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  • Writer's pictureIvan Mariev

Coloring over 3D render in Casual Style

Coloring over 3D render is mainstream in "Casual graphics" creation. Many digital artists use this convenient pipeline, but I have noticed that not every digital artist always manages to take full advantage of this way.

Let me show you my method. Of course, it's only my opinion based on my personal experience. And also this approach is more suitable for the industrial production of a large number of game items.

Step one. Take the time to set up your lighting

This is obvious, but often this step is skipped in the hope of fixing the raw render at the painting stage. Good light and as a result, pleasant shadows will save a lot of time in the next stages.

The image should look great already at the render stage

It's boring and obvious, but I have to say it. Adjust the light and material of the subject so that there is no pure black in the shadows and no pure white in the highlights.

It's very easy to adjust the density of the shadows and the luminance of the highlights in the Photoshop, but it's impossible to do anything with the blacks and whites areas of the surface.


It is very convenient for further painting. A little bit later you will see it.

Of course, you can skip this step and don't bother if the object is very simple or you only need to color one icon in the interface. But imagine that you have to color 100 objects, and every time you need to create a lot of masks in Photoshop manually.

How to render layer by layer into one PSD depends on the particular 3D program. But I'm sure it can be done in any 3d editor. In my case, this is Blender or Lightwave3d. If interested, I can describe the layered rendering pipeline in Blender in the next article. Leave comments.

Step three. Base coloring (coloring, not painting)

It's very easy! Select the layer you want to color and go to Layer Styles (Photoshop)

Color Overlay + Blend Mode

For the base coloring, I am using the "Color Overlay" option. By changing "Blend Mode" you can manage the result that you want. You can color by using "Blend Mode - Color" and after that, you can make it brighter by using "Blend Mode - Add" and so on.

A few minutes later:

It's okay, but not fine! Looks like matte plastic.

Step four. Glossiness&shadows

looking at the previous image, it is obvious that it's time to work with highlights and shadows and make the image more "alive". In the beginning, I said that it is worth using a gray material without bright white and without dense black. And now it could helps.

1 - Normal, 2 - Shadow, 3 - Highlight

From each of our layers, we can create two new layers. One will be the highlight layer, the other one - the shadow layer. We just duplicate the main layer two times and edit them by "Levels" tool. Most often you only need a layer with a highlight, but sometimes a layer with a shadow comes in handy.

For the highlight layer, we use the "ADD" layer blending mode, and for the shadow layer, we use the "Multiply" layer blending mode. Adjust the transparency of the layers to achieve the desired result. It is important to remember, that the transparency of the ADD layer is regulated by "Fill", not "Opacity".

A few minutes later:

Better, but still not enough "alife"!

Step five. finally take a brush and "polish" a little

No comments. Just do what you think is necessary to achieve a good result. But don't get carried away :)

A small part of the collection's items

Everything is very simple and fast enough!

As I said at the beginning, this approach is good for relatively simple objects, but for something complex, you will have to work more thoroughly with a brush, of course.

Additional hints

You can also use the Gradient Map for basic coloring. But it is really more difficult and may take more time. In addition, it is easier to make a mistake with the density of shadows on an object.

If you want to make shadows cooler and highlights warmer, I would recommend the following method instead Gradient Map. Use the layer as a mask.

Very rough example:

Simply create a mask from the layer you are painting and use it with any adjustment layers. Not necessarily color balance, but HUE/Seturation and whatever you want.

Using this technique, you have a large selection of tools and the ability to fine-tune. Do not forget that in order to achieve the desired results, the mask needs to be adjusted with the Levels tool. By the Level tool, you can adjust the zone of influence of the adjustment layer.

In conclusion

I believe, working with 3d renders is not about drawing, but more about design/coloring. The main goal is to achieve results without spending a lot of time. And besides, do not spoil the render by excessive repainting.

Hope it was helpful!

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