What size to paint in Photoshop for illustration

What size to paint in Photoshop for illustration. How to set up canvas size in Photoshop for illustration and concept art for artist and illustrator. Basic tutorial for beginner.

Q: Please can you post someday the way you set up an illustration….for example the canvas size, the layers (rough sketch, detailed line drawing, colour layer etc…) and other main things.
OK, here are the step by step how to set up your illustration and concept art project from the beginning to the end. But really there is no set in stone rules, it’s a preference. Each artist has different way of working progress, whatever they are comfortable with.

The BASIC idea of how to determine your image (canvas) size to work with is simple. I usually work 2 or 3 times the FINAL size.

Here is a sample of ratio 1280 x 720 at final size, but I painted at three times larger in the original.

knight baratheon digital painting tutorial

knight baratheon digital painting tutorial

(Watch the video tutorial go to Knights of Baratheon digital painting tutorial.)

Below are my usual process of digital painting step by step.
1) Thumbnails stage: You scribble a bunch of idea out within the guideline provided. For example this one is “space marine light-fighter suit”

thumbnails for concept art

thumbnails for concept art

And ome environmental thumbnails

thumbnails for environmental art

thumbnails for environmental art

Usually at this stage I work really small. On 9 x 12 sketch page, I could fit in about 12 of these figures (three on each roll with four rolls vertical.). Or in Photoshop, I would create 350 x 500 px canvas. Then I fix four of them as shown above.

2) I will pick three final design candidates and blow each one of them up to 700 x 500 px. At this stage I will make another layer on top of it so that I can work on the detail a little more and possibly assign quick color and composition. (I believe I always talk about it on the vids)

3) Once I have the basic design with color scheme, I will once again blow it up to 1,400 x 1,000 px. At this stage, I will try to find basic value using layers:
-Overlay (use dark gray if you want darker value, light gray for lighter value)
-Multiply (use local color for darker value only, same apply to dark gray to black.)
-Screen (use local color for lighter value only, same apply to light gray to black.)

Some of you ask me for my background canvas to use
Here is it to download digital canvas background (bigger size)

background for painting in Photoshop

background for painting in Photoshop

4) I might use overlay again to accentuate more saturation and hue of some area, especially around the focal point.

5) Once I have these quality in place, I will process to bigger
Check list:
a) Readable Silhouette
b) Lighting (over all value)
c) Color balance
d) Big detail
e) composition that have define focal point

*Once you have all that goto 6)

6) I again enlarge the image for the last time to abour 2,400 x 2,000 or bigger
**(traditionally, whenever you enlarge the image, you are basically re-draw, re-paint and reproduce the whole picture. Thanks to digital ages.)
***(for printing purpose if that apply, should consider a size of the assignment and set it at 200-300 dpi/inch.) I have never yet work on anything that is bigger than 3,500px and up. The bigger it is the better the quality, but keep in mind that it means more area you have to work on.

TIPS: Once your image is big, lot of beginners tend to zoom in 100% and work on little detail. Don’t do that unless you must. It will deceive you when you zoom in. Constantly check the overall value of the whole image and color balance by zoom out. Check thumbnail often.

download photoshop brushes

7) At this final size, I rarely use any special layers. There is no need because before you get there, you should already have all or most of the value you need to achieve the final illustration. Just paint on the actual layer or normal layer. I keep painting over using the establishing value and color until it’s finish.
*Tips: think clean up and simplify, not adding more.

8) Final touch up stage: I might add hot spot or increase color saturation here and there around the focal or necessary area.

I usually base the format sizing on standard paper or illustration sizes are 5×7, 9×12, 11×14, 11×17 inches. Then I set it at the 72 dpi. So if my final size is 9×12 at 72 dpi resolution, I will have to work 2 times bigger.
So it would be
18 x 24 at 72 dpi
9 x 12 at 144 dpi

FOR PRINT, this will required a higher resolution.
I usually base the format sizing on standard paper or illustration sizes are 5×7, 9×12, 11×14, 11×17 inches. Then I set it at 200 dpi. (200 to 300 dpi is best for printing resolution)

So if my final size is 9×12 at 200 dpi resolution, I will have to work 2 times bigger.
It would be
18 x 24 at 300 dpi
9 x 12 at 600 dpi

More tutorials you might be interested in
5 steps to improve your drawing skill fast
What opacity setting I use in digital painting
Three important rules for Painting

Hope that make sense,

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About Xia Taptara

Xia Taptara (黃曉聲 Huang XiaoShēng), currently a freelance concept artist for games and films, formerly a character concept artist for ArenaNet/NCsoft (GuildWars & Guildwars 2). I also work on various projects for Game of Thrones, Square-Enix, Paizo Publishing, Fantasy Fight Games, Disney Interactive, and many publishers & clients. I use Wacom Tablet Intuos and Photoshop CS2,3,4,5 to do most of my professional art work. I use pencil, pen, and traditional medium in my free time. I founded IdrawGirls.com (TheArtClasses.com) in 2007 to motivate myself to create more and better art. Also I get to draw and paint whatever the hell I want to. Hopefully I can inspired some young soul and old soul alike. *QUESTIONS & COMMENT: PLEASE POST THEM ON THE BLOG. Or CONTACT ME via idrawgirls Facebook page. DO NOT E-MAIL ME. Thank you. ;-)
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11 Responses to What size to paint in Photoshop for illustration

  1. Bryan S. says:

    Yes it is. If you take 2 9×12 sheets and lay them over an 18×24 sheet it fits perfectly. We’re talking outside dimension here, not surface area.

  2. Robert Barrett says:

    Thanks very much! It’s very useful to refer to a proven workflow in detail. It’s not information that is often covered. Your art is awesome.

  3. Pingback: Canvas size what ratio to use in digital painting. | art lesson online

  4. Jose says:

    Hi there!

    This really interesting, thanks first! but a i’m starting in the digital paintig world and after read this i have a question: what do you mean when you talk about ‘try to find basic value’? (sorry for my ignorance) and that about overlay, multiplay and screen layers too.

    Again thanks for the help

    Kind regards

  5. Scott Cooper says:

    I’ve been working in illustration for a lot of years, and it’s never been about area. When the AD tells you twice up, you simply double the outside dimension. Always been that way.

  6. Gizzy says:

    Thank You!

  7. Xia Taptara says:

    Better 24. 24 would be just fine.

  8. Carlo Valente says:

    Is 16 bit fine?

  9. Alex Dorman says:

    AWESOME tutorial, I really love this, it helped me out SO much. However, I did laugh when you said “So if my final size is 9×12 at 200 dpi resolution, I will have to work 2 times bigger.
    It would be
    18 x 24 at 300 dpi
    9 x 12 at 600 dpi”

    Actually, if you think about it, 9×12 is NOT 1/2 the size of an 18×24. 18×24 covers a 432 unit area, where as 9×12 only cover 108. Common sense can fool you, but it’s just funny that you’ve been doing illustration and character design for so long, but never figured that out ^.^

    Awesome tuts, keep em coming!

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