HELLO, and welcome to Manga Coloring for Beginners!
Why this page? Well, I did some looking around, and noticed that there weren't many sites on Neo that offer tutorials on how to color manga. I decided to start this page to help people who want to color in their favorite manga panels, but aren't familiar with the concept. I also created it to help up-and-coming or already-experienced graphic makers broaden their coloring horizons and improve the quality of their graphics. I admit I'm no master at coloring, and I still have a lot to learn, but I'll try to help the best I can. I hope you learn something and thank you for reading my guide! Also, you don't need a tablet to color manga. Read the F.A.Q. for more details.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Constructive criticism? Want to show your result? NEOMAIL ME!


Counter started 1/22/11

table of contents & other links

The Rules and "F.A.Q.

Before We Start...
- Everything you need to know before you start manga coloring!

Step One: Finding and Cleaning an Image
- The most basic of steps: simply finding your image!

Step Two: Adding the Base Colors
- Adding some basic colors to the image!

Step Three: Adding the Primary Shadows
- For the brave colorist-to-be who wants to add some dimension to their image!

Step Four: The Highlights
- Adding some much-needed light to the image!

Step Five: Adding Secondary Shadows
- Furthering the dimension of the image!

Step Six: You're Done
- Now with nice little comparison images.

Further Learning
- For those who want to go beyond this guide and become even better!

Link Back
- Did the guide help you? Want to spread the word? Link back! It makes you super cool.

Listings & Other Sites
- Where this guide is listed and some other sites that may help you.

rules & f.a.q.


1. Do not steal any of the images or text in here. It took me a long time to write this guide, and I will not appreciate theft.

2. Do not claim you didn't see the rules. I just put the rules in bold, 5 point font. Don't even try to say you didn't see that.

3. Don't send me random hatemail. Hatemail doesn't help me. If there's something you don't like, articulate upon what it is you don't like and give fairly rational reasons to back up your argument POLITELY. Otherwise, hatemail just wastes space in my inbox. Don't waste space in my inbox.

4. BE POLITE. If you're not polite, I'll just ignore you until you start acting polite.


Not the "fac," you guys. Really more of a checklist of what NOT to ask me so as not to spam up my inbox with the same question over and over again.

Q: Don't you need a tablet to color manga?
A: Sorta piggybacking on Otaku here. :X (I didn't know people thought this, so yeah. Thanks for clearing this up, Yume.)
NO, YOU DO NOT NEED A TABLET TO COLOR MANGA. That is both a serious misconception and a horrible excuse. My entire manga-coloring career, I've only ever used Photoshop. As you can see, my results aren't horrible. Tablets may be easier to use and give slightly better results, but you can create just-as-good colored panels without a tablet. It just takes patience and practice.

Q: Can I use the sample image for [insert thing here]?
A: You can use my (ugly) sample image for anything you like, be it icons or other graphics. Just give credit to me, and do NOT use it to make your own tutorial. That would be seriously uncool.

Q: Why didn't you explain how to color lips?
A: Well, my image was really bad for lips, and I'm not that great at them. I can point you in the direction of a tutorial that does teach you how to color lips that don't stink.

Q: How long have you been coloring manga?
A: Since 2005, but I colored very sparsely in between then and now. That's the reason I haven't really gotten much better. And the cherry on top is that I don't take intensive art classes, so I REALLY haven't gotten much better.

Q: I've heard you can use stuff like Exclusion layers, Selective Color, and you can even put on Color layers beforehand to color manga. Why didn't you include this in your guide?
A: This is a guide that shows you the BASICS of manga coloring. It's really meant to be an introduction to the fundamentals, not any particular method. Exclusion layers and Selective Color manipulate colors, so they're more of an advanced approach to manga coloring. (And ones I don't use, 'cause I think it's cheating, but anyway.) I also personally don't like using color layers; it's a little eye-strain-y and for beginners, it's easier to have clearly defined lines.

Q: Do you take requests?
A: No, I do not. Maybe if one of my friends wanted something, like, super-special. But in general, no.

before we start...

So what CAN you use to color manga? I'm using Photoshop CS for this tutorial, but any professional or semi-professional image editing software will work. GIMP? Yup. Paint Shop Pro? Of course. And don't quote me on this, but Paint(dot)NET might work as well. I only have Photoshop, so I apologize in advance for my inability to provide supplementary information related to the listed programs. The basic concept SHOULD be the same, but you might have to tinker around with the settings and find out what works for you.
Also, this tutorial does not use selective color. I personally consider selective color to be "cheating" when it comes to manga coloring.

This tutorial requires some basic knowledge of Photoshop. I recommend you know how to:
  • Create new layers
  • Use brushes
  • Zoom in/out
  • Change layer settings (i.e. Soft Light, Overlay, etc.)
  • Use the Magnetic Lasso or Polygonal Lasso tool
  • Use the Eyedropper tool
  • Change background and foreground colors
  • Use the crop tool (somewhat optional)
  • Use the Smudge tool (recommended)

    If your background and foreground colors show up as shades of black, white, or gray, then go to Image → Mode and make sure RGB Color is checked.

    Additionally, do not copy everything in this guide. You'll want to follow basic principles like the Multiply layers and the concept of shadows and highlights, but things such as skin colors, hair colors, and eye colors should be in accordance with your own image. This is simply a guide: it will not, unfortunately, provide instant gratification and magically make you a better colorist. The only way to get better at coloring is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. It's how I got to where I am today.

    step one: finding and cleaning an image

    Before you start any coloring project, you need an image to work with. Simple enough. Be sure that your image is high-quality. It's okay if it's not the best there is, but high-quality images are much easier to work with. Make sure your image is not low-quality, either. If there are any text bubbles with text in them, take your Eyedropper tool, copy the color on the text bubble, create a new layer, and use a decent-sized Brush tool to erase the text. Voila!
    When you have an image, crop it however you please. The sample image I'll be using today is of the ever-awesome C.C. from Code Geass.

    BEGINNER'S TIP! When you're just starting out, I strongly advise that you find an image with clearly defined lines. What I mean by that is that nothing is "flowy" or has lines that just trail off and never enclose the character within a boundary. One example of such an image is any manga panel from, say, Sailor Moon. It's a beautiful series, don't get me wrong, but the hair is flowy and sometimes the lines get a little wonky. If you look at my sample image, you can see that there are some solid lines that keep the hair, neck, and clothes enclosed. The mouth may be a little off, but in general, it's just a solid image.
    It also doesn't hurt if there are pre-shaded areas in your image. Again, look at my sample image. C.C. has some darker areas around her hair and under her chin, which indicates where shadows should be when you add them.

    step two: adding the base colors

    Okay, now it's time to add some color! We'll be adding what I call the base colors. They're the general color of the skin, hair, and eyes, and provide something for the shadows and highlights to work off of. Base colors don't really add dimension to an image -- that's why they're the base colors.
    If you're just starting out, I'd recommend getting official pictures of your character and using the Eyedropper tool to copy the base colors. If you're not sure what you're looking for in an official, already-shaded picture, just look for the color predominantly used on any facet of the character. In simpler terms, look for the "main" color, or the color that is used the most on the skin, hair, eyes, etc.

    Do you have your colors? Okay, time to actually color! To do that, you must first create a new layer and set it to Multiply. It also REALLY helps if you label the layers. For example, I'm going to start out with the skin base, so I would call my layer "Skin Base.
    After you have created your layer, take the Polygonal or Magnetic Lasso tool (either one works fine; I personally prefer the Polygonal Lasso) and outline the face, hair, or eye area, depending on where you want to start. Make sure you don't overlap onto anything OTHER than your subject. (Ex: Don't outline the hair if you're coloring the skin.) It also REALLY helps if you ZOOM IN during this process.

    Yes, I know it looks funny. Anyway, here's an example of how I outlined or "selected" the facial area of C.C.

    After you do that, take the Paint Bucket tool and use it on the selected area. If you deselect, you can get a better idea of what areas you missed or overlapped on. Make SURE you use the Paint Bucket WITH your base color set as your foreground color.

    If you see any areas you missed, make sure to use a SMALL brush (3pt - 5pt) to fill in the missing areas. If you see any areas you overlapped on, use a SMALL eraser (3pt - 5pt) to erase anything you see. You can also use the Lasso tool to do this.
    After you've cleaned up your messes, repeat this process for the rest of the image (background excluded).

    VOILA! All done with the base colors! :) We'll just ignore the sigil on her forehead for now; it's a little advanced.

    Now, this is where most beginners would just stop. Depending on the image, sometimes the base colors suffice and create a decent-looking coloring. A lot of beginner's tutorials I have seen often encourage that you stop here. You can stop if you want to, but I refuse to let this tutorial end here.

    If you want to take your coloring a step further, then continue reading, brave colorist-to-be! For our next section tackles PRIMARY SHADOWS!

    step three: adding the primary shadows


    Pat yourself on the back, brave reader -- you've made it further than most beginners are willing to go. And that is something to be very proud of. We will now add the primary shadows to the image. Believe me, it's not as intimidating as it sounds; EVERY advanced coloring tutorial I've read includes these -- they just don't call them "primary shadows." (Sorry, I like big terminology. 8P) Properly-used primary shadows make colorings look MUCH better than if you had just applied the base colors.
    The reason I call them primary shadows is because they're the first layer of shadows you apply to an image. They're a little intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, they're not so bad.

    Okay, before we start, we need to discuss the LIGHT SOURCE. I know, it's boring and a little scary, but it's quite necessary. The light source is where the light is coming from in the image. In the case of my image, the light source is directly above C.C.'s head. Now pay attention, because this is important: the light source directly affects the placement of your shadows and highlights. I cannot stress that enough. It is extremely important that you know WHERE YOUR LIGHT SOURCE IS. And yet again, light sources differ from image to image. If you have trouble finding your light source, pay attention to where the pre-shaded areas (if there are any) rest. C.C.'s not the best example here, but if you look up at the header, you can see that Suzaku (the guy on the right) has pre-shaded areas on his RIGHT side. This would mean the light source would be on his left, because the light is casting a shadow over the right side of his face. Understand?

    Hopefully you do, because we're about to begin. For this segment, I prefer to use the Brush tool. It might seem annoying to use such a tiny brush, but it's more precise and less awkward than using the Lasso tools. I also recommend that you continue labeling your layers based on what they are being used for.
    On the subject of COLOR, you want to use colors that are semi-dramatically darker than the base color. Subtly different colors will not work as well; I have tried this before and the outcome was not as good. For example, my skin base color for C.C. is #FCE2C0, and my primary shadow color is #ECD1AE. If you put those two together in any color palette, you'll see they are DRAMATICALLY different in terms of shade. But rest assured, they do actually work together.

    ADVANCED TIP! If you want to try something a step further, I recommend using a more reddish color (such as #E69D7A) for your shadows. You might think it looks ugly at first, but red-shadowed skin DOES look more natural. It's not absolutely necessary, though; I've colored plenty of panels WITHOUT reddish shadows, and they've turned out just fine. It's just a little something that will make your image a little nicer if you're willing to go the extra mile. Just for good measure, I'll put both examples (same hue shadows and redder shadows) in here.

    Start out by using a SMALL 3pt - 5pt Brush to shade in the areas that will have a shadow cast over them. Keep in mind that primary shadows are usually much larger than secondary shadows, so don't be TOO sparse in your shading.

    Okay, now if you're anything like me, you'll see that your shadows are a little too obvious. They're not blended well. So, if you want to fix that, whip out your Smudge tool and get to work on that. I like to use the Smudge tool at 50% strength, but anything slightly lower or higher will suffice. As for the brush size, I really don't have a preference, but the 9pt - 15pt range should be just fine. We only want to smudge the parts that really stand out to make them more natural-looking, and to achieve that effect, I use small back-and-forth motions over the areas I want to smudge. This doesn't cause anything dramatic and will cause the skin base and the skin shadows to blend better.

    (For the sake of space, I'm only using this picture, but I WILL show the reddish shadow product at the end.)

    Repeat these steps on the eyes and the hair. For the eyes, I've noticed that shadows tend to congregate near the top of the eye and highlights tend to be closer to the bottom. Hair shadows also vary depending on your picture, so just keep the light source in mind. Don't forget to use dramatically darker colors for your shadows.


    Now see how much nicer that looks than regular old base coloring? 8) But we're not done there. Now it's time to move on to the next step, if you so please.

    step four: the highlights

    I'll just be honest, I'm not good at highlights. So I apologize in advance for my incoherency, bad placement, etc. Basically, highlights are where the lights hit the subject; the lighter areas. The thing with highlights (at least, the trouble I have with them) is that they're a little pickier than shadows. They can't just go ANYWHERE. Shadows are also just generally easier to grasp in the beginning than highlights, so don't freak out if you find out you're bad at them.

    Anyway, I like to put my highlights on my base layers. Yes, really. I do. You can put it on another layer if you want, but I prefer using the base layer. (Just be prepared to use the Step Backward option a lot!)
    Your highlights will obviously be lighter than your skin base. You want to choose a color that will stand out on the skin base, so no subtly different colors.

    ADVANCED TIP! Just like with the red shadows, skin looks a little more natural with more yellow highlights. Like I said before, you don't HAVE to do this. Same-hue highlights work as well.

    If you can't tell where I put the highlights, I put some underneath the eyes, along the nose, and on the lower lip.

    So just do the same for the hair, clothes, and eyes. And in case you didn't catch it before, eye highlights tend to be towards the bottom of the eye.

    If you have trouble getting your eye highlights to show up, make a layer on top of your copied base and set it to Screen.

    step five: adding the secondary shadows

    Okay, so now that the highlights are done with, it's time to add the secondary shadows. Secondary shadows are basically the areas that receive even less light than the areas designated by the primary shadows. They're typically IN the areas that you've already shaded. There aren't as many secondary shadows as there are primary shadows. These places are most likely nowhere near the light source or have some huge obstacle blocking out all the light.

    For the skin, you'll want to use something that is semi-dramatically darker than your primary shadow color. If you have trouble finding this pure color, try eliminating the visibility of the rest of the layers (including the base image and the skin base) until you find it.
    Your secondary shadows' placements will, again, be highly dependent on where your image's light source is. They are almost always at the base of the nose, the bottom of the lip, and around the inner parts of the eyes. They can also be located at the edges of a character's face.

    Pre-Smudge tool, just to show you where I put my shadows.

    If your secondary shadows turn out too dark, try using a brush with a lower opacity. If your shading turns out too obvious, use the Smudge tool.

    From my experience, eyes don't usually have secondary shadows, but clothes and hair do. For hair, they usually go near the roots of the hair and any hair that is heavily obscured (i.e. hair that is resting behind a character's back). For clothes, shadows usually go around any inner collars, especially ones closer to the body.

    I also added some inner eye shadows; just take a light gray and go along the inner edges of the eye.

    step six: you're done

    Well, mostly. You can stop right there, but you can do extra stuff to the lips and background and whatnot. Anyway, your colored image is a huge improvement from the one you started out with, as well as the base colors! If your result didn't turn out that great, don't feel bad. It's hard when you're just starting out, but practice makes perfect.

    Let's do a little comparison, shall we?

    We started out with this...

    And went to this...

    And ultimately ended up with this! (I kind of love how this looks better than my header image. lol.)

    Or THIS, if you decided to use reddish shadows and yellowish highlights. See how much more natural it looks?

    Now with your hard work done, flatten the image and you're done!


    further learning

    Unfortunately, due to the linking policies on Neopets, I can't link you to some amazing coloring tutorials off-site. Most of them are on LiveJournal, where a LOT of talented colorists who are way better than me hang around. If you're cool with going there, click the neomail icon below and I'll reply with the urls. Make sure to ask nicely. :)

    People only interested in further learning, please!

    Link Back

    listings & other sites

    Hover to see if recommended.


    Otaku has a good manga coloring tutorial. You should check it out.


    Layout by Exclusive.
    Envelope from Foomanshu
    Header image by ME, please do not steal!