How I Create Grayscale Books

I’ve received questions about my grayscale coloring books and thought I’d talk a little bit about how I make my books.

What is grayscale?  Grayscale is essentially an image that is not just line art but also retains some of the darks and lights in a picture.  I consider grayscale coloring like coloring on training wheels because having these gray colors showing where darks and lights are helps take the guesswork out of  shading.  I find coloring grayscale makes complex images easier to color, allowing me to relax and fall into coloring rather than stressing about where the light source is and where the shadows and lights in the image will go.

What is involved in making a grayscale coloring page?  There is a lot more to it than just removing color.  I spent a while researching how to do the best grayscale processing for coloring.  There are many ways to edit an image to change it to black and white, but not all give good colorable results.  In the Arthur Rackham illustration from an upcoming book below I show the most common way I see grayscale done (on the left) and the same original image after several rounds of processing I put it through to create a quality colorable grayscale page (on the right).

Grayscale Coloring

Common processing on left, my work on right

You’ll see there is a big difference in the images, you can see a lot more detail in the image on the right.  The dark areas and skin tones are a lighter color as well, leaving room for more luminous color in your finished page.  If you’ve noticed some colored grayscale pages having skintones that look rather gray and that the whole picture shows a gray cast to it, this is the reason why – they started out with an image that wasn’t really processed for coloring.

Other things I also do when I work on a page are painstakingly restoring the original work, as the usual images I work with are usually more than 100 years old they are bound to have damage or imperfections due to aging.  After restoration and cleanup, I do several rounds of preparation to get an image ready for coloring.   I use 5 different pieces of software to make my grayscale books.  I work hard to keep as many of the original nuances of the original artist’s work as possible.  I had someone ask why I don’t make my pages more smooth and perfect, but I want them to look as much as possible like the original with the only changes being processing it so it can be colored.  After the book is finished and assembled, I order a proof and test the hard copy by coloring some of the book.  If the image is too dark, I will go back to the files and work on them again and order another proof.  I do this several times until the images are just right, not too dark, not too light.  It takes me months to make a good quality grayscale book, but I think the results are worth it.  Many colorists have mentioned that my books are their first grayscale and that they fell in love with grayscale as a result.

Another question I receive regards what is public domain.  Public domain images are ones that are not subject to copyright laws.  What constitutes public domain is a very complex question.  A quick rule of thumb in the US and most of the world is that art enters the public domain 70 years after the artist’s death.  So even if an image is 70 years old, that is no guarantee that the image is public domain, it could have been created early in the artist’s career and the artist could even be still alive.  Some items (such as the King James Bible, for example) have perpetual copyright and cannot be used regardless of their age.  So thorough research needs to be done to determine whether an image is truly public domain.  I hand draw most of my books myself, but for my Vintage Grayscale series I use vintage images that were created 100 or more years ago.  I work to carefully research public domain rights for all the images in my books and also credit the original artist in the title and interior of my books.  My grayscale books are copyrighted, and the reason why is that even though I started out with a public domain image, by the time I restored and processed the image to convert it to a colorable page, it is a derivative work, no longer the same as the original image.  So the copyright in my books covers the many hours of work I do to process the original vintage image into high quality colorable grayscale.

There are many grayscale books out there.  There is a huge difference in quality.  Look carefully to make sure that the books you buy to color have images that are legally sourced, and that the images are processed precisely for grayscale coloring rather than merely having the color removed.  Sourcing quality grayscale books will result in a more enjoyable coloring experience and top quality finished colored pages.

5 thoughts on “How I Create Grayscale Books

  1. rdrlv says:

    Loved this article Ligia. Will be more careful on my grayscalebuys. But now you have me interested in yours. I will put it in my wish list, for sure
    Thank you so much
    ConnieO’Keefe Edwards


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