Creating Background from Photograph

Creating Background from Photograph

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Hello! My name is Liz Staley and I’m a long-time user of Clip Studio Paint (I started using the program back when it was known as Manga Studio 4!). I was a beta-tester on the Manga Studio 5 program and for Clip Studio Paint, and I have written three books and several video courses about the program. Many of you probably know my name from those books, in fact. I write weekly posts on and on CSP Tips, so be sure to come back every week to learn more Clip Studio Tips and Tricks from me!

Backgrounds are hard to draw for most artists. I know very few artists who have the love (or the time!) to draw backgrounds in every frame of a comic, and I’ve also noticed more and more Webtoons and such using 3D model environments or converted photos for their backgrounds. If you need a background in a hurry and have a photograph of what you need, this article will help you quickly change that photo into a line drawing and then show you two methods for quickly adding color.

In this article we will cover the following topics:

Creating a Lineart/Grayscale Background
Adding Color with Gradient Maps
Adding Color with Colorize

Let’s dive right in!

Creating a Lineart/Grayscale Background


First, you’ll need to set up your canvas. I used a small 72dpi canvas, but if I were doing this for a comic or an illustration that I was going to print I would use a much larger canvas of at least 300dpi.

Next, choose your photograph. I have found while playing around with this method that bolder, simpler photos with less small detail are easier to do shading and coloring on in the later steps.

Also, make sure that you have the rights to use the photograph for your project! If you took the photo yourself or have permission from the person who took the photo, then you’re good to go. If you found the photo on Google Images, then you need to check to see if you can use it for your own purposes. To do this, go to the website that the photo is on and look around. If it’s someone’s personal site, don’t use it without checking for permission. If the image is on a stock photo site, check the terms of use for the site.

Remember that just because you found the photo online, does NOT mean it’s okay for you to use it in your own art.You wouldn’t want someone to steal your art, so don’t take someone else’s photo and use it in your project without permission.

Once you’ve chosen the photo that you want to use for your background, we need to put it on to our canvas in Clip Studio Paint. To do this, go to File - Import - Image…


Choose the photo from its saved location on your computer and click Open to bring the photo into your canvas. You may need to rotate or resize your image to fit inside your canvas or to adjust the composition.


To complete the first bit of this process, we’ll need another copy of this image on a second layer in this file. You can either click-and-drag the photo layer in the Layer palette to the “New Layer” icon, or go to Layer - Duplicate Layer, as shown below.


Before we can do anything else, we need to Rasterize our photo layers. Whenever we import an image, it comes into CSP as an Object. Objects can be resized and rotated, but a lot of other changes can’t be made to objects. So instead we’ll convert these layers to raster layers.

Make sure one of the photo layers is selected in the Layer palette, then select Rasterize from the pop-up menu. (This can also be done from the Layer option in the File Menu at the top of the CSP interface)


Do this for both photo layers before moving on to the next step.

Next we are going to invert the colors of the top photo layer. Click on the layer to make it active if it’s not already, then press Ctrl+i or go to Edit - Tonal Correction - Reverse Gradient.



Now your image’s colors should be inverted, kind of like an old-time film negative.


On the inverted layer, go to Filter - Blur - Gaussian Blur. Add a slight blur to the inverted image layer. I used a value of about 4 on my image, but you may need to use a higher value depending on the size and resolution of your file.

Now we want to remove the color from both of our copies of the photo. To do this, we’re going to go to the Layer Property window and change the layer’s expression color from Color to Gray. The layer will become a grayscale version of itself. Do this for both the inverted and not-inverted copy of the photograph.


We’re almost there! Now, on the top layer (the one that we inverted earlier), we’re going to change the Blending Mode. This is a drop-down in the Layer window that says “Normal” by default. Click on this menu and change the blending mode for the top layer to Color Dodge.



With this layer set to Color Dodge, you should have something that looks like the image below!



Right-click on the top layer and select “Merge visible to new layer”. This will make a copy of the layers that are currently visible and combine them into a new layer.


Change the blending mode of this new layer to Multiply. Make another copy of the merged layer and change the blending mode to Linear Burn. This will make your lines a bit darker.Your layer window should look like the one in the screenshot below.


We can now make a new layer between the Multiply and Linear Burn layers and paint in gray tones or add screentones to shade and highlight our background lines. In the image below I used a combination of screentones and painting to add some depth and shading to the “lineart”.


Once we get to this point, it’s easy to add some quick color using Gradient Maps or the Colorize option, both of which we’ll go over in the sections below.



Adding Color with Gradient Maps


Gradient Maps are a cool Adjustment Layer that assigns colors based on a gradient set-up to values in the image. With Gradient maps, you can adjust the colors of an image, or take a grayscale image and turn it into color with just a few clicks.

To use a Gradient Map, start by going to Layer - New Correction Layer - Gradient Map.



The gradient map option window will come up. In this window we can change between installed gradient sets, choose different gradients, and see in real-time what these gradients look like when applied to our image.

The gradient that you choose will be based on the look you’re going for and your own personal preferences. I chose a custom gradient that I downloaded from CSP Assets and installed. As you click through the gradients, your image will change to show what it will look like with this gradient map applied.



Once you decide on a gradient map for your image, click on OK. This will add the adjustment layer to your layer palette. You can add layer masks or change the blending mode and opacity of this layer, or even double-click the thumbnail of the gradient map layer and try a different set of colors entirely!

In the image below I applied one gradient map to the majority of the image and a Sky gradient map to the sky screentone. Then I used another layer, set to the Multiply blending mode, to add some color to the cars on the street and to make the trees a little more green than they were in the gradient map colorization.





Adding Color with Colorize


Using the Colorize option on an image with this much detail is a bit of a gamble. In an image with larger areas, we could use a Hint Image to tell the colorize AI what colors to use, but when I tried that for this image it didn’t really work. I think that since there is so much tiny detail, the AI just can’t figure out what to do with it.

(For more info on using the Colorization feature, check out the previous article I wrote on the subject: )

So instead, I decided to just see what Colorize would give me! I made a new blank layer between my “line art” layers, then clicked on Edit - Colorize (Technology Preview) - Colorize All.



This will send the image to the CSP server to be analyzed, then the program will come back with some color suggestions. Honestly, this technology is awesome when used on more traditional illustrations!

The colors that I got back from the server were definitely interesting, to say the least.



I feel like using this method for an image this detailed is best to establish a mood rather than to actually color the image. The colors I got with Colorize made me think of a rainy night scene, maybe with colorful neon signs on the other side of the road from this angle that are reflecting on the wet surfaces and making things pink and blue. So I went with that mood!

I brought back the grayscale shading layers and screentones from earlier to add some depth to the building and the cars. (I’d hidden them for the colorization process so that the AI wouldn’t have even more to process) Then I added a streetlight on a Soft Light layer. Finally, I added a few layers with rain drops on them to complete the look.



I think the final result is moody and would work in certain illustration situations!





Though I still feel like learning how to draw in perspective and to draw backgrounds is worthwhile, sometimes deadlines or other factors just don’t allow for it. As technology gets better and better, it’s become even easier to make great backgrounds for your comics or illustrations without tearing your hair out each time.

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