Program: Photoshop CS3
Difficulty: Easy [All relevant steps are explained in detail, along with the tools used]
Number of steps: 12
Translatable: No, given that it uses a Selective Color layer.
Warnings: Teal deer. It's my trademark, after all.
Here you have another tutorial -- the first one can be found here. Now I notice that I have a habit of writing ones for horridly gray or dull images, even though I tend to run screaming from these types when actually making an icon batch! Odd are the ways in which the mind works.
Nota bene: you'll be able to obtain a similar result only with images from a HD source (preferably Blu-Ray, because even HDTV sometimes just doesn't make the cut). Anything below 720p will likely come out pixelated to hell and back, because this is a decidedly brutal coloring method. You can probably attempt to make such images salvageable with smart use of the blur tool, clone-stamp tool and the paint-brush, but I don't advise it -- even with a lot of work put into them, icons from SD images just don't turn out as crisp and clear as something from a HD source.
Take your base image and crop it down to 100x100 pixels [Image ---> Image Size or ALT+CTRL+I]. You can also leave this step for the end if you have trouble observing the small details of the icon.
For this particular icon, I will be working with an image of Ringo from the Studio Madhouse anime Casshern Sins.
Duplicate your base layer now [left-click on the layer name ---> Duplicate Layer] and set it to the 'Screen' blending mode from the drop-down menu. This will add a little bit of brightness to our image, since it's also rather dark in addition to being almost colorless and generally lacking in contrast. Since this layer can easily wash-out an icon such as this one, I set it at 20% opacity. Adjust the value accordingly for your own image.
Duplicate the base layer once more, drag it above the Screen layer and change the blending mode to 'Soft Light'. This will add some much-needed contrast to the image. Here is where the earlier Screen layer also comes in handy, because it keeps the Soft Light layer from darkening the image more than what is strictly necessary.
The next step involves a 'Levels' layer for the same purpose as the Soft Light layer above -- increasing the contrast of this image by brightening its lighter sections and lowering the lightness in the areas meant to be darker. Open a new Levels layer [Layer ---> New Adjustment Layer ---> Levels] and take note of the default RGB channel and the Input Levels. This is what we'll be working with, even though I usually fiddle with the three Color channels as well.
Insert the following values:
RGB Channel: 15 1.00 245
Nota bene: The Levels layer is pretty straightforward and easy to understand -- as far as the Input Levels go, the first set of numbers controls the darkest aspects of the image (thus raising it will also intensify those sections), whereas the next two sets of numbers handle the lighter tones within an image (which will become brighter the higher these numbers are set).
The Output Levels are similar, with the difference that they darken or lighten the image as a whole -- something easy to notice due to the gradient bar set above them.
Now it's time for a little bit of a kick. Open a new 'Hue/Saturation' layer [Layer ---> New Adjustment Layer ---> Hue/Saturation]. Insert the following value in the default Master channel:
Adjust the value for your own image, because this one might be too much for some icons that have more initial color when compared to this one.
Nota bene: The Hue/Saturation layer involves manipulation of an image's colors -- their intensity, brightness and particular hue, hence the three properties. Hue is probably the least used, given that most images don't really need adjust on that front and generally come out looking odd or downright radioactive if this option is fiddled with too much.
What's interesting to note about this layer option is that it allows for a strong degree of customization, since one can work just as easily with the intensity of each individual color-set in the image (by choosing 'Reds', 'Cyans' and so forth from the drop-down menu) instead of modifying the intensity of the image as a whole. This is useful if you want to kick up a certain color in an image without making another one turn eye-searing in the process.
Here is where the fun begins and you'll be able to see the most significant change in the image. Open up a 'Selective Color' layer [Layer ---> New Adjustment Layer ---> Selective Color]. Given that we've mostly handled just lightness and contrast up until now, it's finally time to take care of these terribly drab colors.
Some of the adjustments for this layer have been taken from this particular tutorial by zabuza_sama26, with modifications by me in order to make the layer work for this particular image and color it suitably.
Here, the key was to reduce the gray-greenish tinge that permeates the whole image, in addition to firing up the other colors -- reason why the most important modification was the one done in the 'Neutrals' section of the Selective Color layer.
Insert the following numbers while making certain that the Selective Color method is set to Absolute [second radio button at the bottom].
Normally, the Relative setting for the Selective Color layer would be used, but the resulting coloring simply wouldn't be strong enough for this kind of dull image. I recommend using this method mostly when you have to do with faded colors, since it's a quick way to breathe some vibrancy into them; conversely, it can swiftly wreck an image, so this is the step that should be thoroughly customized for your own icon. Play around with the sliders and change the values until you see what works for your own color scheme.
Nota Bene: The Selective Color layer is a very intuitive tool for customizing an image's color palette in any way you wish. This sounds similar in premise to the Hue/Saturation layer, yet Selective Color grants you an even higher degree of customization, because you control far more than just a color's intensity and basic hue. It works according to the basic rules of color theory -- what makes up a color and what you obtain when adding other types of colors into it. Each slider adds or substracts a certain type of color, permitting easy customization (for example, more Cyan in the Red section dulls the reds of the image, whereas Magenta and Yellow turn them deeper and more vibrant).
A large part of coloring this icon involved breathing life into the yellow overalls worn by Ringo (hence the fiddling around with the Reds and Yellows) while also coloring the entire image. The Neutrals section was the key here -- since the image was steeped in a gray-greenish-teal set of hues, moving the Cyan slider towards the negative added more reds and made the little girl stop looking as if she were freshly risen from the dead. The Magenta and Yellow sliders served to further normalize the image's colors.
The overall color scheme is better now, but I think it still needs a little nudge -- hence the reason for opening up a second Hue/Saturation layer, with the following value:
The general effect wasn't bad when I was making this particular icon, yet it seemed rather intense for my tastes -- what you can't see of the original image (a blue background) was rather eye-searing by now. Instead of opening up the layer again and modifying the number, I modified its blending opacity, a very simple way to customize how much strength the layer actually has. I set it to 10% opacity, just enough to give the whole thing a little tweak. Customize to your own liking.
Contrast is now beginning to replace color as this icon's main problem. This is the reason why the next step involves duplicating the base layer once more (as in Step 03), dragging it right up to the top and setting it to the 'Soft Light' blend mode. Even though the base is very washed-out when compared to the present icon, setting it to Soft Light doesn't affect the color-palette and only serves to grant much-needed contrast to the overall image.
Now for yet another little trick. If you want to work some more on your almost-finished product and don't want a layer's blending mode to get in the way (as would be the case if you were to apply any sort of special effects to the earlier made Soft Light layer) simply duplicate the icon as it looks right now into a new layer by holding down SHIFT+CTRL+ALT+E all at the same time. This is the shortcut for the 'Stamp Visible' command and it does exactly what it says on the tin -- copies the result of all your adjustment layers into one single layer, for easy customization.
This particular method is most useful for adding filters to your icon (such as the various types of 'Blur' and 'Sharpen') while also allowing you extensive customization, given that you can easily modify the intensity by adjusting the layer opacity or by simply deleting the layer entirely and making a new one if you overdid it with the effects.
This one was the 'eureka' moment for me while making this icon. Even with all of the modifications made so far, I still wasn't happy with the end result. The icon, while colorful, lacked a good deal of depth and contrast, even with all that was done up to this particular step. At this moment I was thinking of working with a 'Brightness/Contrast' layer, but, on a whim, I decided to Sharpen the image first, because it was looking rather blurry was well.
This is the second key step within this tutorial. Go to the 'Smart Sharpen' filter [Filters ---> Sharpen ---> Smart Sharpen] and pay close attention to the options in the dialogue box that pops up. Normally, I would have set a Radius of 1.0 and an Amount varying between 15-30, depending on the blurriness of the image. Here, I decided to experiment and fool around on yet another whim -- reason why I pushed the slider in the Radius section at the very far end and.... and was then astonished at the result, since it managed to give my image just the extra boost of contrast that it needed!
Here are the values:
Leave all other options in the dialogue box as they are. Also, make certain to fiddle around with these numbers -- 60 might be far too much for some images, as might also be the case with the 64.0 value (when I tried it on a more colorful icon, the subject came out looking beyond jaundiced).
This is a somewhat optional step -- mostly since it depends on how pixelated each image comes out after all of the earlier steps. I noticed some rather annoying splotches in Ringo's hair and on her skin, reason why I chose the 'Blur' brush option -- located on the left-hand side menu, directly beneath the Paint Bucket tool. Depending on your image, set the brush to 100% softness and 3px, then begin carefully airbrushing over any sections where the color presents splotches of different shades, instead of being uniform in nature. This wasn't all that noticeable in my own icon, given the small size of a 100x100 pixel image, but I wanted to be thorough nevertheless.
Be very careful and make certain that you don't brush over dark lines, since you'll smudge the color all over the place. Additionally, if much of your image is pixelated in this fashion by this point, I generally suggest finding a higher quality base and trying all over again, unless you have the patience to airbrush over every problem-area and make certain that the lines still remain crisp.
This step is solely for the finishing touches -- adding textures that you think might serve to enhance the finished icon, text layers and so forth. I decided to keep it simple and only added another Smart Sharpen layer, since some lines still seemed rather blurry. This time, I used much more sensible numbers:
Play around with the opacity, because over-sharpened icons are a much worse thing than under-sharpened ones. In this case, I set the opacity to 20%, in order to make certain that the icon didn't risk being ruined right at the end.
And that's it. Play around with the numbers and show me what you come up with, because I'd love to see this rather odd method put to use!
Final Note: Please don't ask for the PSD, because I won't be giving it out. It's become something of a standard practice to make tutorials consisting solely of a Photoshop file and I generally disagree with this method -- mostly since it removes any sort of need for learning on the part of the receiver. This is the reason why I've been as detailed as possible in my instructions, in order to make this tutorial useful even for someone entirely new to Photoshop.