Coloring and Shading Spectickles Cartoons, From Start To Finish, Part 1

Coloring and Shading Spectickles Cartoons, From Start To Finish, Part 1

I’ve been asked a number of times on social media about how I color my cartoons. In my last article, “Creating a Spectickles Cartoon From Start To Finish”, I described how I drew the physical, or analog version of the cartoon using old fashioned Bristol board and a fountain pen. In this multi-part article, I’ll describe in detail how I color my Spectickles cartoons, starting with the foundational formatting required.

​First, a few notes regarding the equipment and software that I use for coloring. As mentioned above, the cartoon itself starts traditionally with pen and ink. Once the initial artwork is completed, I scan it into my computer with an older Epson Artisan 710 multi-function copier/scanner/printer. The settings for scanning are black and white at 400 dpi. The computer I use for my artwork is a Surface Pro 5, replacing my Surface Pro 4 which fell out of the backseat of my truck without any protective case. I chose poorly. My Surface Pro 5 is now encased in an Otter Box case, which, to my understanding will replace my Surface Pro if it breaks while the Otter Box is in use. I hope I don’t find out.

​The software I use is the Clip Studio Paint Pro program from Smith Micro. It’s a fantastic program for cartoonists and artists, and at a one-time cost of around $50, it’s far cheaper than the Adobe Creative Suite and Photoshop, and, in my opinion, better and more intuitive for our uses. On a side note, there’s a free program called Krita that I’ll be writing about in the future that’s stacking up very well with the other professional art program, and again, it’s absolutely free. As a career military man, I’ve found it useful in instruction to explain things in as great a detail as possible, so that anyone could pick up a set of instructions and put into action its contents immediately. That’s what I’ve tried to do here, so even if you have no experience with coloring digitally, these descriptions will guide you through and answer questions before they’re asked. For those who are experienced and skilled in digital art, you’ll almost certainly know better and more efficient ways to produce these results, and I hope you’ll share that with me and our readers in the comments section below.

The Surface Pro 5 tablet/computer that is the digital workhouse for my cartooning. I draw and color directly on the screen with the digital pen you see magnetically attached to the side of the Surface Pro.

The digital pen that’s part of the Surface Pro creative system. At the time I purchased the Surface Pro 4, the tablet came with the pen included. For some unfortunate reason, when I purchased the Surface Pro 5, the pen was a separate cost of $99. Hopefully, they’ll abandon that pricing model and go back to including it with the tablet, as part of the tablet’s normal functional system.

Okay, getting into the meat and potatoes of coloring a Spectickles cartoon: first, I open the Clip Studio Paint Pro Program and as you see circled in red above, I go to ‘file’, then in the drop-down, select ‘open’ and choose the cartoon I just scanned as you’ll see below.


Here’s the untouched scan of the cartoon I’d drawn in pen and ink. There’s a great deal of white space around the edges that I’ll need to trim away.

To trim away the unnecessary white space surrounding the cartoon block, you’ll see in the image above where I’ve circled ‘edit’. When you click on that, you’ll see a dropdown box with a number of editing choices. For the sake of trimming away the extra material, select, ‘Change Canvas Size’.

After selecting, ‘Change Canvas Size’, you should see something like the image above, with a small window on the left to allow you to enter a precise number of pixels for the width or height.

Rather than selecting a pixel dimension in the small window, you’ll see the small tabs on the edges of the image that I’ve circled in red. An alternative, and the method I use, is to ‘grab’ those tabs and pull them in to the area I want them, thereby cutting away unnecessary white space on the edges of the image, as you’ll see below.

Once you’re satisfied with the trimming of the image, click ‘okay’ in the ‘Change Canvas Size’ window, leaving the image ready for the next step, adding dialogue.

In the image above, you’ll see where I circled and pointed in red 3 different areas to have a look at. First, for my Spectickles cartoons, I use Times New Roman for the gag line, and the lettering is sized at 30 pixels, as seen in the uppermost red circle. Next, in the bottom circle, I make sure the color of the text is selected; in this case, it’s black. Now I’m ready to add the text, so in the middle red circle is the ‘text’ selection symbol. Click on that, then position your cursor at the point you wish to begin your text line.

Once your text line is typed, you’ll be able to resize or position using the green tabs surrounding the text box. Just click on a tab and pull it away toward the edge of the window to make it larger, or push it in on itself to reduce the size. You can also reposition the text window itself.

When you’re happy with your gag line, click on the circle I’ve indicated above. Once you’ve done that, you’ll notice the text window is still active – just click on any of the tools on the left to deactivate. I usually just click on the top-most tool, the pen tool.

Now that your gag line is complete, you’ll want to trim away the extra white space below it, and just as we did before, we go to ‘edit’, the ‘Change Canvas Size’, then adjust accordingly and click ‘ok’ to close the window and move on to the next step.

We’ll cover layers in much greater detail in our next article, but for now, we need to note that the active layer, after just finishing our gag line, is the text layer. Since the next step requires us to manipulate the image, not the text, we’ll need to click on the bottom layer.

Once you’ve clicked on the bottom layer, it should be highlighted, as you see circled above, and therefore active, ready for us to make changes as necessary.

For newspapers, I have to provide two versions of every Spectickles cartoon; a black and white version for print newspapers, and a full color version for their webpages. For the black and white version to work as a stand-alone cartoon, it needs more bold black to stand out and to give the image greater fullness. I’ve circled the areas above to indicate the items that typically appear in bold black in the black and white print version of Spectickles.

Since I have to create two complete cartoons every single day, seven days a week – each one with multiple versions, I have to work as efficiently as I know how. One of the very handy tools I use to fill in areas with color (in this instance, black), is the ‘paintbucket’ tool, which I’ll explain below.

Before we use the ‘paintbucket’ tool, there’s something we have to do first. We have to ‘seal’ the areas within which we intend to fill with black. As indicated by the red circles above, when I drew the hard copy version of the cartoon, I didn’t extend the black lines all the way so that they connect with another black line, thereby ‘sealing’ that area. If you don’t do this step, when you use the ‘paintbucket’ tool, it won’t know where you want the paint to stop. Just as with real paint, if you pour it onto a surface with nothing to block its flow, it’ll just keep going.

In the image above you can see (compare with the image above this one) where I used the Surface Pro pen and connected the black line, effectively ‘sealing’ the area I intend to fill with black using the ‘paintbucket’ tool.

On the left are the row of tools available in Clip Studio Paint Pro. You can see in the uppermost red circle the ‘paintbucket’ tool which looks, ironically, like a paint bucket. Below that, make sure you’ve selected black as the fill color for the black and white version of the cartoon.

Hover the paintbucket tool over the area you wish to fill with black, left click, and there you have it – the area is filled with black. It’s a super important time saver when you have a great deal of work to finish.

If you’ve made a mistake, or forgot to ‘seal’ an area to be filled, the red circle above indicates the ‘undo’ button – click on it once and it undoes whatever you’d like undone. The nice thing about the ‘undo’ button in Clip Studio, is that it will undo as many things as you wish – there’s no limit just in case you’ve made a mistake well back in your process. In Photoshop, there’s a limited number of things you can ‘undo’.

Very, very important – don’t forget to save your work – indicated in the red circle above. As I’ve learned the hard way many times, save frequently, so you won’t have to waste lots of time doing work you’d already satisfactorily completed.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll get into the meaning and use of layers, how to create them, putting down the flat colors, then shading, and saving them. Thank you for reading this


  • Adrian Zuniga Posted April 19, 2018 12:39 am

    You explained the process very well. I work similar to you as well, except I just work straight into the Surface Pro 4. These tablets are an amazing tool.

    • Bill Abbott Posted May 15, 2018 7:31 am

      They certainly are – it would be so much harder to create the work without them.

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