Tonal Correction and Color Theory Tools


Hello again! this is my second tutorial… ideal to better understand color in general!
For the first time I made a video on YouTube summarizing these contents! you can access it below (it has ENGLISH SUBTITLES available!)

First of all, let's talk a bit about color theory. This is important because it is a universal visual language that we are so used to that we can distinguish it without thinking. The important thing for an artist is to understand this language and use it to better convey the message of his art.
Clip Studio's tonal correction tools can help you precisely tweak tones to be as effective as possible!

Language and Basic Concepts

Value or Brightness

The value is called the amount of light that a tone (color) has. Black, white and grayscale are used as a reference to convey the brightness of an image without being influenced by color contrasts. For this reason it is a frequent resource for artists to convert the image they are working with in grayscale, or to start their illustration by painting in grayscale, to establish a well-balanced contrast ratio between the elements and thus direct the gaze.

For this technique, the gray scale is used, whose extremes are black and white, because it is the gradient that contains at the same time the lightest possible tone (white) and the darkest possible tone (black). No other color scale could reach these extreme values, since for example yellow, although it is the lightest color, does not replace white and is also incapable of reaching the dark tone of black; on the other hand, violet or blue, although they are dark colors and are quite close to black, cannot be as bright as white. (This only applies if we are talking about the purest state of color, without white, black or other mixed color).
The difficulty appears when we speak of luminosity in a color, and not in achromatic tones (white, gray and black). There are colors that, being different, have the same luminosity (that is, the same value) and are distinguished from each other by their tone. This is an important thing to keep in mind because it can change the entire structure of an image if you're not careful. (A small example of this is in the section on Color Harmonies)

Color or Tone

Digital colors are usually arranged according to the color wheel as a color guide that shows the transition from one color to another. Clip Studio has this organized in a color wheel, and in the center of this wheel the chosen tone and the variants of this tone are shown towards white and towards black.

This way of selecting colors can be insufficient or very difficult if you are looking for a specific color that combines several different shades. For example, if you were looking for a salmon tone, in the colored ring it is difficult to find the middle point between orange and red, with the extra complexity of later looking for the luminosity of the tone on the scale that goes towards black and white in the center of the ring. The ideal solution for this is the “Neutral Color” palette tool, where we can manually select the extremes of the color gradient we are looking for. Thus, we can place red on one end, orange on the other, and white and black on the other two respectively. In this way, we have a good variety and a perfect gradient: so it is much easier to find the color you were looking for !! I highly recommend trying different colors to find new shades! (To see why this is so important, wait until you read about color harmonies and especially complementary colors)


It's about the feeling that gives a tone. In general, the range from yellow to reddish purple (on the color wheel or chromatic circle) is associated with warm colors, that is, they transmit heat. The gradient between greenish yellow and violet is associated with cold colors. However, depending on the color scheme, warm blues can exist in the same way as cool reds, and this is related to a change in hue saturation. To achieve this type of effect, a color is generally combined with its opposite, analogous or opposite analog tone, we will talk about this later.

Color saturation and purity

It is said that a color is saturated when it is in its purest state, that is, without being combined with white, black or colors that alter its nature. For example, in the case of opposite colors on the color wheel, mixing them would produce tones that are close to brown or gray, removing saturation from the initial tone (this is especially noticeable when working with traditional media, be careful! With real paint the tones that result from these mixes are much darker!). These “dirty” tones are called neutral or broken and ultimately it is a mixture, at least in a minimal proportion, between the three primary colors (cyan, magenta and yellow; or red, blue and yellow depending on the circle being used. ).
Mixing with black and white is usually included within the term "desaturation" to indicate that it is not the pure color, but in reality it is a change in the luminosity (value) of the same tone, and not a color change.


Contrast refers to the difference that can be seen between one color and another when they are next to each other. The contrast, when we talk about color, is given by luminosity (value), by tone (color) and saturation (purity). When working with light and shadow, this difference is crucial to be able to generate a path for the gaze within the image, since naturally we tend to see the points of the image that have the highest contrast first (that is, where two tones show the greatest difference in brightness and hue from each other). (There is an example of this in the section "Harmonies"). It is very interesting to see how, if we convert the image to grayscale, the contrast can disappear depending on the colors that have been chosen!

Color harmonies

It refers to the groups of colors that, due to their characteristics, look better and are more efficient when combined. Keeping color harmony in mind helps the image to be read more fluently. A color that does not fit also attracts the eye and the artist risks losing sight of the points of interest he wants to establish, so it is good to select a harmonic palette beforehand and use it strategically to help the composition of the image. Understanding this you will be able to create harmonic palettes looking for the precise colors with the tonal correction tools!

In these examples we can see how, in the first image, the character's fur is lost in the background, the magenta and green are too saturated and therefore compete with each other; the ground also competes in saturation with the orange in the background and draws attention in such a way that we lose sight of the fox's eyes. The chromatic circle in this case shows us how the chosen colors are widely separated from each other.
In the second image, the dark tone of the ground and the bright tone of the background make the character detach and stand out; the desaturation of magenta and green makes them combine well and complement each other, without competing with each other; orange stands out since it is in a medium in which there is a dominance of shades between magenta and violet, and because of how it is distributed it generates a diagonal line that brings the gaze to the eyes and hands of the character. The chromatic circle in this case, shows us three colors close to each other, and one on the opposite side that helps the contrast in the points of interest.

* Important recommendation: if you are not sure which colors to use, paint each color in different layers so that you can modify each one separately with the help of the tonal correction tools! If you paint traditionally, try combining colors on a separate sheet before bringing them into your painting.

There are a variety of established ways to select harmonic palettes (and I highly recommend researching them online!), But in this case I am going to talk about the ones that I consider the most basic, frequent and useful when using color correction tools.

1) Complementary colors: refers to two opposite colors on the color wheel; for example magenta and green.
2) Adjacent complementary colors: refers to when we take a tone and oppose it to the tones adjacent to its complement; for example if we take magenta and combine it with yellow-green and blue-green instead of green.
3) Analogous colors: very close colors within the sequence of the color wheel, for example: yellow, orange and red.

* Adjacent: it is said of the thing that is next to the other.

In these small examples I used almost pure colors, with little variation in luminosity.

When it comes to shading and lighting a color, there are two great resources: with color or with value.
It is said that you do not have to shade or highlight with value because this gives it an artificial look. In addition to its own color, all elements reflect the tonality of the environment or nearby objects. To generate shadows without (or with less) black and lights without (or with less) white, it is better to mix with the color toned towards its complementary tone, that is, opposite in the color wheel; or bring the tone to an analogous or adjacent color. This strategy will generate colors that are much more harmoniously integrated with the others and that are much more varied. I think that the combination of these two techniques is the best in digital media, because the colors do not get as dirty as when working traditionally.

The neutral color tool is perfect in this situation to find shades that differ slightly from the color we are using in the direction of its complementary or its analog. By placing the original color on one edge, and another on the opposite edge diagonally, the color gamut will help to set the tone much better for shadows and lights of different colors. (The explanation about this tool is in the subtitle "color")

Tonal correction tools

Now that we have the necessary information to understand the concepts used in color treatment, let's take a look at the tonal correction tools! I'm going to show you the ones I use the most.
Let's first see where to find them and a short description of what they do:

1) Brightness and contrast: the first parameter is used to lighten the tones, and the second to highlight the difference between light and dark tones

2) Hue, saturation and lightness: the first axis modifies the color. The second is the purity (saturation) of the color, turning towards gray and towards the purest state of the selected colors. . The third axis modifies the luminosity (value) of the image, being able to move it towards black or white.

3) Level correction: this tool allows us to reduce the distance between the low and high values, allowing also to correct the midtones. It is a horizontal axis with three nodes; black, medium gray and white. By moving these nodes, we modify the luminosity of the image with more precision than in the previous tool. (The nodes look like little upward arrows that appear below the horizontal axis of the level correction)

4) Tone curve: this tool is very useful to balance the light and the dark in an image, without losing the color saturation. The quadrant has the darkest tones on its lower left edge and the lightest on the upper right edge: to see the changes you have to modify the straight line that joins these two points and turn it into a curve. Upwards it illuminates, downwards it darkens.

5) Color balance: helps correct tones. In this way, we have three axes of modification that allow us to modify the color of the selected layer, taking it towards the primary and secondary colors. In addition, we can select which tones to modify more: lights, midtones or shadows. This also helps us a lot when it comes to correcting saturation.

6) Binarization: extrapolates the tones to black and white. This can be very useful to help correct shading so that volume is better understood. Gives the image the appearance of an ink comic.

These changes can be applied both to a specific layer and to the entire document.
To apply to a specific layer, you have to select the layer, open the correction menu you need as we saw before and the changes will simply be subject to that layer. WATCH OUT! These changes are destructive, that is, they are applied to the layer by modifying it completely.

To apply changes to the entire document, we must select the Layers menu in the upper row of the work area. Then select the option "new correction layer" and choose the editing mode you want. Once created, this layer can be moved around in the layer list and its effects will be applied to all the layers below it. This method brings the advantage of being able to be combined with layer masks, in such a way that we can manually select the area that we want to be affected by the modifications. Also, it is NOT destructive and it is enough to hide the modification layer to recover the previous state of the image!

WATCH OUT! Depending on how you apply the correction layers, their changes will be applied to different parts of your painting. If you don't want the correction layer to act on all the layers below it, you can limit the number of layers it affects by placing them within a group (layers not within this group will not be affected by the correction layers that are within the group).

1) Having applied the mask to the entire group, it works as a clipping of both the correction layers and the paint. The mask is applied to all the layers contained in the group
2) Having applied the masks to each correction layer within the group, we can select the area of effect of the changes that each layer exerts on the paint. Each mask is applied to the layer it is on, and the group makes the changes only apply to the layers that are inside it (don't forget to put the layers you want to modify inside this group!)

Take advantage of these resources to try different settings to help you create harmonious color combinations.

The color correction tools complement the layer blending options very well. For example, one of the most common resources for shading is selecting a color and setting the layer in multiply mode. With tonal correction you can change the color of that layer without losing information. This goes for any other blending mode, of course. Let's see some examples:

How I use proofing tools

You can combine all these tools that we have been studying to achieve the result you want with the least possible effort and investment of time. I share the colors and blending modes that I used for one of the paintings that I was using as an example. My process is a bit chaotic and messy, but what matters is reaching a good result, right?

Once all the changes with colors and layer modes are in place, I like to further strengthen the tones using correction layers that help me to subtly modify the colors in the image and make them more vibrant and sharp. The differences are subtle, but the overall effect is quite different! The biggest changes I see are in its sharpness and also a bit in saturation.

Recommendation for scholars

It is common to see artists painting the same image with different light settings and it is totally a necessary exercise when you are learning! Paint a version with spot colors in midtones and try different blending modes for layers and colors! Look for references from photos or other artists to study where it comes from and what color the light has; then use whatever tonal correction tools you need to experiment with different shades of light and shadow until you are satisfied. I share my approach to this exercise, which helped me a lot to prepare this tutorial:

Thank you for reading this far! maybe I strayed a bit from the main topic towards the end… but it is difficult for me to talk about one thing without also talking about the other… I think that the work is enriched a lot if the tonal correction tools are combined with the layer blending modes!
If you like my work, you can follow me on my drawing Instagram: @barbara_brutti_ilustraciones



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