Photoshop for fashion illustration: It’s easier than you think

I don’t really fancy this style of fashion illustration but it might be a start.

Experimenting with color choicesExplore this course at


If you learned to draw with a pencil, it can be scary to make the switch to digital illustration. I’m old school and learned to draw the traditional way: with pencils, T-squares, ruling pens, and an airbrush. I fought the move to digital for a long time—until I realized the computer isn’t the evil thing I made it out to be, but a new tool to add to my box of tricks. And not just any tool, but a power tool.

The good news is that you don’t need to master Adobe Photoshop to benefit from it. Learning just a few tricks has made a huge difference in my workflow: I can accomplish tasks in Photoshop that once took hours if not days to complete. I still draw my initial sketches by hand but scan them into the computer to color. Don’t worry if you don’t have access to a scanner; you can take a photo with your smart phone and email it to yourself instead.


From my initial sketch, I start by laying in the flat colors, but there’s no longer a need to drag out my marker pens, watercolor, or gouache. I just open the Photoshop color picker and select a color. I can even save a custom palette so I never run out of paint. Then I just click on the areas I want to fill in using the Paint Bucket tool—it even stays inside the lines with no effort on my part.

Filling in flat colors

What about adding shading and highlights? There’s a tool for that: the Dodge tool (which looks like a black lollipop). Just click on it and start painting in your highlights. It really doesn’t matter what color or pattern I’m trying to highlight because this tool works by adding light, not pigment.

In the same group of tools is the Burn tool, which lets you paint in your shadow areas by removing light. This is additive mixing, not subtractive like working with pigments. I could go into the color theory behind this, but the “why” isn’t as important as this: It’s cool—and fast, too!

Shading the image with dodge/burn

Now I’m free to experiment with the colors of my rendering. I can easily select a section of my illustration and adjust the sliders in the Hue/Saturation dialog until that section changes from one color to another. All of the shading I did will be preserved, while completely changing the color of the illustration. This technique allows me to make necessary changes in minutes rather than hours—and that’s the beauty of rendering in Photoshop. If I had rendered this by hand, I’d need to go back to the drawing board and render it all over again with the new changes.

Experimenting with color choices