Learn how to recreate the styles and sharp colour divisions of Manga art using Adobe Photoshop's Freeform Pen tool. Part one - cel art preparation.

The sharp colour divisions of digital cel-style art can be accomplished through the use of the Freeform Pen tool. This tutorial will show you how to properly set up and use the tool to make cel art images of your own.

For best results, the line art you plan to cel colour should be inked and transparent. With your line art as your topmost layer, divide the areas of your image into separate layers and fill them with your desired colours.

Once you’re finished filling in colours, be sure to check the Preserve Transparency box on each layer. Before you begin adding depth to your picture, take a moment to deduce the location of the light source, and where the shadows and highlights should be placed.

Although it’s important that your shadows and highlights make sense and stay consistent throughout the picture, remember that perfect realism is not always necessary in cel colouring. In some cases, you may need to trust your instincts and do what looks best, even if it’s not correct.


Color palette
As you work through each section of your picture, it’s helpful to have both your shadow and base tone set up on your Color palette. Eyedrop the base colour off your picture, and set this as your first colour.

For your second colour, create an appropriate shadow colour. You’ll mostly be working with the darker shadow tone while applying shadows, but having the base colour selected will allow you to quickly switch colours and easily paint over any mistakes.

Freeform Pen tool
Capable of achieving the precise colour separations required in cel artwork, the Freeform Pen tool allows you to freely draw a path around a section that you wish to fill with colour. The Freeform Pen tool is located on the Tool palette.

Click and hold down the Pen tool icon on the palette, and choose the icon off the expandable menu that shows a pen drawing a curved line. It smoothes out your lines as you work, so the edges of your colours will rarely be jagged or choppy.