Taking your digital paintings and photos from “nice” to “HOLY WOW!” with two final layers

Not gonna lie, it’s been a personal challenge to write these article titles 100% expletive free.

Remember the thought process about light sources and shadow from this post? Well I just posted it the other day, so you should! Unsurprisingly, photography and digital painting subscribe to the same laws of physics that traditional paintings do.


So here’s one of the shots of the Bioshock Elizabeth cosplay that our team at Seamlined Studios has been working on. My colleague Dane handles the photomanipulation (his work is far more precise than mine… What can I say, I’m a painter!) and then hands it off to me for intense scrutiny and color unification.

I’m asking you for the sake of my self esteem to ignore my yet unedited face which, ah, doesn’t handle dramatic lighting terribly well from the side. I do want to make that shadow slightly less harsh before all is said and done.

Alright, this is pretty quick-and-dirty so pay attention or else you might miss it.  I’m going to create two overlay layers, one for light source and one for shadow. You will want to use a cool shade for shadow layer and a warm tint for the light layer. Of course, like all rules in art, this rule can be broken depending on the image you are compelled to create.

I’m working in Paint Tool SAI, fyi

It will take you a few tries to find the exact colors you want. I went with a dreamy purple shadow and a contrasting yellow-orange.


If you are satisfied, just quit here. As for me, I’m not quite done yet. I want to reduce the opacity on those layers to make the image look more natural. I also don’t want any colors to clip, since the highlights are so severe.

And now I feel like I want to increase my color variety by erasing some parts of each layer. I’ll gently be airbrushing away the yellow from the darker shadows, and the purple from the brightest highlights. You’ll want to do this smoothly so be careful or you’ll end up with a face streaker than a middle school girl who got into her mom’s sunless tanner.

Well there we have it. I think I am satisfied with these colors. Now to edit the jowls out of my face. Happy editing, fellow mercenaries!


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