Digital design tutorial – how I do it

When starting a new project, I like to make some sketches and images of what I want to do. I generally start with some paper sketches, but these have the disadvantage of 1. me not being a great artist and 2. being difficult to color, especially with patterned fabrics.

So generally, once the design is clearer in my head, I make a digital ‘sketch’ of what I want the finished project to look like. Below two examples of past and current projects:


In this post, I’ll attempt to show how I make my images in photoshop. A similar post was written by American Duchess, but her method is slightly different from mine. You can, of course, also use a combination of methods, just pick whatever works for you! The main difference is that I don’t have a tablet, so draw my lines differently (I’m also not as good a sketcher as she is!). My method should also work if you’re no good at drawing. I also tend to use layer masks for coloring instead of erasing outlines.

This tutorial will assume a slight familiarity with photoshop, but I’ll try to be as clear as possible, and questions are always welcome!

To start with, I always look for a base picture. This is because I’m not a great artist, and drawing with a mouse is very tricky. This shape of this base should resemble your finished vision as closely as possible. Color, etc. doesn’t matter. It’s also possible to use a combination of pictures. I tend to look for fashion plates and pictures of existent dresses. If you wish to use (modern) art, or a modern photo it would be good to first ask if you’re allowed to use the image! Especially if you’ll be posting it online.

For this tutorial, I’ll be using this dress from the Glasgow Museums. The dress I’ll be designing will have the same shape, but have a chintz dress and a plain petticoat with a ruffle at the bottom.

Damask robe a l’Anglaise with floral pattern, 18th century </br> © CSG CIC:

So let’s start with opening this image in photoshop! The picture will be your base layer. The outlines of the different ‘garments’ (dress, petticoat) will all be on separate layers. The colors will each have their own layers as well.

I always start with the outlines. To draw the outlines, I use the pen tool. This can be a bit tricky to use at first, but I’ve found it much nicer than the mouse when figured out.

To start, open photoshop, make a new document and copy your base into it. The first thing to do now is to select the brush for the lines. Select the brush tool on the left, and select your brush at the top. I personally like this ‘brush’ tool (the one bordered in blue), at the smallest size.

Screenshots 1_zpsn4jk0bdb.jpg

I always first check if my line won’t be too wide by drawing a bit. In this case, I find it a bit too thick. The pencil can’t be smaller (it’s already at size 1), so let’s make the base image a bit bigger. (First, to remove the line, undo one step or use ctrl-z)

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To do this, select Image -> Image size. I generally just enlarge the image by 2 by setting it to 200 percent.

Screenshots 3_zpsg3oqbcen.jpg

Now lets start making the line. First, switch to the Pen tool in the left toolbar. Click where you want your line to start, a small square will appear here. Next, click where you want the first section of line to end. You will see the two dots connected like this. (It’s a very thin grey-ish line)

Screenshots 4_zps99e0n1xp.jpg

The problem now is that the line is straight, but I want it to follow the neckline. To do this, you don’t release the mouse on the second click, but drag it away to the side. You will see the thin line becoming curved. Drag it until the line is at the right place, and then release the mouse. It’ll look something like this.

Screenshots 5_zps8ffsgfnp.jpg

It’s now following the curve. The great thing about the pen tool is that it will make the next curve nicely follow the last one. That’s also the annoying thing about the pen tool, because it’s not always what you want. To give an example, if my next click is somewhere above the last point, it’ll do this.

Screenshots 6_zpsnbzji3sh.jpg

You can see the curve between the second and last point. If you don’t want this, but just want a straight line from the second to third point, you can press ALT and click on the second point before you make the third. You’ll see that one of the ‘guidelines’ sticking out from that point will disappear. This is what it’d look like.

Screenshots 7_zpssol2vthe.jpg

From this point, you can keep clicking where you want your line to come. I usually do this in small parts, so I don’t select the entire outline at once. In this case, my first segment is the neckline and part of one sleeve.

Screenshots 8_zps8ifxn7op.jpg

I now want to turn this guideline (path) into an actual black outline. First, make a new empty layer for the lines in the layer menu bottom left. Next, right-click on the path and select ‘Stroke’. Make sure the ‘Tool’ is set to ‘Brush’, and that your foreground color (bottom left square) is the color you want the outline to be (black). Then click OK.

Screenshots 9_zpskbcuuitv.jpg

You will now see the black outline in the same place as the path!

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To continue, first delete the path you just made. You can do this by pressing Enter, or right-click on the path and delete. Continue on making paths, stroking them and deleting paths until you’ve outlined the whole dress. Don’t do the petticoat yet, as this will be a different layer. General guideline: everything which needs to be a different color on a different layer. The whole dress done:

Screenshots 11_zpsjmgmtvkn.jpg

For the petticoat lines, make a new layer and do the missing lines same as the dress. In this case that’s just the hem. I also drew a squiggly line to mark the top of where I want my ruffles to be. These type of lines are easier using the mouse and the brush tool.

Screenshots 12_zpsmfcwsyac.jpg

The ruffle still looks a bit weird, some lines resembling the pleats can improve the image a lot. Always try to draw there ruffle or pleat lines in a new layer! This will make it easier to color everything the same color later on.

After all the lines are drawn, you can hide the base layer, getting this outline!

Screenshots 13_zps7ob5abzv.jpg

Now it’s time for coloring! The dress will be a chintz fabric. I usually just google for images resembling the fabric I want to use. In this case, it’s a chintz from Betina Printing.

Copy the image onto a new layer, underneath the layers with the outlines.

Screenshots 14_zpsy1oqaeoz.jpg

It’s not quite big enough, but I like the scale. If the print is too big, just make the picture smaller. Then I just copy that print layer and move the copies to fill the whole dress. I generally don’t look too much at seamless lines, you barely see it anyway with a busy print like this.

Screenshots 15_zps8nnpatix.jpg

The whole dress is filled! Now, first make sure all the prints are on the same layer again. You can merge layers by selecting all layers you want to merge and clicking ‘Merge layers’.

Screenshots 16_zps8ax6hldg.jpg

Now let’s make sure only the dress is colored. We’ll do this with layer masks. For now, hide the layer with the print on it. Select the ‘wand’ tool from the toolbar left. Make sure that at the top, both ‘Contagious’ and ‘Sample all layers’ are on. (Tolerance can be low, 0 even).

Screenshots 17_zpsqaf1gxdg.jpg

We’re now going to select all the areas within the dress, so the areas we want colored by the chintz. Click on one part at a time. To add the next part, hold SHIFT while you click. This will add the selection to your current one, instead of replacing it.

Screenshots 18_zps4kliurgt.jpg

Once you’ve got the whole dress selected, you can make the selection a tiny bit larger. This will make sure the color will go up to the line, and not stop a couple of pixels before. To do this, click Select -> Modify -> Expand. Set it to 1 pixel, that should be enough, and click OK.

Screenshots 19_zpshjsambfj.jpg

Now, for the magic! Turn on your fill layer again, and go to this layer. At the bottom of the layer menu, there’s a ‘Mask’ button. The little black square with a white circle inside. If you click that button, a layer mask will be added. This will hide all the non-selected parts of your document, making sure only the parts of the dress are still visible!

Screenshots 20_zpslwv0huio.jpg

Similarly, you can also color the same way just using a solid color. We’ll do that for the petticoat. Add another layer (below the lines), and fill this with the color you want the garment to be.

Screenshots 21_zpsntonchgt.jpg

Now we’ll do the same thing again, starting with hiding the color layers. Then, hide the layer on which you drew ruffles etc. This will make the selecting process easier!

Screenshots 22_zpsnrocltep.jpg

Select the entire petticoat, enlarge the selection by 1 pixel, un-hide the color layer, select that layer and click ‘Mask’ in the layer menu.

Screenshots 23_zpskakxhb6j

Unhiding the color for the dress and the ruffles, you’ve now got a basic design done.

Screenshots 24_zpsvlobbrpw.jpg

What if you change your mind, or want to compare different colorways? It’s quite easy to add another color option. (Of course, for the fill layer, you can also just fill the layer with another color. This option will keep both versions though).

Let’s try to give the dress a solid red color. First make a new layer for the red, and fill this with the chosen color.

Screenshots 25_zpsdm6y4r2i.jpg

Now we want to give this layer the same mask as the original dress layer. You can, of course, repeat the whole process, but there’s also an easier way. Hold CTRL on your keyboard, and click the mask layer for the dress. (So the one with the black-white outline!). Doing this will select all the white parts of that particular layer. In this case, the dress!

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Now you can just go back to your color layer and click ‘Mask’ again to apply the mask!

Screenshots 27_zpslsmldyb6

You can switch layers to compare versions, or you can copy the whole image (Select everything, Image -> Select merged) to a new document. This is usually what I do, so I can see the versions side-by-side and choose which one I like best.

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This is basically how I do my digital designs! I personally find it very useful to see colors and patterns applied side-by-side when picking a design. I hope this was helpful.


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