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Tutorial: Separating a Drawing From Its Background

Lifting Scanned Lines Onto Their Own Layer Using Photoshop
This process works with any flat image on a single layer.


This is a pencil drawing that has been scanned. It is on one layer - black pencil lines on a white background. The problem is to separate the lines from the white background and get them on their own layer. Once on their own layer, colors can be added or painted on layers underneath the lines.


To begin, click on the Channels palette. At the bottom left there is a small circular icon. When you click it, Photoshop selects all the light areas of the drawing.

However, it is not the light or white areas that we are interested in... so, press shft-ctrl "I" to invert the selected area. Once inverted, the dark lines are selected rather than the light areas.



Next, with the area still selected, create a new layer above the scanned layer. Pick a color to fill the selected area and fill it. For this tutorial I've picked a dark brown.

The lines are now on their own layer, so it's time to delete the original image. Since it is probably on the bottom layer, simply fill that layer with white, covering over the original drawing.



You now have a white background on the bottom layer and a layer above it with the drawing's lines. To check that, turn off the bottom white layer by clicking the eye icon. You should see an image like the one at the right.


There are many different ways to approach adding color. For this tutorial I'm simply going to add flat colors on layers underneath the layer with the lines. I create four layers - for the skin tones, the hair color, the shirt color and a background color. I used a combination of the lasso tool and brushes to fill the areas.


As you can see by the image at the right, I've turned off the layer with the lines so you can see the flat nature of the color I've added.


So here's the final image. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination - in fact I prefer the black and white drawing - but I hope it has served to show how to separate a drawing from it's background.