Photoshop tutorial: Colouring tricks for inked artwork

Tim McDonagh looks at how Photoshop can be used to add colour and depth to all your inked artwork


Tim McDonagh creates all his images using Indian ink and a brush. Here he explains how you can use Photoshop to add colour to your inked illustrations. In this example, Tim will be using his beautiful poster of Joanna Newsom, one of his favourite musicians.

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Throughout the tutorial, he will be touching on colour palettes, shadow work and how to avoid the temptation to overwork an image. It’s important to remember that these tips can be used on all sorts of linework, no matter how complicated or simple.

Tim hopes that you find this useful, and will perhaps pick up some tips on how inked artwork and Photoshop can complement each other.

If you want to follow along directly, you will need to download Tim’s linework from the project files.

Time to complete

3 hours



Project files

Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here

Step 1


It all starts with your inked artwork – if you’re using mine, open Joanna Newsom Black and White.psd, and skip to Step 3. Everyone has their own way of scanning ink work in; I tend to scan it in as a high-resolution bitmap, usually around 600dpi. This way I know that I’m getting true black-and-whites to work with.

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Step 2


Create a new document and import the bitmap into it. Make sure you cut out all the white of the linework layer. Next, select the Magic Wand tool (W), set the tolerance to 0 and ensure Anti-alias, Contiguous and Sample All Layers are all unchecked. Choose a white part of the image and then hit Delete.

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Step 3


It’s now time to decide on a colour for the background layer. I chose to start with cream. Fill the background with this colour.

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The black linework is a bit stark on the cream here, so we need to tone it down a bit. First, hold Cmd/Ctrl and click on your layer thumbnail in the Layers panel.

Step 4


You should now have all the linework selected. Create a new layer and fill in that selection with a dark brown that works well against the cream background. I decided on #281e08 for the linework and #fffae8 for the background.

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Step 5


As a rule, I tend to keep my linework as the top layer and my background as the bottom. Now it’s time to have a think about what colours are going to work well in between these two and help bring life to the image. I chose autumnal oranges, wintry sky blues and deep berry reds.

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Step 6


Select a very light orange. This is going to make up most of the colour of the image – I chose #ffc8a2. Now with a combination of the Brush tool (B) and the Paint Bucket tool (G), start filling bits in on a new layer.

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Step 7


On a new layer, select a slightly bolder version of the orange you were using before. I’ve gone for #f1a569 as it warms the image up a little. Now add this colour to the pieces you want to draw attention to, focusing more on the foreground.

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Step 8


Do the same again but with an even bolder orange – I’ve gone for #f1864e, which is a nice kind of terracotta. The colours so far create quite an organic and rustic warmth, which for me is a reflection of Joanna Newsom’s intricate, harp-driven music.

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Step 9


Next, it’s time to add little flourishes of colour, which should be bolder and brighter than the colours used so far. Within my images, I like there to be a contrast between a more restrained palette that uses a lot of midtones and some bolder colours that makes the image stand out.

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Step 10


I spent time detailing the raspberries and ladybirds to add more impact, using #c0254c for the raspberries and #e44a3f for the ladybirds. You might, however, decide to brighten up some of the flowers or the branches. For now though, let’s leave Joanna herself alone.

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Step 11


It’s now time to add some blues and clouds. I have a certain method that I use on clouds. First, I create three separate black ink drawings, which I scan into another document and then lay over one another in order to build up a cloud-like effect. You could, of course, easily create this digitally using the Brush tool if you prefer. These do not always have to be complicated or even particularly good drawings. As long as you are using the right colours, you can usually make up some nice effects with this method. Having the clouds as organic as possible helps too, and smudges, smears and mistakes can provide an extra dimension.

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Step 12


Next, colour these clouds to fit in with the main piece’s palette. Here I went for #76b8c4 for the dark shade and #a0e2ee for the light one, filling the shading and foreground with white. Paste these into your document just above the background layer and position them to fit.

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Step 13


Add some blue to the kingfisher. I find it nice to take a colour that you have already used for a certain element and see if there are any other places on the images that could benefit from the same shade.

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Step 14


We’re nearing the end, so it’s time to add some subtleties. I drew the undertones of the hair on a new piece of paper over the top of the original ink drawing (I used a lightbox for this, but a printout of the artwork would work just as well). After scanning this into Photoshop, I changed its colour to a slightly darker cream than the background (#f8e8cf) and positioned it under the linework in the layer stack. Again, you could do this digitally on a new layer if you’d prefer.

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Step 15


I did the same with some shadows on the face, this time colouring it #d5c5ab. Although these are subtle changes, they make a huge difference, adding a lot more form and weight to the image.

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Step 16


Finally, I added some appropriate type – just in case anyone doesn’t know who Joanna is (or what she looks like). There we have it, one Joanna Newsom poster, using some lovely warm, autumn colours with a bit of bite.

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About the artist: Tim McDonagh


Tim spent his younger years growing up in a rural part of America, surrounded by rattlesnakes and snapping turtles, which in turn led to his fascination with animals. He takes a more traditional approach to illustration, using a brush and Indian ink to draw the image, and then applying limited colour palettes digitally. He has worked for a number of high-profile clients including Vodafone, Activision, HMV, Wired, Total Guitar and Bloomberg.

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