How to Master Coloring with Gradient Maps!





Hello everybody, I’m professor Crimsy and welcome to our tenth Clip Studio Paint tutorial!


In today’s class I will teach you everything you need to know about gradient maps and how effective this feature is for quickly and efficiently coloring and editing greyscale illustrations. And since May is the month of bunnies for me I drew a greyscale portrait of my zombie bunny girl Absynth just for this occasion!

First, we will cover what gradient maps are and what makes them so worth learning about, then we will do an overview of the gradient map window and all its settings and lastly we will go over every step and tips you need to know in order to turn a greyscale artwork into a vivid and colorful illustration just like the one featured below!

We got a lot to cover for this feature alone, so without further ado, let’s begin the ritual!

Gradient maps overview

The gradient map is a feature you can find in Clip Studio Paint by going to the ‘’Layer’’ menu at the bottom of the ‘’New Correction Layer’’ sub-menu. You may also select any of your layers or folders, right click it, go to ‘’New Correction Layer’’ and create your gradient map from there for the same result.

As the gradient map window opens, a new correction layer along with a white layer mask will automatically be created on top of the layer that was previously selected. Keep this layer mask as it will be important later on to isolate the different parts of our characters as we selectively apply gradient maps to it.

The cool thing about correction layers is that they are non-destructive. This means that even if you press OK and apply these settings to your art, you can always go back to the correction layer, double-click on it and re-open the gradient map window to make new changes to it. It’s also good to note that you can access gradient maps through the ‘’Edit’’ menu, but I personally don’t ever use this method because instead of creating a correction layer, it just applies your gradient map effect to your layer and you can no longer edit the result after, so let’s forget about that one.

Alright, so once your gradient map is created, you should immediately notice a change in the tones of your artwork. For instance here, mine got visibly darker. This is because the gradient map window offers an instant preview of our current settings and how they affect my artwork in real time.

Why use gradient maps?

So, let’s cut to the chase, what makes the gradient map feature so worth learning about?


Well, there are a plethora of reasons, but the short answer is speed and versatility. To put it simply, with the use of this gradient bar right here at the top, you can essentially re-assign entirely new color values to all the values already present in your canvas. For example, you could say ‘’I don’t want my lineart to be black anymore, I want it dark blue instead’’, so you go to the very first little arrow node at the darkest level of the gradient bar, you click on it, then you go to that color box here and you go pick a dark Blue color.

And just like that, all the black areas in your artwork will now have their values changed to dark blue.

And you can do this for every tonal value in your artwork, be it white or all the gray tones in-between. This feature basically allows you to do as many color iterations to your art as you want at the click of a button.

The many uses of gradient maps

Indeed, gradient maps have many uses, here are a few of them.

1. Color manga pages.

2. Create quick color variations in your concept art.

3. Experiment with the mood of a piece before committing to colors.

4. Add a color filter to a piece that’s already finished or completely change its mood altogether. (yes gradient maps work on colored images too!)

5. And, of course, as we will be covering today, you can entirely color a greyscale artwork from scratch only using gradient maps.

The gradient map window settings

But, before we dive into the meat of today's tutorial, let’s first go over the gradient map window and all of its settings to better understand how to set up and manage your gradient maps.

The gradient bar

First, right at the top, we got our gradient bar, which gives us a preview of our gradient currently being used. Each little arrow below it, also called a node, represents a color value in your gradient which is displayed in the color box here once you select it. These nodes can be moved to any position along the bar and new nodes can be created simply by clicking along the increments below the bar.

Tips on selecting the right colors for your gradient

Another important thing to mention about the gradient bar is the few rules you should keep in mind when selecting the colors for your gradient. The default bar goes from black to white and so does your greyscale artwork. It is very important to understand the notion of tones and values when working with gradient maps because the colors you choose and where you position them on the gradient bar must follow a certain logic in order to look good.

For example, your nodes’ colors should go from dark to light in values to maintain the authenticity of your own artwork’s values.

You should also probably aim to pick colors that are close in hue to each other, those usually make for the best color combinations in a gradient.

Lastly, you should try to choose colors with a similar amount of saturation to make the blending between the nodes appear more natural.

So really, having a basic understanding of color theory, color properties and color spaces is as important as understanding tones and values when it comes to gradient maps because every color has a greyscale equivalent and sometimes you will want to pick a color that fits a specific tone, but depending on the color space you are using for your selection, you might find it hard to maintain that tone when making adjustments to the hue and saturation of your color.

A quick lesson on color spaces and how they affect color selection

To quickly demonstrate this, let’s create 6 squares. 3 squares will represent the HSV color space and 3 squares will represent the HLS color space.


To access your color space you must go into the color settings window by double-clicking on your main color icon. As you can see, HSV stands for hue, saturation and value and HLS stands for hue, luminosity and saturation. These two color spaces I believe are found in every digital drawing software out there and both have exactly the same amount of colors, but without going in too many details, they mostly differ in the way they display said colors and believe me, this is very pertinent information to know when working with gradient maps.



Right now, all of our squares are filled with a neutral gray tone, so let’s go in our color settings window and make sure we are on the HSV color space and let’s put our saturation to 50 and press OK. Now, let’s lock the pixels of our grey squares and use the shortcut Alt + Del to fill our second square with our current color. Next, let’s do the same, but this time we will put our saturation at 100. When this is done, let’s repeat the same steps, but this time in the HLS color space. We will keep our hue at zero and our luminosity at 50 at the way through and only change our amount of saturation to 50 and 100.

Right way, you can see that these colors are not the same and if you go to the top menu → layer → new correction layer → hue/saturation/luminosity and you remove all the saturation from our colors, you will realize that the top squares, even after maintaining the same value, all have different tones now, while the bottom squares kept their tone consistent all the way through.

To put it simply, this happens because of the order in which these color spaces prioritize their color properties. In the HSV space, hue is at the top, saturation comes second and value comes last. In the HLS space, hue is also at the top, but luminosity comes second and saturation comes last. It’s probably a lot more complex than that, but this is how I personally dumb it down to to make this easier for me to remember.

The mixing rate curve

Going back to our gradient map window, on the bottom right corner is the mixing rate curve. This curve and its control points define the type of gradation that will happen between a node and its neighbor node to the right. As is, this ‘’S’’ curve creates the smoothest possible gradation between the nodes, but you can create many different types of gradient by dragging around its control points, creating new ones by clicking along the curve and removing them by dragging them out of the graph.

The gradient sets

Next we have our active gradient set. Gradient sets are basically folders that contain a group of gradients. By going to this drop down menu here you can access all of your gradient sets, be it the ones that are by default in Clip Studio Paint, the ones that you have made and the ones that you have obtained through the Clip Studio asset store.

To use one, simply double-click on it or select it and click on the ‘’load to gradient bar’’ icon here at the bottom and voilà, it’s as easy as that!

At this point, it is good to note that if you play around with the nodes of these gradients, this will not overwrite their default settings. Even if you completely change the nodes of a gradient, the moment you switch to a different gradient, all of its settings will reset back to default. To permanently change the settings of a gradient, you need to click on the ‘’replace saved gradient’’ icon down here. Though, be mindful that if you change those settings, there is no going back once you press OK on that window.

so the better thing to do actually, is to make a copy of the gradient you want to play with by selecting it and going to the ‘’duplicate selected gradient’’ icon here, give it a name and overwrite the settings on that one instead.

In the eventuality where you made changes to one of the original gradients by mistake or created a brand new gradient out of a pre-made one and you want to keep the result, go to the ‘’create new gradient’’, give it a name and press Ok. This will create an entirely new gradient from the settings you were using without affecting the one it was initially based on. You can also transfer a gradient from one set to the next using this method. Simply double click a gradient, change sets and click on ‘’create new gradient’’ and there you go!

To delete a gradient, simply go to the trash can icon, but again, be careful because there is no going back once you do it.

Lastly, to re-organize the gradients in your sets, just use the arrows on the side here.

By the way, all these actions we just went through are also accessible by right clicking on the gradients themselves and in this menu you also get the extra option to rename your gradients.

Oh and one more VERY important thing to know: if you want to save all the changes you have made to your gradients and your sets, you HAVE to press OK on the gradient window at the end. See this window as its very own work session, if you exit the window or if you press cancel, all the changes you have made while in that session will be lost. The good news is this also means that if you delete a gradient by accident, you can press ‘’cancel’’ and when you re-open the gradient window, it will be right back to where it was prior to deleting it.

This covers pretty much how to manage gradients individually, but if you want to manage the gradient sets themselves you have to go to this little wrench icon here and this will open a drop down menu with some new options specific to our sets. For instance, we can create a new empty set and give it a name, we can also delete sets we no longer want, Make copies of our sets and rename them to anything we want.

Below that we can register a set as a material, this is something you must do if you want to share your custom gradient sets on the Clip Studio asset store by the way.

Oh and talking of the asset store, I highly recommend everyone watching this video to go pay a visit to the asset store and browse through the hundreds of community made gradient sets on there. Some require clippy points of gold to be downloaded, but a lot of them are also free and just as good, so save yourself some work and go download as many as you like.

When there’s one that catches your interest, simply click on it, press the download button and go back to your artwork canvas.

Gradient maps work differently than tools so unlike brushes, they cannot be dragged and dropped next to our other gradient tools. To use your downloaded gradient maps, you must go back to the gradient map window, back in the wrench icon drop down menu and click on ‘’add gradient set’’.

This will automatically recognize the gradients from your download folder and let you choose which one to add to your gradient library. Then, simply click the ‘’Add’’ button and you will see your gradient map window update to show all your new gradients in one set. Don’t forget to press OK at the end and that’s it for the gradient map window settings!

How to color a greyscale artwork with gradient maps

Now, we can finally move on to the practical chapter of this tutorial, which is to create a fully colored illustration out of a greyscale artwork!

A tip about Grayscale

If I can only give one tip when it comes to creating a greyscale illustration, it’s to keep a wide range of values between the darkest and lightest areas of our image.


This also means avoiding the use of pure black and pure white as much as possible because those two tones offer no leeway to play with since they represent the extremes of our tonal range. This is important because the more range you will have within your artwork and the more range your gradient map will be able to use in return.



If you cannot tell if the values in your art have a good range or not, a good tip I can give you is to head over to the top menu → layer → new correction layer → select Posterization and input a value of 6. 6 is the maximum amount of nodes I usually put in my gradients so this will basically dumb my artwork down to its 6 main tones and show me what they are.


As you can see here, my tones distinctly go from dark gray in the shadows, to light gray in the highlights and even simplified like this, the depth in my shading is pretty easy to read. If you do this, but end up with too many light or dark values or if the grays in your art do not stand clearly apart from each other, then it is time to either punch the contrast of your piece with the brightness/contrast correction layer or go back to it and redefine the shadows or the light areas a bit better.

Applying gradients to your greyscale artwork

So once we are happy with the values of our greyscale artwork, it’s finally time to apply start our coloring process. And really, applying gradient maps to our artwork is by far the easiest and fastest step in this video.


You create a new gradient map on top of one of your folders, let’s start we the skin layer here for example and you can either clip your gradient map layer to it now or after you are done creating your gradient.

This is the point where, if you don’t have your artwork separated into folders like these, you can use the layer mask attached to our correction layer to isolate the areas of your artwork that you want the gradient map to apply to. This process is super easy, simply choose any type of saturated gradient, it doesn’t matter which one and press OK.

Then, select your layer mask, hit the delete button on your keyboard, grab a pen brush or a soft brush and start applying pure white to your mask layer.

Another tool I like to use because it’s a bit faster is the lasso tool. Simply select the entire area you want to include and use the shortcut Alt + Del on your keyboard to fill in the white.

Then, all that’s left to do is to create the gradients for our gradient maps. And since all the theory has already been covered regarding the gradient bar and how to properly pick our colors, we can skip straight to doing just that.

Typically, the way I approach any gradient is by first choosing what the darkest and lightest value is going to be and then experiment from there. And this is the jist of making gradients really, you experiment a lot, you add color nodes here and there and move them around, adjust their values and saturation and through trial and error, you end up with a result that you really like.


TIP: If you really want to target a specific tone in your art, a good tip is to hide your gradient map, color pick that grey tone and look where its position is on the gray scale. Then, go back to your gradient map, create a node at the equivalent position on your gradient bar, go to the color picker and click on your main color icon to get the same grey value you want to assign a color to. Lastly, switch your color space to HLS, as we went over earlier and from this point, you can choose any hue and amount of saturation that you want and your grey tone will always remain at the same value.


See how practical that color theory was to stay true to our artwork’s tones now?


So anyway, here is what I ended up with for the skin gradient. I went with a dark brown and a light beige at the extremities and a more saturated dark shade of beige followed by a slightly saturated lighter shade of beige closer to the middle.

I then duplicated that gradient map layer and clipped the copy to the face folder.

I also wanted some greenish patches on the skin of my character, she is a zombie after all, so I duplicated the skin gradient map, opened the settings window and went with one of my pre-made green gradients. This one is rather simple with only three values at the start middle and end that are dark green, light green and light yellow.

Next, I deleted the white from the mask, I selected the lasso tool and I started selecting each patch I wanted to turn green, again using the shortcut Alt + del to fill in the white of my mask.


Once that was done, I reduced the opacity of my green layer to fit the saturation of the skin layer and that was it.

After that, for the hair I created a more complex gradient that goes from dark blue, to green, to light yellow. This is in line with the tip I gave earlier that if you choose colors close to eachother in the color wheel, they always look great together. I then applied the same gradient to the ears, but I also needed a different gradient for inside of the ears so I duplicated the green gradient layer and I applied the skin layer to it, then removed the fur part of the ears from its layer mask.

The cool thing about visiting the Clip Studio asset store earlier is that prior to this video, I found this set, which sadly I cannot read, but it is called ‘’pale gradation’’ on the store I believe. In that gradient set I found this really nice gold type of gradient and applied it to the earrings folder.

Now, something I have not mentioned before is that sometimes, the colors of a pre-made gradient will look great, but they will not fit the tonal value of your original art. Something you can do when that happens is to override the value of the gradient by going to the gradient layer and putting its blending mode on ‘’color’’.

Now, only the color value of my gradient will transfer to the earrings folder, but the tonal value of the earrings themselves will remain unchanged. I tend to use this blending mode the most with gradient maps because when you work hard on the values of your greyscale artwork, you don’t necessarily want to stray too far from those values, but know that changing your blending mode to ‘’color’’ essentially voids the values of your gradients so it’s a case by case scenario.

After that was done, I made separate gradient maps for the eyes, the mouth and the clothes of my character. I will only show a few images of these considering we already covered the basics and this article is getting pretty lengthy.

Next, I went through my gradient map layers to see if some would look better in the color blending mode. And if I find that the color mode is better, but my original values were a bit too dark to begin with, like with the skin here, then I simply go to layer → new correction layer → brightness/contrast, I clip it to my folder and I adjust the luminosity of the area to fit the lighter shade that I want. This technique is usually better than to try and fake lighter tones in your gradients to compensate for darker original values.

Now, let’s not forget the background of course, I spent a while creating that spiral effect just to get that perfect colored gradient with the lines that seem to go deeper and deeper down.


And with that we are finally done!, we have successfully turned a greyscale artwork into a fully colored illustration! And the cool thing about this result is that it is as final as we want it to be because at any point in time we can go back and iterate on the colors of our character as many times as we want to.

Thank you so so much for sticking around with me through to the end of this tutorial, I really hope this video along with the artcile provided some insightful information and tips to help you better understand gradient maps and all the little subtleties and technicalities around them.


That will be it for me though, I must return to my crypt for a long and deep slumber. I shall see you again soon hopefully. :)


Best regards,





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