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Monday, June 13, 2011

Learning as I go: Part 4 - digitally colouring the background

I think an image really pops when you add a little "halo" around it, like Jackie did in this card and Wendy did here.

I am sure both got their effect using their markers and watercolours, but here I am going to show you how to get the same effect digitally.It is a handy technique when the image has lots of details which make  it hard to colour by hand.

Don't be put off by the number of steps. Probably you already know how to do most of these things but I wanted to make it as detailed as possible.

I used PSE (Photoshop Elements) but the same idea would work in any other graphic editing software which support layers such as Paint Shop Pro.

First you have to know a bit about PNG files and layers. Excluding some of my earlier images, all others are provided in PGN format as well as in JPEG. For this tutorial  you will need the PNG file.

As for layers, think of layers as sheets of paper, one on top of each other. Some sheets can be transparent or partially transparent, in which case you can see what's underneath.

OK, that's enough, it will be clearer when you see the tutorial.

1. Open your PNG image. See the checkered part around the image? That's the part that is transparent. (if the background is not transparent, this technique won't work, but all my pgn files have a transparent background).

2. Create a blank file. I like to create a blank file the same size as my card size. Go File→New→ Blank File...

3.  Like so. Check if the layers window is open on the right hand side (red arrow). If not, to open it, click on Windows→Layers.

4. Click on the image. Go to the layers windows and drag and drop the image on the blank page (see red arrow). Resize it if needed. To resize, select the tool pointed by the blue arrow. 

5. Select the brush tool (red arrow). Change the colour of the "paint" by clicking on the foreground colour (blue arrow, left box). This will open a new window (green arrow) which will allow you to select the desired colour.

6. Select the brush type:  Click on the little downward arrow pointed here by the red arrow. This will open the Brush types window. Click on a blurry one, like #35 in the Default brushes list.

7. Select the layer you want to edit by going to the Layers windows and selecting the background layer. Click where the red arrow is.

8. Start colouring the image with your mouse. Click and hold the left button of your mouse and start to colour. Did you notice how the colouring only shows behind the image? That's because the image layer is on top of the background layer and the image is opaque.

If you think the colour is a bit too strong, or the brush is too big or too small,  press Ctrl Z to undo it. Then change the opacity/size of the brush. To change them, look at the blue arrows in step 6.

10. Keep on colouring around the image and voila. Now it is only a matter of printing it.

I asked the DT what they thought of the tutorial, if they could follow it and here's Jackie's using the same technique:

And Trinh used the gradient tool instead of brushes, check it here:


  1. Wow this is brill - gotta have a go at this and save on my PM ink!! Thanks so much for sharing! Sheila:)X

  2. Oooh brill, thanks for sharing,

  3. Just a quick note to let you know that a link to this post will be placed on CraftCrave today [14 Jun 12:00am GMT]. Thanks, Maria

  4. Great tutorial, Elisa!! Hope all is well with you. Hugs.

  5. Great tutorial Elisa, tried it and love it :)

  6. Elisa thanks so much for posting this. I used gimp and was able to do it on that following your instructions and it looks great! LOVED it!



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