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How to isolate your line art so you can color it

This post is for those who use Photoshop and will like to see how can you isolate line art so it can be color. Have in mind that I use Photoshop CS2 and there can be some difference in old/new versions.

I use this because I usually don't draw directly to the computer. In fact I prefer to draw on paper and then scan the art and put the colors on Photoshop.

OK, let start. After you scanned that art and cleaned it a little bit this is what you have to do:

  1. Your scanned image will appear in the canvas area and in your layers window as your layer named background. You have to select all Ctrl+A, then copy it Ctrl+C

  1. Click the New Layer icon at the bottom of the layers window, to creat a new layer (this will appear as Layer 1) over the one named Background

  2. Click the Layer 1 to work on it.

  3. Fill that layer with black using the Paint Bucket Tool.

  4. Now you have to add a layer mas to that layer. Click on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the layers window (that the icon that looks like a dark gray square with a white circle on it).

  5. You'll see that a second layer thumbnail will appear side by side the original layer thumbnail.

  1. Now you have to get in the layer mask. To do that Press and hold the Alt key and click on the layer mask thumbnail. You'll notice that your in the layer mask because the canvas area that you were just working on (that was completely black) will turn into white instantly.

  2. You're now inside the mask, go on and paste the image you just copy at the beginning by pressing Ctrl+V. You'll see the image appear in your canvas area.

  1. Now press Ctrl+I to make an inverted color image. This part is very important, because the color will be seen through the white area and the black area will block the rest.

  2. Right Click over the layer mask thumbnail (a floating window will appear).

  3. Select Apply Layer Mask from that window.

You're almost done!

  1. Delete the Background layer by Drag and Drop it to the Garbage Can icon at the bottom of the layers window.

  2. After that you'll see that your line art is completely isolated from any background or other color than black.

Now to put some color on it...

  1. Make a layer on top of you Layer 1, this new layer will appear as Layer 2

  2. Now you have to convert that Layer 2 in to a clipping mask, to do this Press and hold the Alt key and put your cursor between the 2 layers. You'll notice that the cursor will turn into a new kind of cursor (is like an arrow follow by 2 circles that are merging, you'll see it) Once the cursor have this new form click between the layers and the clipping mask will be created.

  3. The clipping mask will be shown as an upper layer indented with a little arrow to its side pointing down to the layer it clips. Click the clipping layer as you would normally do to select the layer.

  1. Fill that layer with any color and...

  2. ...see your line art change from black to the color you have chosen. You can freely color the line with multiple colors without bothering of painting outside the line (obviously the colors go on Layer 2 not on Layer 1).

Once you have finished coloring the line, merge the 2 layers together. And if you want to put some colors to your drawing just make a layer under the Layer 1 and have fun.

Hope this mini tutorial is useful for some of you.
Keep drawing, keep creating and having fun!


Watch this

Thanks for this! And I'm commenting so I can find it if I ever wanna try it out!

gumbolimbo profile pic Alumni

Another fine method to get transparent work!

NB: In the last step, rather than having a line layer and a masked layer, you cna also choose to 'lock transparent pixels". (Tick first box next to Lock: in the layers panel. Then pick a colour and fill layer with foreground colour. You'll see it only fills the non transparent pixels.

Gringz profile pic Alumni

on the last one I'd just select the color and then shit+option+del, or shift+command+del

give it a try


commenting so I find this later :) Thanks for the tutorial!


Awesome. I'll have to give it a try.

briancook profile pic Alumni

Also - I've tried a few times to make an action that captures that first technique but I always seem to do something wrong :( - I think it's the copying the layer part that fails.

Mr-R profile pic Alumni

@ band-it & Mightor & murraymullet when I click on mike mitchell's awesome action! link nothing happens I think the link is broken. If someone knows where can I find it and download it to try it, I'll appreciate it!

Anyway I'll try to make this in to an action for Photoshop


Awww.. Too bad man.

Yes, make your own action and make it available for all to download!

Mr-R profile pic Alumni

Ok... I took in mind what gumbolimbo said and the problem that Chengui encounter trying to make an action and merge all that plus something I found in the web about how to make mask in actions, and created an easy to use action. You can us it in any layer as long as all you can see is just black and white (gray scale works too). You can run the action by pressing Shift+F2 too.

Hope you like it :)

Download Action here


I'll check that when I get home...

Thanks in advance man!

moulin bleu
moulin bleu profile pic Alumni

WOW! Thanks a bunch that is so helpful. Any tutorials coming up on how to do halftones like on your "iTouchMyself" piece? I can't for the life of me figure them out. Is there an easy way on photoshop?

Cheers, big fan


Nice tutorial, thanks!


Awesome thank you so much :)


Love this community spirit! Thanks so much for the tutorial....helps us peeps who still wear learner plates! ; )


Thanks, great help! I really appreciate people taking their time to explain things like photoshop and illustrator. there is much you an find out but this makes my life so much less difficult! Just posted my first piece up to critique and am majorly excited.

khallion profile pic Alumni

Okay....seriously, I could kiss you right now. This is awesome. Thank you.

Mr-R profile pic Alumni

@ moulin bleu There are many ways to do halftones, I may actually show how to do some of them :)


hellllllp this is just want i wanted to know how to do but i seem to be doing someting wrong?? I seem to get the black with the lines white instead of the black outline??? and I've tried it a few times now and keep getting the same thing? can you tell me what I'm doing wrong?? thanks heaps

StevenRice profile pic Alumni

This is great!!!! Really nice of you to make this blog!


Such a good help, always wanted to know how to do it! 5 to the post!!! :P


Thanks for this advice!

Mr-R profile pic Alumni

@ creativeheart - probably it is something that you are forgetting to do between step 7 and 10. Put special attention to step 7. If you have any other question or it doesn't work just ask me again or send me an email.


very nice.....thanks for the tutorial.......very well done and very helpful


Hey do you get your lines to scan so clean from paper to photoshop? My lines always come through blotchy, what kind of pens do you use? or how do you clean it up? Thanks!


cool! thanks for this... I'm going to try it :)

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