Tutorial: Better Way to Remove White (Without A Filter!)

Okay, as an illustrator, I frequently find myself needing to remove all white from a layer in Photoshop.  I’ve been doing this with a filter called Kill White which I talked about here.  But I always thought this was such an obvious need, why doesn’t Photoshop come with a tool that does this already?  Something in their filters or maybe in Image->Adjust?  But I’d never found it.

Now, of course, had I taken any formal Photoshop classes I might have learned the trick from a professor.  But as it is I learned Photoshop on-the-job, on my own, and from the occasional online tutorial.  So, although I’m well-versed in the day-to-day operation of Photoshop (and even many obscure things that it can do) I do have the odd hole in my skill set.

Well, a few weeks ago I filled one of these holes.  I found how you properly remove white from a layer.  Without any add-on filters.  I’m sorry I can’t cite my source.  I think I saw the explanation on tumblr.  But I’m really not sure where.  But whoever the mysterious educator was, you have my gratitude.

Anyhow, here’s what you do.  (And it’s stupid easy, btw.)  You know that CHANNELS tab you probably never use and have no idea what it does besides change your image funny colors when you hide one channel or another?  Well, it uses that.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go to the Window menu and go down to Channels.  Click that.

Now you see it?  Okay, good.  Remember where it is, but go over to layers tab for the moment.  Choose the layer you want to remove white from.  Make sure it isn’t the background layer.  If it is, copy or convert it to a regular layer.  Select that layer.

Now go back to channels.  All four channels are selected.  Leave that as it is.  Look at the bottom of the channel window.  There’s a line of symbols.  A dotted circle (Load channel as selection), square with a circle in the middle of it (Save selection as channel), rectangle with the corner folded over that means new (Create new channel), and the trash can (Delete selected channel).  So, that first symbol is the one that matters.  The load channel as selection.  With all four channels selected (as they were when you got there) click that dotted circle.

That automatically selects all the white in the layer.  Not just all the white, but if the pixel is 20% white and the rest some color, it is selecting that 20% white but not the 80% color.  Don’t ask me how it does that, just accept it.  So, now, while all the white in your image is selected, press your delete key.

Now click Select->Deselect.

And you’re done.  Your white is gone leaving only your lines.

Can’t see it?  Add a new layer under the one you were working with and fill it with white.  See it now?  Good.  🙂

One more fun thing.  If you wanted to tint or monochrome all the lines, this is a really good time.  Or if the lines seem too light to you after removing the white.  So, go reselect all the transparent stuff that used to be white before you deleted it.  Do this by clicking Select->Reselect.  Then click Select->Inverse.

Now all the stuff that is not white is selected.  And selected so that the 20% transparency on the pixel (previously 20% white) is not selected, only the colored 80% of that pixel.  So, if you want, just paint over that layer with a big brush of whatever darkish color you want.

Now, Select->Deselect.

There you go.

I guess I really should take the time to learn what else the Channels tool actually does, huh?

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Photoshop Tip: Text Along a Curved Line

Did you know that you can run your text along a curved line in Photoshop?  Just create a path (I’m not going into how to do that) and then switch to the text tool.  Move the curser over the line and it will change the way it looks.  Click and type and you’ll be typing along the line.  Neat, huh?

I learned about it here.

Tutorial: A Trick with Kill White

Here’s a trick you can do with the free Photoshop filter Mike and Kael’s Kill White (which is an awesome filter for several reasons).

So I have a picture of a flower.  Nothing special.  There’s not a whole lot of contrast and it’s just kind of blah.  I tried playing with the contrast and the colors and I just wasn’t happy with it.  So, I went back to the beginning and did a trick with Kill White instead.

Here’s the original:

I copied the layer.

And converted it to black and white.  That’s Image->Adjustments->Black & White.  I played with the filters until I came up with one that made mostly the leaves darker, but the petals stayed bright.  This time it was the High Contrast Red Filter, but if none of the pre-sets look quite right, you can manually adjust the filter.

Now you have two layers.  A black and white and a color.  Here’s where I use the handy-dandy kill white filter on the black and white layer.  That transformed all the white in the layer to transparent and you get this:

Almost there, but just a bit too dark.  So I adjust the vibrance of the bottom layer.  That’s Image->Adjustments->Vibrance.  In this case I upped the vibrance and the saturation by 10.  Then I upped the brightness by 40 under Image->Adjustments->Brightness/Contrast.  Then I adjusted the transparency of the top layer to 80%.  And came up with this:

Okay, so maybe not an award-winning photo, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the original.

See what I mean?

Cropping helps.

The reason this works is with the transparent and black overlay, I can up the brightness and saturation of the colors I want without losing the nice dark shadows of the parts I want in shadow.  It’s a very targeted way to up the contrast on a photo.

Tutorial: Digitally coloring a hand-drawn line drawing in Photoshop

Ever since I bought my Wacom tablet, I’ve been working pretty exclusively in a digital environment.  It really makes a lot of things easier for me.  But back before my tablet, I would hand-draw the lines for an image and only add the colors on the computer.  I know lots of artists prefer to work that way and I’d like to share a couple of tricks I know to get better results from that process.

First off, you need to scan the drawing to get it into digital format.  I always scan this sort of image in greyscale at 300 resolution.  If you’re going to print the image, 300 dpi is the very minimum you want to work with.  It doesn’t hurt to make it even higher.

Let’s start with a challenge.  Let’s say that the image is too large to fit on your scanner’s bed.  As long as you have Photoshop, that’s not a problem.  You can use the photomerge feature.  I’m on Photoshop CS5, but Photoshop Elements also has it.

Scan in the two halves (or four corners) of the image so that they overlap at least some at the edges.  Save all the files somewhere you can get to and open them in Photoshop.

Then go to File->Automate->Photomerge.  Since they’re already opened, just click the button for Add Open Files.  Alternatively, you could also select the image files from your folders.  Choose the Auto radio button, if it’s not already selected.  Click OK.

Once it’s finished, merge all layers and you can close the original files.

Save this merged image file before continuing.

Make sure the image mode is RGB color, then clean up your lines.  Adjust the levels so that the lines are pure black and the page is pure white.  Or, that’s assuming you want your blacks to be pure black.  If it’s more of a pencil sketch, you might want them to be 50% or 75% black.  Whatever.  Regardless, the white needs to be 100% white.  Don’t go overboard adjusting the levels, though.  You don’t want to make the edges of the lines too pixelated.  You want to preserve those smooth shades of grey on the edges of the lines.

Erase any smudges, stray lines, etc. that you don’t want in the final picture.  You won’t be able to easily adjust the contrast later, so make sure to get the lines as you want them now

As always, remember to save often.

Now it’s time to use the most useful free plug-in there is for an illustrator working with line drawings: Mike and Yael’s Kill White.  First off, make sure that you’re not working on the background layer.  If you’re not sure, double-click on the layer to convert it to a regular layer rather than a background layer. Open up the Kill White filter and run it.

Edit:  This is a pretty old post.

I’ve since learned a better way to remove all the white from a layer using the Channels tool.  It works just as well, but without having to open PixelBender and run an add-on filter.  I talk about that here.  But the Kill White filter will also work. There are other techniques that work also. 

I also now know that you can make the white invisible by just changing the blend mode to “Darken”.  (“Multiply”, “Color Burn”, and “Linear Burn” have similar effects that will also make white invisible and which you might find useful.) Changing the blend mode is probably the easiest thing to do.  However, there are sometimes reasons you might want the white actually removed rather than merely invisible.  I usually pull the white completely out, even if I don’t strictly need to. I figure, why keep it if you don’t need it?  Occasionally it can interfere with filters or the selection tool or something.  So, I just get rid of it if I don’t need it.

Now you have a layer with all the white converted to a transparency.

Notice that it converted it cleanly?  There are no white edges around the lines.  The filter will actually convert a 50% grey pixel to a pure black pixel that’s 50% transparent.  Same thing with colors.  That means no ugly white edges.  I’ve blown the image up to 300% below to show that.

Now you have your line layer.  Create a new layer, fill it with white and position it underneath your line layer.  Think of this as your paper layer.  Create another layer and position it between your line layer and your paper layer.  This is your color layer.  Paint your colors here and they’ll be underneath the lines, but on top of the paper.  For further flexibility, you can create a new color layer for each individual color you use.  That way you can easily isolate each color and adjust it separately as necessary as you work.

Here’s another close-up.  See?  No White edges.

And there you go.  That’s how I color a line drawing with Photoshop.  I hope this makes someone’s life easier.

Post Edited Nov. 4, 2012:  Minor text changes and images added for Illustration Friday’s reblog.