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Thursday, August 7, 2008

How to set up canvas size in Photoshop for illustration and concept art. Artist tips.

What size to paint in Photoshop for illustration.  How to set up canvas size in Photoshop for illustration and concept art for artist and illustrator. Basic tutorial for beginner.

Q: Please can you post someday the way you set up an illustration....for example the canvas size, the layers (rough sketch, detailed line drawing, colour layer etc...) and other main things.

OK, here are the step by step how to set up your illustration and concept art project from the beginning to the end. But really there is no set in stone rules, it's a preference. Each artist has different way of working progress, whatever they are comfortable with.

The BASIC idea of how to determine your image (canvas) size to work with is simple. I usually work 2 or 3 times the FINAL size.

1) Thumbnails stage: You scribble a bunch of idea out within the guideline provided. For example this one is "space marine light-fighter suit"

Or some environmental thumbnails

Usually at this stage I work really small. On 9 x 12 sketch page, I could fit in about 12 of these figures (three on each roll with four rolls vertical.). Or in Photoshop, I would create 350 x 500 px canvas. Then I fix four of them as shown above.

2) I will pick three final design candidates and blow each one of them up to 700 x 500 px. At this stage I will make another layer on top of it so that I can work on the detail a little more and possibly assign quick color and composition. (I believe I always talk about it on the vids)

3) Once I have the basic design with color scheme, I will once again blow it up to 1,400 x 1,000 px. At this stage, I will try to find basic value using layers:
-Overlay (use dark gray if you want darker value, light gray for lighter value)
-Multiply (use local color for darker value only, same apply to dark gray to black.)
-Screen (use local color for lighter value only, same apply to light gray to black.)

Some of you ask me for my background canvas to use
Here is it to download digital canvas background (bigger size)
digital canvas

4) I might use overlay again to accentuate more saturation and hue of some area, especially around the focal point.

5) Once I have these quality in place, I will process to bigger
Check list:
a) Readable Silhouette
b) Lighting (over all value)
c) Color balance
d) Big detail
e) composition that have define focal point

*Once you have all that goto 6)

6) I again enlarge the image for the last time to abour 2,400 x 2,000 or bigger
**(traditionally, whenever you enlarge the image, you are basically re-draw, re-paint and reproduce the whole picture. Thanks to digital ages.)
***(for printing purpose if that apply, should consider a size of the assignment and set it at 200-300 dpi/inch.) I have never yet work on anything that is bigger than 3,500px and up. The bigger it is the better the quality, but keep in mind that it means more area you have to work on.

TIPS: Once your image is big, lot of beginners tend to zoom in 100% and work on little detail. Don't do that unless you must. It will deceive you when you zoom in. Constantly check the overall value of the whole image and color balance by zoom out. Check thumbnail often.

Below is my character concept for GuildWars 2

dark mage sketch

7) At this final size, I rarely use any special layers. There is no need because before you get there, you should already have all or most of the value you need to achieve the final illustration. Just paint on the actual layer or normal layer. I keep painting over using the establishing value and color until it's finish.
*Tips: think clean up and simplify, not adding more.

8) Final touch up stage: I might add hot spot or increase color saturation here and there around the focal or necessary area.

I usually base the format sizing on standard paper or illustration sizes are 5x7, 9x12, 11x14, 11x17 inches. Then I set it at the 72 dpi. So if my final size is 9x12 at 72 dpi resolution, I will have to work 2 times bigger.
So it would be
18 x 24 at 72 dpi
9 x 12 at 144 dpi

FOR PRINT, this will required a higher resolution.
I usually base the format sizing on standard paper or illustration sizes are 5x7, 9x12, 11x14, 11x17 inches. Then I set it at 200 dpi. (200 to 300 dpi is best for printing resolution)

So if my final size is 9x12 at 200 dpi resolution, I will have to work 2 times bigger.
It would be
18 x 24 at 300 dpi
9 x 12 at 600 dpi

Hope that make sense,

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Photoshop technical tutorials:
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Luca said...

Hi Xia, what you posted made a LOT of sense, it's really helpful man. Thanks from my heart. This website is becoming bread for my artistic design! I now have a clearer idea of how you work!
I watched the Titan clip (part 2 especially), you said that you used a hard brush to make the basic silhouette of the Titan. What I'd like to ask you is usually how much Flow and Opacity do you give to your brush for such coloring? And also you do prefer to use brushes with Feather for a character illustration? (Pesonally I think that feather doesn't give me the hand painting effect- exept for some background)
Just asking you this because when I come to give the basic value with a 100% Flow, the colour comes too sharp. So what kind of setting do you give to your brush?

Thanks man and sorry if I ask you too many question but your artwork is wonderful and you really helped me so much...(I have the graphic tablet just a month so I need some tips!)

Chris said...


Just wanted to say thanks for posting this up, I've been trying to work out the best final size for a while now.

XIA said...

luca> Thanks man. Be patient, take your time and get to know your tool. Rome has not build in a day. More importantly, practice consistently everyday an hour or two at least. Then you will find the way to customize your tool to suit your need.

LOOK around the site there are tons of vids and tuts that are already there.

Brush setting and stuff here:

Chris>> Thanks man!

Óscar said...

Thank you dude!!


XIA said...

Oscar> I do what I can, you are very welcome. :)

Starexai said...

Xia, you're unbelievably talented and extremely inspiring. I just want you to know, because of you I have started to illustrate more often and my passion has re-sparked. You're everything I needed to push me further.

Thank you!
Edward C. Thomas *Star*

idrawgirls said...

Starexai> Thanks...speaking of push further, I've been sort of slacking in the past few years in seriously sketching and improving....I too need to catch up with whatever is great out there. But yeah, I am glad we did that to many artists :)

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