A beginner's five first steps in recolouring

Discussion in 'Tips, Tutorials & Tools' started by Leif Oh, Sep 2, 2004.

  1. Leif Oh

    Leif Oh Member

    Jan 27, 2004
    Likes Received:
    So you have just scanned your favourite model to your favourite size, and created your own set of new originals for printing (see the article on "Scaling") - and now you want to change the colour scheme. Here is a guide in five easy steps how to at least getting started down that road.

    Presumably, you already have a good graphics programme, like Photoshop. In that program, open the print sheet you'd like to experiment with, and save it under a new name. If it is in only one layer, select all, copy, and paste. Call the new layer "Original". Select all in the underlying layer (your actual original), delete, and fill with white if necessary. Call this bottom layer your "Background".

    Here's how it looked for my first experiment, a Fly Model B-24 Liberator scaled to 1/25:


    Notice how the joints are much too visible (very heavy black). In addition, I don't like the noseart at all, and I would like a different shade of olive drab (browner, like the early versions of the B24). So let's get to work.

    1. Creating black outlines: Copy everything from your new layer "Original" and paste. Call the new layer "Outlines".

    In that layer, use the magic wand to select all coloured areas and delete. (Click the wand in one coloured area, and use "Select similar". Then delete.)

    Watch out for the wand picking up on black areas, since this will thin your outlines. In my case the standard sensitivity of 32 picked up all the subtle differences in olive and grey (resulting from scanning an already printed original), while leaving the black areas and lines largely intact.


    The area around the noseart had to be cleaned up manually with the lasso tool. In addition, some lines and dots that hadn't survived the process too well had to be augmented with black lines of suitable thickness and small dots. It doesn't matter too much if the cut-lines are a bit thin; the visible stuff is what counts.

    2. Creating a palette: Now let's go get some good colours - here's an example of a palette of USAAC 1939-1943 colours:


    I made it up from some good sources you can read about in another posting on this site. No doubt, you will want to go get some good colours from those sources yourself. But if you are eager to continue experimenting, why not copy this image for starters?

    You can actually paste the image above into the document you are experimenting with, in a separate layer called "Colours". The resolution is only 72 dpi, so if your own document is anything like my standard scan resolution of 300 dpi, it will take up a very small space. In fact, it will fit into almost any white corner of your document.

    You will find that this little manouever will simplify things greatly as we proceed.

    3. Creating olive drab & greay areas: Now use the eye-dropper tool to sample your favourite shade of olive drab (I used the "ANA 504" in this example) from the palette pasted into your document.

    In the layer "Original", again use the wand to select all olive drab areas. Now you will have to carry out some additional work with the lasso tool, since all the unselected black areas in the olive drab fields ought to be filled up as well. Work carefully, and use the cap's key for adding to your selection.

    While leaving the selection you eventually, after some considerable work, will arrive at active, create a new layer, and call it "Olive drab". Now use the "Fill" option under the "Edit" menu and in that layer fill your selected areas with the sampled "Foreground" colour.

    (I hope your graphic programme is at least remotely similar to mine; in addition to any differences, I have a Swedish version, so I might be slightly off on terminology at times...)

    The result, hopefully, will look something like this:


    Note that I have left the "Outline layer" active below the "Olive drab layer". But they are of course kept in separate layers.

    Now repeat the procedure for "Neutral grey" to create a basis for the underbelly of the craft:


    Now we have three new layers! Good work - and don't worry about things looking a bit bland at the moment, we'll soon fix that.

    4. Adding new noseart: This is where things are getting to be really interesting. A search for noseart on the web turned up a lot of rather unsavoury pickings. After discarding a huge amount I was down to choosing between a belligerent Donald Duck, and some other bomb-throwing cartoon bird, when I finally struck gold: Fifinella - the WASP personified!


    This is a photo from an actual aircraft of the emblem of the Women Auxiliary Service Pilots who ferried B24 bombers and LB30 transporters all over the place. (At the "Pretty Deadly" noseart site, "Click to Enter", and look for "Historic noseart".)

    Since I much wanted to get rid of all guns and bombs from my personal model of a Liberator anyway, I rapidly decided to make considerable design changes, converting it to an LB30 transporter, and include the WASP noseart to crown the effort.

    But it's not much good in its present shape, is it? Distorted, and in need of cleaning up. Here we go again, with the magic wand, and the lasso tool to clean everything but the emblem away. Easy work by now, after having practiced on the olive drab and grey areas.

    Is the distortion fixable? Yes, indeed. There is a tool in your programme for changing shapes in all manners of bending and twisting. Try it out, it will work remarkably painlessly.


    In order to get this far, I first pasted the noseart into the document on one side of the aircraft (into a new "Noseart" layer). Then I changed the size to what seemed right, and corrected the angle with the tool for rotation.

    Then I copied the finished result, pasted and mirrored it horizontally, and adjusted its position on the other side of the aircraft. When quite satisfied, I merged the two layers of noseart.

    A note on authenticity: The WASP emblem probably never was displayed this large on any aircraft. Judging from the original photograph it must have been placed in a rather more unobtrusive spot, and would have been much smaller in size.

    5. The finishing touches: As you can see from the last picture, I have already moved up the "Outlines" layer and placed it above the two coloured layers. The result still is not quite what I aimed for, since the outlines are too visible, the olive drab seems a bit to dark, and so does the bottom grey area. Three easy adjustments will cure this:

    a) In the "Outlines" layer, use the magic wand to select a black line. Use "Select similar" to select all black lines and areas in that layer. Now go into the "Edit" menu and fill all those lines and areas at one move with "50% grey", if you have that option. (Otherwise, try to find some similar grey colour which will work for you.)

    b) Tone down the opacity of the "Olive drab" layer to 70 percent.

    c) Tone down the opacity of the "Neutral grey" layer to 50 percent.

    And we are done!


    You may find that I have toned down the colours a bit too much. No problem, make a test print, and adjust the opacity. This is the beauty of having all colours and different parts in separate layers - you can fiddle with it for ever.

    As an example, let's try changing the olive drab colour into the "Desert scheme" of camouflage. Just sample the "Sand" colour in the palette you pasted into your document; create a new "Sand" layer; select all coloured areas in the "Olive drab" layer; keep the selection active, and in the "Sand" layer fill with the sampled colour. Make the "Olive Drab" layer invisible, and there you are:


    Just in order to demonstrate the value of fiddling, I kept the outlines in black (not filled with 50% grey), and instead reduced their opacity to 20 percent. Simpler, and the same effect, or even better, right? The sand layer is in 100 percent opacity, and the neutral grey in 50 percent opacity as before.

    Final comparison: For this I have chosen a compromise with 100 percent olive drab & neutral grey, plus outlines toned down to 25 percent black. Rich & correct colours maintained, while the joint lines are considerably toned down. Compare for the original part left untreated at the bottom:


    This has been a beginner's tips to other beginners. For the more advanced stages of recolouring (weathering effects, light reflections, etc.), I humbly leave the door open for others.

    My own next step will be to learn by fiddling how to make the outlines thinner and even less obtrusive. Anybody got at good tip?

    Leif Oh.

    Some other resources on this site, on the same subject:

    • "Color reference in Federal Standard", by Gil.
    • "Redrawing and Coloring a Model File with The GIMP", by Ryan Short, part I, and part II.
    • "Sources for correct aircraft colour schemes", by Leif Oh.
    • "Recolouring II: Converting a Vimy into G-EAOU", by Leif Oh.
  2. jleslie48

    jleslie48 Member

    Feb 8, 2004
    Likes Received:
    also, consider adding a texture to your paint area:


    here I took your finishedsand.jpg, and added a block texture followed by a
    large brick texture to the paint fill sheme, with a color match value of 11, and a 33% opacity. I also lighted up the color because the double re-paint of the textures would of made it too dark.
  3. RyanShort1

    RyanShort1 Member

    Feb 4, 2004
    Likes Received:
    Will be addressing outline stuff with the tutorial on GIMP in the articles section... which is primarily directed towards redraws that really need help. However, your post is so good, I may just refer folks to this for at least part of the tutorial.

  4. jrts

    jrts Active Member

    Mar 12, 2004
    Likes Received:
    Hi Leif

    I have a go this at the weekend so be ready for bags of dumb questions :lol:

    Love the result.