How to Color Digital Art (Step by Step Guide for Beginners)

There are a lot of advantages to coloring digital art compared to coloring it traditionally. Using the digital aspect of color, this guide will teach you how to color digital art for beginners.

The same methods can be used to color digital art or you can take advantage of program features such as Photoshop. 

Color your flats manually, then use layers to add shading and highlights. A pattern or gradient can be used to fill in colors automatically. 

Even automatic lighting and coloring can be achieved using 3d programs.

Below is a video showing how to color one of my drawings. I’ll walk you through step-by-step my digital coloring process from start to finish.

Note: Derek Laufman is the artist behind the reference art used. He has worked for Marvel, Warner Bros., and Disney Publishing.

How to Color Digital Art: Step by Step

Because this guide is for beginners, I will begin with some basic concepts but cover the entire process as well. Colorizing digital art can be divided into three main steps: flat coloring, shading, and lighting.

Color digital art in this way isn’t the only way or the only required part. The first step can even be done without moving on to the next, or the first two steps can be done together.

It is perfectly fine for people to think that shading and lighting are two parts of the same step. Each will be covered separately to simplify the process.

I have found that this is the broadest and most comprehensive set of coloring techniques I have seen.

As a result of both my research on artists such as Derek Laufman and Marc Brunet, and from my own experience.

First, let me give you a brief overview of what we do. Then I’ll go into greater detail about each step of coloring digital art.

In the same way that drawing is similar to coloring digital art, the tools and methods are completely different and, objectively, more efficient.

Digital programs offer so many more features and tools than traditional coloring techniques. This includes layers, blending modes, color editing, and more.

Step 1: Flat Colors

Iron man flat color

For your first time coloring digital art, I would recommend sticking to 3 colors. So you can learn first and color later, while still being able to produce a fully-colored piece.

Make sure you choose colors that you will be using the most in your art. Therefore, the red, yellow, and skin colors in my drawing of Iron Man are red, yellow, and white.

Your base colors will be these. Add colors as needed.

Make the most of your unlimited color palette by experimenting digitally. Test different colors on your drawing to see which ones you like.

Step 2: Shading

Iron Man Shading

In order to provide a more comprehensive introduction to the topic, I will cover shading next.

By adding shading, the art appears more 3D and pops off the page. The colors enhance this effect and make it appear more real.

I will use ambient occlusion to shade. Lighting caused by ambient occlusion, not one particular light source, creates shading.

Step 3: Lighting

Iron Man Lighting

Light attracts the eye, and as a result, you can direct the viewer’s attention to the specific area you want them to see.

Those are some tips for coloring digital art. The following sections will take you through all of these step.

In my example, I will use reference artwork to focus the learning experience solely on how to color as a technique, rather than covering original artwork, as that is its own topic.

The color theory is a lot to learn on its own, even if you choose not to use a reference. In an upcoming blog post, I will discuss that and provide a link here.

How Do You Make Flat Color Art? How to Color Digital Art:

Step 1:

Flat colors, as I will refer to them in this context, are the basic colors that make up the inherent color of an element of art when there is no lighting or shading present in it.

The fact that they are uniform and solid colors with no variation is the most important characteristic.

As far as we can tell from a scientific standpoint, color is simply the light reflected off an object in our eyes, and as such, color cannot technically exist in the absence of light, but this only applies to the real world.

In this blog post on art, we will discuss lighting as it relates to coloring, but first, we will establish our base flat colors for the painting.

Digital Art Coloring – Flat Colors Actionable Steps:

Flat Colors Actionable

You can already see with our flats the advantages we have on the digital front with coloring art.

Microsoft Paint, as well as most other art programs, feature an eyedropper tool.

If accuracy is your goal, the eyedropper tool allows you to identify the exact colors in your image before using them as the base colors for your design.

It is possible, however, to eye it yourself and select your own colors if you want to learn and train your eye on color. As an artist, you can choose either choice as long as you want it.

Even though you choose the colors manually, the beauty of coloring digital art is that you aren’t limited as you can choose among any and all colors. For a fraction of the color variety, pencils, crayons, or paint would cost more.

Using a brush or a fill tool, you can color your artwork manually or automatically.

Filling in different color combinations can save a lot of time.

It is only required that your drawings contain closed lines with no openings so that you can use a fill tool.

Select the parts you want to fill with different colors with the selection tool if you have open elements.

Digital art makes changing colors even easier with just one click!

Using the paint bucket tool to recolor an element is as simple as picking a new color and clicking on it.

Alternatively, you can edit the color of an area by selecting it and using any color editing tool. For example in Photoshop you can change a color using the Hue/Saturation tool.

You are done flat coloring once you have selected your colors and filled in the lines!

Step 2:

Coloring and shading digitally can be a lot of fun since you can use many features.

At the broadest level, shading can be approached in two ways. One is to use colors and the other is to use black and white values. The difference between the two is not significant, however for simplicity’s sake I shall only use black and white values for shading in this guide.

We want to start with fewer colors so we can make sure we utilize them as effectively as possible. Color theory is a separate topic I will cover separately.

Additionally, as previously stated, shading and lighting are linked. When shading in that way, the light source is used to identify the areas to shade.

Using ambient occlusion will be the only way to shade for simplification purposes. It is causing shading because of ambient lighting.

I plan on discussing shading in a separate blog post where I will detail both methods. I may link to it here later or include it in this post.

You are not required to color your art according to what I do. You are free to color it however you would like. By combining direct lighting with ambient occlusion, you can create shades with direct lighting.

The following illustration shows how ambient occlusion shading looks and how to apply it to a drawing.

Digital Art Coloring Shading Actionable Steps:

Add Lighting to Digital Art

To begin shading with black and white values, duplicate your flat color layers and whit them out with a white eraser. Essentially, you will have another layer of your black and white drawing at the end of the process.

The blending mode Multiply in Photoshop will be used to blend shading layers together, which “multiplies the base color by the blend color” and always results in a “darker color.”

Because the darker color is exactly what you want for shading, this is an excellent choice. Most digital art programs have a blending mode that is similar to Photoshop’s multiply; for example, GIMP and Procreate both use the multiply blending mode.

Because there is no direct light source used in ambient occlusion, the only shading that occurs is caused by the actual volumes of the artwork blocking each other, overlapping, or creasing together.

Consider the following example: If you drew a hole in an object, the interior of the hole would be dark. Because of ambient occlusion, the creases in shirts or pants, overlapping pieces of armor, and stacked objects would all have shading due to the occlusion of surrounding objects.

Once you’ve finished applying the black and white shading, turn on the colors layer underneath it and take a look at your work again.

Depending on the material or texture of the parts you are shading, you can decide whether or not you want to make any adjustments to the shading effect.

For example, my iron man’s metallic suit will have harder edged shading compared to his skin, which will have softer edged shading.

After incorporating this shading throughout the drawing, I came up with the image shown below as the result.

Step 3:

duplicate and darken the flats layer, then set the Layer mode to Overlay on the copy of the flats layer.

The darkening is intended to compensate for the lighting you will be using, so that your drawing does not appear washed out or overexposed.

Layering patterns or colors onto existing pixels in Photoshop while maintaining the highlights and shadows of the base color is possible using the Overlay feature.

So, in your program, look for a feature that allows you to replicate this type of behavior.

Now you must decide where the lighting will come from, whether it will be from above or below, for example.

Color Digital Art step 3

The more lighting you use, the more complicated the scene will become. We will only be using one main light for the purposes of coloring in this project.

In contrast to the previous black and white shading we did, we will be using color for the lighting.

Depending on the flat colors of the area you are painting, we will choose the colors that we will use to paint the area. I simply take the apartment and brighten it considerably while also adding a touch of warmth.

This is dependent on the type of light you want and the properties of that light, such as its brightness, warmth, color, and so on.

It appears to us that the bright and warm light is comparable to something similar to a natural sun.

So that’s how you go about coloring your digital art. Examine your final results and determine whether you need to turn off some layers or reduce their opacity in order to achieve the exact look you desire.

Frequently Asked Questions

#1. How can I color my digital art better?

There are many ways in which you can color your digital art better. One of the best is to use complementary colors that go well together like red and green, blue and orange, etc.

Another way is to use dark shadows on lighter colors which make it appear more realistic.

#2. How do you realistically color digital art?

The first thing that you need to do is determine the color palette. A color palette consists of a set of colors used in an artwork, but it can also be used for other design purposes like creating palettes for logos or patterns.

You can create your own color palette by choosing colors from the spectrum and combining them together with different values. The next step is to choose a medium that will best suit your needs such as pencils, markers, or paint brushes.

After selecting the medium you will need to sketch out your idea before starting on coloring it digitally. If you are using pencils then use graphite and if you are using markers then use black ink.

Now all that’s left is to pick out some digital tools like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and start drawing over your image in order to make it look realistic and vibrant.

#3. Can I do digital art on my phone?

Yes, you can do digital art on your phone with apps like Photoshop Express.

The only thing that is required is a good camera and the knowledge of how to use it.

#4. How long does it take to learn digital art?

The amount of time it takes to learn digital art is dependent on how much effort you put into the process. If you’re willing to put in a lot of work, then it can take less than a year.

To learn digital art, there are many skills that you need to have and practice:

Drawing and painting: You need to be able to draw and paint for your artwork or design.
Basic design software: This includes Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, etc.
Color theory: The color theory course will teach you about mixing colors and using color properly in designs or artwork.
Typesetting: There are various typesetting courses that will teach you about typesetting your text in different ways like bolding, italics, and underlining text while still maintaining the same font size throughout your entire document.


This is the end of our article, so thanks for reading. This is an area that requires practice and patience, but a few tips and heuristics can help you get there faster.

In order to get the most out of these tips, you’ll need to put them into practice in your own work. There is no guarantee that you’ll come up with a masterpiece right away.

Once you’ve mastered one technique, try another. In no time at all, you’ll be able to paint like the masters, or even better. Until then, have fun sketching!

Leave a Comment