we want to paint on (inside), and the area that we want clean of any stroke (outside). This is the basic mechanism we're going to use in this tutorial.
To create a Clipping Mask you need at least two layers: the mask itself and a layer you want to paint on. All the clipped layers should be placed right above the mask. Hold Alt and click the line between the layers to clip the upper one.

photoshop how to make clipping mask

If you create a New Layer above a clipped one, and clip it, it will be clipped to the mask of the layer below. So you can use as many layers as you want for one Clipping Mask, as long as there's no space between them on the list.
Let's use it. Create a New Layer above the mask and clip it (if you find it hard to remember shortcuts, you can also right-click the layer and select Create Clipping Mask). Use the same hard brush as before to define an area you want to work on separately, without touching the others. This may be an area of one color, or just a form that, when viewed in 3D, is above others.

photoshop clipping mask area head

When done, create a New Layer and define another area. Use distinctive colors to separate the areas visually. You don't need to care about all the borders, as long as you know another area will cover it...

photoshop clipping mask area arm

... like this sword.

photoshop clipping mask area sword

Define all the areas of one kind this way. Feel free to drag the layers above or below to get a proper hierarchy.

photoshop clipping mask area body

Because each of these areas may contain some smaller areas, we will want to clip some layers to them, too. However, Photoshop doesn't allow for Clipping Masks inside Clipping Masks, so we need to use a workaround:
  1. Make a selection of the main Clipping Mask by clicking it while holdingControl. Then invert the selection (Control-Shift-I). 
  2. Click the clipped layer and Cut (Control-X) the selected area.
  3. Go back to step 1 and select another clipped layer this time.

photoshop clipping mask apply

Before we go any further, make sure you have all the layers distinctively named. These don't need to be any proper names, but they must speak to you. When you're done, unclip the layers by selecting them all and using the normal clipping technique on the lowest of them (Alt-clicking).

photoshop name layers

Now, use the shapes as new Clipping Masks for any areas that you can find inside them. Don't use too many of them, though—they may be hard to manage, and it will make the process slower. My mistake, for example, was to use separate areas for every wrinkle on the face.

photoshop double clipping mask inside

Make sure you have all the layers named! You can also add different colors to them by right-clicking the layers and selecting the chosen color.

photoshop name layers clipping mask

If you paint on any of the "inside areas" of a Clipping Mask you may notice it follows the borders of the mask only. To make these new areas semi-clipping masks, you can select them all and click Lock Transparent Pixels. Test it!

photopshop clipping mask without mask

The base is almost done now, but first we need to prepare it for painting. Use thePaint Bucket Tool (G) to fill all the areas with neutral, 50% gray. Now the colors are gone, you can see what we need the names for!
Group (Control-G) all the layers making the character and duplicate (Control-J) the group. We're going to need this clear base yet!

photoshop equalize color

Lighting is the most important if we want to create the effect of a 3D form. After all, it's the lack of proper lighting that makes most drawings so flat. Let's see how to illuminate our character properly using the base we have created.
Because we have divided the character into a lot of pieces, it may be hard to create a consistent lighting model for it. To make it easier:
  1. Duplicate (Control-J) all the layers making the character, and merge them all except the line art (Control-E).
  2. Lower the Opacity of the line art.
  3. Make the merged layer a Clipping Mask for a New Layer and the line art;group them (Control-G).
  4. Make the group smaller with the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) and place it in the corner of your canvas.
  5. Use the clipped layer to paint some rough lighting on the character.
Try to see the character as a sculpture, and illuminate it accordingly.

photoshop digital painting how to set lighting

Using that little figure as a reference, start lighting the character, area by area. Use about 70% gray first.

photoshop lighting step first
photoshop lighting done

Use 30–40% bright gray to paint the cast shadows. They are incredibly useful in presenting the form.

photoshop shadows light
Notice how the shadows under the breast belts give the body a 3D form.

Use even a darker gray to define the crevices and the darkest shadows. Use this color very sparingly!

photoshop shadows dark

Lower the Opacity of the line art to 20%. Can you see the basic form? If not, work on it some more.

photoshop lines transparent

You should spend more time on this step. Use a whole range of brushes to give details to all the materials in the most illuminated areas, painting them with white. Pay attention to the kind of material, because it influences the shading. For example, fur doesn't reflect light as uniformly as plastic.

photoshop light strong

Hide the line art. If the body is clearly defined without it, remove it. If not, work some more until you can safely do it.

photoshop remove lines

Colors may seem like the most important part of the painting, but we'll prove in a moment that they're just an addition. We'll also cross the borders we've defined to add the details that weren't necessary in this previous phase.
Merge (Control-E) the group and change its Blend Mode to Multiply. Now the dark parts of the layer will make the layers below darker, and the white will stay transparent.
Return to the group you copied before, and use it to paint the colors. If you created the bases properly, you should be able to color whole areas at once, without caring about borders. Don't be afraid of using too bright colors—the lighting layer above takes care of the shadows for you.
If the colors turn out to be dark, no matter what you do, it means that you've used too little white in the lighting layer. If it wasn't your intention, you can still return to that layer and fix it.

photoshop colors under layer mutliply
If you don't like your effect, you may want to learn some more about lighting and colors.

It's always good to use a more neutral background to see the lighting better. Fill the background with 50% gray.

photoshop neutral background

Shadows are colored with the color of ambient light, for example coming from the sky. To simulate this effect you can change the Hue/Saturation (Control-U) of the lighting layer.

photoshop colorize shadows multiply
photoshop colorized shadows

You probably noticed that I didn't shade the small details like rivets at all. It's because they can be rendered with a time-saving trick. 
Create a New Layer and paint a golden rivet on it. Remember to use orange, not yellow, as a base.

photoshop golden rivet circle
photoshop golden rivet light
photoshop golden rivet strong light
photoshop golden rivet reflected light

Use the Mixer Brush Tool as presented in section 2 of this quick tip. If you do this properly, you should be able to paint the rivets with every click (steps 1–3). Remember: we're working above the lighting layer from now on!

photoshop mixer brush rivets

To adjust the rivets to the general shading, use a layer mask.

photoshop shading with layer mask

You can use the same technique to create other repeatable elements, like chains or string.

photoshop other details mixer brush
photoshop details added

The lighting we added before was a general one. Now, when we have the big picture, we can adjust it to the details.
To turn that yellow plastic into gold, imagine it's a yellow mirror. Try to reflect everything around it on its surface, and make the borders between shades sharp.

photoshop paint gold metal

Use the same technique to make the blade reflective. Because we can't use any Clipping Mask here, you can use a simulation of it to clear the borders. SimplyControl-click the layer you want to "borrow" the borders from, and use it, or its inversion (Control-Shift-I) to cut the parts you don't need.

photoshop metal sword reflection steel

Paint the eyes and other details like them.

photoshop lion eyes

Use a textured brush, like my Texture Sketch, to make the fur less uniform. Pick the colors from the picture and add new ones only when necessary.

photoshop painting ur lion

Use a soft brush to add a shine to certain metal elements.

photoshop polish shine metal

Create a New File for a while and paste the Leather Texture there. Use the trick described in this quick tip to get only the dark parts of the texture. Copy it and paste to the main file.

photoshop texture leather

Duplicate the texture (Control-J) and use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) in the Warp Mode to adjust the shape of the texture to each leather part. When you're done, merge (Control-E) the layers.

photoshop texture leather shape change

Take the selection from the armor area, invert it and cut the redundant parts. Change the Blend Mode to Soft Light or Overlay to blend the texture into the colors.

photoshop texture leather cut

You can use the Blend If trick to adjust the texture even better.

photoshop texture blend if

The next trick doesn't always fit, but sometimes it adds depth to a character very nicely. I'll show it to you and let you decide if it fits here.
Duplicate the lighting layer, set its Blend Mode back to Normal, and double click the layer. Give it a black Color Overlay and white Inner Glow in Normal Blend Mode.

photoshop painting inner glow back glow settings

Create a New Layer underneath and fill it with black. Merge (Control-E) both layers.

photoshop painting inner glow back glow effect

Use the trick with the alpha channel again to get only the white part of the layer.

photoshop painting inner glow back glow alpha channel

Then change its Blend Mode to Soft Light. You may need to erase some of the parts.

photoshop painting inner glow back glow soft light

The picture is done! You can still work on it some more to add other elements to present it better, but this phase is a pure pleasure. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that from now on you'll be able to paint linelessly, even with line art as a starting point!

photoshop lion warrior illustration tutorial lineless


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