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Photoshop Coloring Tutorial

WARNING: This is an extremely long post. It's meant to help beginning Photoshoppers with coloring their design and submitting it. I've noticed a lot of people have questions about coloring/submitting so I figured there should be some sort of tutorial post that they can reference.

Also, it's probably a good idea to use Illustrator in most cases. However, for the heavily detailed designs, vectors just aren't an option. For these cases, use Photoshop.


I usually scan in a document at 300 dpi in grayscale. The grayscale helps eliminate random colors which may show up in your submission.

I will start off by saying that you must make sure to keep your colors separated in their own layers in Photoshop. The reason being, that if you should win, Threadless will want you to turn in a PSD file with all of the colors on different layers. So you may as well keep the colors separated from the get go.

1. Open up your scanned file in Photoshop.

2. Go to Image: Mode: RGB (make sure there is a check mark by RGB).

3. Go to Image: Adjustments: Levels. A dialogue box will pop up. You will see a bunch of peaks and valleys. Pull the left arrow towards the closest peak. Pull the right arrow towards its closest peak. You should see your image become more contrasty.

4. Go to Select: Color range. A dialogue box will pop up. Click on the black outline. There will be an arrow that you can pull back and forth which selects a wider or narrower range of colors. Pull it to the highest it can go (which is 200). You should see your image outlined in white. Hit OK.

5. Go to Edit: Copy. Go to Edit: Paste.

6. You now have your outline on its own layer. If you wanted your outline to be a different color than black then skip Step 5. Create a new layer by going to your Layers Palette, clicking on the arrow on the upper right hand side of the palette, and clicking New Layer. Then go to Edit: Fill. On the first drop down menu, go to Color. A new box will pop up. Click on the color you want the outline to be. Hit OK, and then hit OK again. Then go to your Layers palette, and double click on the title (right now it should be Layer 1). Type in a new name (such as ‘outline’). Keep all of your layers titled so it stays organized.

7. Click on your bottom layer (it should be titled background). Create a new layer (see step 6). Your tool bar should have a paint bucket icon on it (if you hover the mouse over the different tools, the name will show up). If you do not see it, but you see a tool called Gradient Tool, then click on Gradient Tool and hold down. You should see the Paint bucket pop up and you can click on it. You will need to choose your background color. Make sure the background color is the same as the one of the colors in the template provided by Threadless. This will be your shirt color. To choose your color, look towards the bottom portion of the tool bar. You’ll see two squares that are slightly askew from each other. Double click on the top square. A box will pop up. (note: have the Threadless template file open, with the colored shirt you want). Hover your mouse over the Threadless template and it should turn into an eyedropper. Click on the color you want, and hit OK. With the paint bucket tool, simply click once anywhere on your file.

8. Create a new layer. Double click on the color square or look at your Color Swatches to choose one of your colors. Remember to keep your layers titled. Then go to the tool bar and select the Paintbrush or Pencil tool. Simply color in where you wish. If you want to switch to a different color, create a new layer, title it, click on whichever color you want, and begin coloring. Just make sure that you only use one color per layer. Also make sure you save your file every now and then. The last thing you want is for Photoshop to crash, and then you lose all of your work.

Prepping your file for submission
Once your file is all colored in, and ready to go, you have a few more steps to save for Threadless standards.

1. Be sure your layered file is saved. Then go to Layers: Flatten Image. Then go to Image: Image size… A box will pop up. On the resolution part, type in 72. Hit OK.

2. Go to Select: Select all. Then go to Edit: Copy. Then go to File: New. In the box that pops up, make sure the width is 640 pixels, the height is no more than 800 pixels, the mode is RGB, and the resolution is 72. Hit OK.

3. Go to Edit: Paste. Your picture will drop into the new file. You make need to resize it to fit within the smaller frame. Go to Edit: Free transform. Hover your mouse over one of the corner points, and it will turn into a diagonal arrow. Hold down the shift key (to constrain proportions), click and hold the mouse, and drag it so that it becomes smaller. When it’s at a good size, hit return or enter.

4. You may use the paint bucket tool if you want to change the background color. You may also copy + paste the t-shirt provided in the Threadless template to show placement of your design on the shirt. Or you can use your own pictures to show placement.

5. When everything is layed out how you want it, go to File: Save for web. In the drop down menu, you may choose between GIF and JPG. If you choose GIF there will be another drop down menu which shows how many colors are being used. It defaults to 256. At the bottom of the dialogue box it will say how large in size the file is. Make sure it is at least under 250 kb. If it’s over the limit, then click on the 256 colors drop down menu, and select less colors. It’s a balancing act to keep as many colors as possible, but to also keep the file size below the limit. If you decide to use a JPG, you will adjust "Quality" until it's just under 250kb. When everything is just right, hit Save. You will need to give your file a title.

6. Go back to your flattened original image. In your tools bar there is a rectangular marquee tool at the top. Click on this. On the top of the window you will see several options, including a drop down menu for Style. Click on Style: Fixed aspect ratio. Then in the first box type in 100. The second box should be 70. Using the marquee tool, drag it out and select what portion of the picture you want to show up in your thumbnail. While you drag, you can hold down the spacebar to move the selection around. Then copy your selection and paste it into a new document. Go to Image: Image size. Make sure the Constrain proportions box is checked. In the width, type in 100 px. The height should automatically change to 70. Hit OK. Go to File: Save for web. Then do the same that your did for your submission, except make sure it’s under 10 kb, and it has to be a GIF.

7. Close your original file. When it asks if you wish to save the file, hit the option that says Do not save file.

And that’s about it! Just go to Threadless’ submission page, upload your files and you’re good to go!

Added 4.12.09:
I just made a high-res blank tee template that makes it pretty easy to place in your design on a mock-up image. Click here to access it.

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valor, this is incredible! nicely done, 'bout the same process I use. There is one thing that I use that helps a lot. in your layers window, there's a little box, i think it's the first one at the top that's called "lock transparent pixels". this does just what it says. I use this in combination with the ctrl + backspace combo, which fills that layer with your current bg color. it's nice for easily changing colors on each layer. if what I said doesn't make sense, let me know.


Nice tip, slaterock!! It would be great if other photoshop users posted their tricks, and then the newbies would have one convenient blog to look at.


cool! i usually draw the entire thing in photoshop, and didn't really know how to get the outline of an analog sketch in its own later once scanned. so this is helpful!


Glad to be of service, sonmi! That's rather amazing that you can draw your entire design in Photoshop. I'm not so good at drawing on the computer. I also don't have a tablet. Haha.


I use illustrator for even my most detailed designs, and draw directly on the computer, but this is nice of you to post.


Yeah, honestly it's probably a better idea to do a sumission in Illustrator. Perhaps someone coughSte7encough would want to post an Illustrator tutorial for dummies?


Thanks valor - this is a big help.


valor, I am a dummy, im the only one that works in illustrator like I do...I just draw with the brush tool, and color with the brush tool too....serious...thats it. End tutorial.


Sure thing! Glad you found it.


Ste7en, that is the shortest, most miniaturized tutorial I've ever seen in my life. One sentence. You should work for Reader's Digest.


great blog and tips, I don't use photoshop very much so this is very informative.


Ok, full tutorial on how I create tee designs in Adobe Illustrator CS, not CS2 (im making the title long to add length).

1. open a new file. 13" x 13" the maximum tee area size
2. click the brush tool.
3. draw lines.
4. then draw areas of color under the lines.
5. click Save as...then pick a terrible pun


Oh great, I totally forgot the "pick a terrible pun" step in MY tutorial. Is it too late to change it?

herky, I'm glad you found it to be helpful!


valor did you sketch and scan for your print?




Yes, derangeddaoist... I usually draw my designs by hand, and then color them with photoshop.




...and if anyone wants to throw in their own tips & tricks, feel free! This can be a good learning blog for all.


Thanks for the link, petanca. Maybe someone should do an illustrator tutorial... you know, since people probably use that more than photoshop.


wow you are awesome!

and i had no idea about that handy little lock transparent pixels doo hickey. that's super handy as well.
you guys are chumps!


you guys are champs!


"chumps" - Hahahaha!! Best typo ever!

Yeah, I've been using the transparent pixel thing too... thanks, slaterock!


slaterock is a pretty big chump too.


jublin needs to post some of his coloring tips to other chumps around here


I use both photoshop and illustrator for my designs, it depends on what I am trying to achieve....

If you want to colour a black line drawing, with a swanky other bright colour you should do this...

1/ Have your black line drawing (or dark lines) sitting on a layer.
2/ Create a new layer above this one, it should be empty.
3/ Fill this layer with whatever color you want. If its for screen printing, use a pantone colour.
4/ You will now have a canvas filled with your colour, but no line drawing. Fear not valient illustrators. Go to the layers palette. In the top left are your layer blend modes. Its probably currently on normal. Click on this and go down to the one that says screen. Use it.
5/ Magically your black line drawing will now be the colour of your top layer, and the whites of your illustration will still be white!
6/ If you get a sub printed this way, just send in the high res black image and specify the pantone you used. They can just print a screen from your black lines.


TQ to of ALL YOU here! Especially to you, Priscilla…. This really will help me a lot! still learning! THANKS GUYS!!! =)


I second that request of the jublin

Monkey II

awesome tutorial -- I only use photoshop for... photos.
Illustrator for illustrations. Indesign for grids, layouts, books etc.

Adobe owns us.

fc gravy

wow v&v, you're a saint!


i also request jublin to eat a fat one!


ahh it would be so very helpful indeed, if someone posted an illustrator tutorial. because i have it now; and i have absolutely no clue what i'm doing.
it's so frustrating.
i draw a line.. and another, then the first one disappears?!

i feel dumb.

but still, can anyone offer some help to a noob?
[btw; i'll try and use your tutorial in photoshop by scanning and stuff v&v.. maybe that will be easier. :P]

Rock Deputy

There's a good tutoral here called "Going from Sketch to Vector".

One recommendation it makes is to scan your drawing at a very, very high resolution - like 800dpi or more. Then in Photoshop, take the resolution down to 300dpi. This does a number of things:

1. Erases all dust or small 1-2 pixel dots that occur from scanning.
2. Usually gets rid of any "ghost" lines that result from erasing while sketching.
3. Sharpens up the edges of the drawing, gets rid of any gradiation that may occur along the lines.

Rock Deputy

it's so frustrating.
i draw a line.. and another, then the first one disappears?!

MaraXD, you should be using the Pen Tool, not the Pencil Tool. There's a breakdown of the Pen Tool, as well as the Tools Palette and other useful palettes, at in the Illustrator section. And all the info is specific to making tshirt designs for Threadless.


ahhh thank you so so much.

The Crackers

valor thanks, this will come in handy when i plan on scanning on of my designs, i really want to hear your critique on it,


Can you tell us what kind of paper and pen/pencils you like to use?

Thanks =)


Thanks so much for this info!!!!


J-Ray, I use marker paper (it doesn't bleed through nor does the ink spread... you get a nice, crisp line) and I use micron pens... .01, .03, .05, .08 and sometimes a brush pen (size 1) for coloring in bigger spaces.

2 designs submitted - Score now!

i could get some hot effects out of photoshop, but I never use it for threadless designs. I guess I'm a total vectorhead.

But i should start using photoshop, might work out well


And I just found this :/
Actually, Spires found it and now I see it.
I'm gonna read it tomorrow.


Vectors seem like they would work better for threadless... I think they even state so. Photoshop is good if you're working with something really detailed or hand-drawn though. You should give it a go!

2 designs submitted - Score now!

most of the time, I vectorize at really high resolution and it kills my computer like in my sub summer passage

that's all vectorized photography


I freehand my sketch on paper, scan it in, then draw over all of my images on a top layer (using a mouse). It definately takes a steady hand, I really should buy a tablet though.


artdrops, that's what I did for my one vector sub (Keepers of Candyland). I say we should both get tablets!!


yessss!!! the wacom 6x9!


ok, let's do it!!!!!

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