Sunday Mailbag

February 3rd, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I have been doing a lot of projects lately that are fairly involved, similar to the monthly posters that you do. Getting through the roughs and revisions and finally the inks is –depending on the decision making abilities of my client- fairly expedient but when it comes to adding the color it seems TO TAKE FOREVER. I expect that the color side of things would take some time but DANG!!!!!! I am just curious as to how long it takes you to get through the color process of your average poster or even a MAD project?

A: The time it takes to color something can vary so much it’s really hard to say. On average, one of my workplace posters probably takes about 8 hours to color, but I’ve had some take me only 4 hours and some 12 hours or longer. It’s mostly about two factors: how much detail is involved and how long you can stay focused.

As to detail, it makes sense that if you have a lot of small areas with different color/lighting needs, it will take longer to do. That’s obvious to everybody. Where I get caught up in time wasting is having to choose colors that make sense and work in proximity. For example, if I have a scene with multiple people in it, I will sample colors for things like clothing and accessories and try to vary them, and that’s a time waster. If the backgrounds have a lot of detail in them, that takes considerably more time than a simple background. Thanks to tricks you can do on the computer, dropping in patterns for wallpaper or carpet, granular textures for concrete or stone, or other large area color gimmicks are quick and easy. Hand-drawn brick patterns are not. You can make it easy or hard on yourself. Some images demand the hard treatment, but occasionally you can “get away” with things that make life easier. Personally, I always let the job dictate the difficulty of the color process, and figure the Law of Averages will give me equal easy and tough jobs.

I am not sure what you use to do the coloring, but I learned a long time ago if you are working digitally on something for print, it is a waste of time and effort to work at 100% zoom or closer. The CMYK printing process simply cannot reproduce that fine a detail at even magazine-level resolution (about 133 LPI). You should color your image at 300 DPI at print size, which is a little better than the recommended double the print line resolution (that would be 266 DPI). Depending on your screen resolution, working at a 50% zoom is probably plenty. The way to figure it out is to take an image that is 300 DPI at print size, and print it out as a proof. Then hold the proof up to your screen and adjust the zoom so the image you are working at looks to be about 150% of the proof’s physical size. Whatever the zoom level is at that point is your best zoom level. It might be 50%, it might be 75%. Depends on your screen’s resolution. That’s a good size so your detail will look nice and tight in print, but not so much that you will waste time painting details that will never show up in print.

That is all concerning the line and color techniques I use for those posters and for MAD. Full digital painting is another matter entirely.

As to focus, that’s just a function of staying on task. Do whatever you need to do to minimize distractions. I find it easier to keep going on something if I have an audiobook playing where I can follow the story and still concentrate on the work. I actually find the coloring stage kind of relaxing, and can sort of zone out at times and just paint.

MAD pages take a lot of time, especially splash pages. It takes me a full, LONG day to color something like this:

I can color the story pages in about 6 hours each, and that’s not rushing but taking time to do a tight job.

Thanks to Nick Nix for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. N Gomes says:

    Thanks coz even I had this question in mind, regarding time. Coming to textures’d drawn jeans in the Made-Up poster. I guess you placed jean texture in inked lines ..then removed the lines or colored over them and used burn and dodge over the texture. Is it right. Since I’ve also seen your carpets’s details with all the folds and angles. Probably there could be an entire dedicated post on this. Thanks in advance Tom!


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