Pros and cons of drawing in black and white

In the series “Digital painting from A to Z” we try to describe various drawing techniques in simple and understandable words. Today’s lesson is about drawing in black and white. This is the favorite approach of many artists, allowing to determine the main details of the picture before moving on to color.

Why use this technique?

Drawing in grayscale or “black and white painting” means that we use a limited range of grayscale instead of a full spectrum of colors.

Instead of drawing with all this beauty …

… we use only that.

Do not worry, because the task of this technique is to make your life a little easier. Among a wide variety of different colors it is easy to get confused, especially if you are new to digital painting.

Grayscale vs. Colour

You can start painting right away in color or black and white – the choice is yours, there are no rules here. However, the chosen method affects the overall process. I recommend experimenting with both and see what you like more.

Is there any difference between these two techniques? Of course!

For example, if you start painting in color, the entire drawing is designed based on a specific color scheme. At this stage, newcomers often have problems. You need to be familiar with the basic principles of color theory (–cms-20549) to be able to make the transition from the initial stages to the finished result.

Even if you make edits as you work, you still need to be sure of the direction you want to go. On the other hand, when using black and white tones, you spend all your time working on light, volume, and weight of your objects. You can also always expand the composition without worrying about color at all.

Pros and cons of drawing in black and white

If you decide to familiarize yourself with this technique, you should take into account that it has its own features.

Here are some pros and cons:

Plus: You can quickly set the light and shadow

Working with shadows is always difficult. The more complex the shadow pattern, the more headache it brings. It does not even help the simplicity of Photoshop. You get a huge number of colors to choose from, but you still need to understand which one works best for depth and shadow – this is the most difficult part.

Start painting in black and white and get rid of this headache once and for all. The main thing is to think over your drawing from the background, going to the second plan and ending with the foreground.

How to light the object? What details are more important? What kind of mood do you need a picture? Ask yourself these questions before you start drawing and continue making small edits throughout the process.

Once you have created the lighting script, you can move on to color.

Minus: Drawings are almost always too dark.

First, your drawings will always be dark. This is the problem of all newbies.

This happens because beginners associate light with white, and shadow with black. Therefore, when you try to obscure something, you use the opposite values ​​of the spectrum and get a gloomy, muddy result.

Try a few solutions.

Solution # 1: Limit your choices.

Open up Color palette (Color Picker), click on the item “AT“allowing to edit Brightness (Brightness) selected color. In the course of drawing, try not to fall below the middle of this slider to determine the light and shadow of your drawing. Avoid dark gray or black values, they complicate further staining.

Solution # 2: Study your drawings in black and white

Collect your materials and create a new one. Correction layer (New Adjustment Layer) – Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation). Lower parameter Saturation (Saturation) to -100, making the image black and white. Click the button Visibility (Visibility) adjustment layer to turn it on and then turn it off and examine the color values ​​of the pattern. Notice the relationship between black and white and the original color values.

Monika Zagrobelna told about this technique in detail in her lesson.

Plus: Easy transition to color

After the grayscale painting is finished, it’s time to paint the drawing. This can be done easily by applying several Corrective layers (Adjustment Layers) or Blending modes (Blend Modes).

Some artists only adhere to certain blending modes, for example, Chromaticity (Color) or Multiplication (Multiply). I think it would be optimal to go through the drop-down menu of blending modes and select the one that looks best.

Minus: This transition creates an obvious effect.

Sometimes I can immediately determine that the painting began in black and white. This is obvious when the shades of gray are still peeping, and the finished result looks as if one color was applied to it.

Look at these two cherries. Although they are both already in color, the second one looks less realistic. See the difference?

Now this topic is purely subjective. However, if you want to improve your work, over time you need to do something that always scares you. For example, draw in color.

This problem has two possible solutions.

Solution # 1: Use shades of gray only as a base.

If you want your color images to look realistic, you need to use more than one color. Ultimately you will see that there is no alternative. Try to consider your black and white drawing as a base. This will give plenty of room to add new layers. Yes, it also eliminates the headache when working with light and shadow at the initial stage, but for the best result it is still necessary to work with color.

Solution # 2: Study Occlusion

Look at this lesson. The black and white part of the picture was created using very light shades close to white. When studying occlusion (Ambient Occlusion) you learn to be less harsh with lighting. The result is an ideal base for the subsequent transition to color. And thanks to the light base will need less color. As a result, the drawing will be bright and realistic.

Plus: Using grayscale to practice

Now that you are completely overwhelmed by the frustration of digital painting, know that you are not alone.

When all else fails, just draw in black and white. You can still improve general techniques by using them to study nature. You can also be mastered with brushes or Photoshop tools.

If you feel comfortable with black and white painting, choose one color and go to monochrome painting. This will be an excellent alternative for the gradual mastering of colors.

The main thing – never stop practicing! It is practice that leads to perfection!

Time for a checklist!

Use black and white painting if:

  • Having trouble with color painting.
  • You can not decide on the final color schemes.
  • Want to practice / experiment with different lighting scenarios.
  • Want to practice / master the techniques of realism, drawing shadows, etc.


Today you learned about several reasons to love this technique. It allows even a beginner to feel like a master on the way to creating stunning drawings. Are you already a fan of grayscale painting? Let us know and freely leave your questions in the comments. Good luck!

Author: Melody Nieves

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