Colour By Numbers: Photoshop Tutorial

Colour By Numbers: Photoshop Tutorial

I’ve been experimenting with water colour painting and using Photoshop to create ‘Colour By Numbers’ images and printing them on water colour paper to paint.
I thought that maybe other people might be interested, so I took a found image of Audrey Tautou the French film actress and created a visual record of the steps.
The images are clickable for the larger versions. Photoshop CS2 was used but any version will do.

1. Make the colour image black and white:

That can be done simply, two ways:
a. Image>Mode>Grayscale
b. Image>Adjust>Desaturate

2. Resize the small image to A4 print size:

I resampled the image from 16cm x 13cm at 72dpi to a size that would fit onto an A4 sheet (30cm x 21cm) at 200dpi.

Image>Image Size
Constrain proportions: check
Resample image: check – Bicubic sampling
Resolution: 200 pixels/inch
Height: 20 cm – the width changes proportionally automatically.

3. For this image I wanted to bring out some detail from the dark hair.
Shadow amount: 100%
Note: If using pre CS2: Image>Adjust>Brightness & Contrast can be used for similar results.

4. Convert the image from grayscale to solid sections:

Levels: 4 (this is the amount of tones the image will be reduced to.)

I found the result to be unsatisfactory due to the rough edges and parts of the image not being clearly defined. So I returned to the previous state.

5. Soften the image:

Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur
Radius: 3 pixels
Levels: 4

This time the edges are clearly defined and rounder.

6. To achieve the above:

a. Using the Magic Wand tool: tolerance 1, contiguous NOT checked, click anywhere on the white parts of the image. This selects all the white elements.

Create a new layer (click the ‘page with bent corner’ icon at the bottom of the Layers pallete.

c. Edit>Stroke>
Stroke: 2 pixels
Colour: light gray (click the coloured rectangle which opens a colour picker)
Location: inside

d. Select>Deselect

You will have a layer with the ‘stroke’ or selection edge colour gray. As the rest of the layer is transparent it will be hard to see against the checkerboard, so create a new layer below this layer and the fill it with white:
Contents: Use: White

Repeat the stroke instructions for the other 3 tones, each on a new layer. Make sure the posterized image layer is selected when selecting tones with the Magic Wand and then select the relevant blank layer to colour the stroke.

7. This is the image with all four tones outlined or stroked.
This perfectly acceptable, but if you want to separate the tones a bit more…

Use the Magic Wand as before to select a tone. Then:
Select>Modify>Contract: 3 pixels
Colour the stroke as above. Repeat for the other 3 tones.

9. If you want to be able to paint the areas with correct tones/colours you can add numbers using the Type tool: 10pt & light gray, as for the strokes.
Note: a new layer is created for type.
I duplicate the current type layer each time by selecting the type layer and dragging it to the New Layer icon.
Then using the Move tool, I move the type where I want it on the image.
When finished I make all layers invisible, except the type layers for the the relevant number: by clicking off the eye icon to the left of each unwanted layer.
Then Layer>Merge visible

10. Print the image on a sheet of water colour paper or similar thickness. I just bought a 12 sheet, A4, 220gsm, water colour pad at Big W for $8.30 which is reasonable.
If you paint in water colours the numbers/strokes may show through if they are too dark or the paint is too thin, experiment to get the best result.


This is my first attempt with watered down acrylics that had a gouache effect and covered the strokes.
You could use gouache, oils, felt-tip markers, pencils etc.

I hope this tutorial was helpful and clearly understood. Let me know if something is unclear or you have a question.
Upload any experiments to this journal entry if you like. I would love to see what people come up with.

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