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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Digital Painting
Design

How to Digitally Paint Shiny Metal Armor in Adobe Photoshop

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Last time we were drawing a realistic female warrior in a beautiful suit of armor. Today we're going to turn these lines into real, shiny metal. It's quite a complicated issue, but I'll show you a simplified method to achieve great results. You just need Adobe Photoshop and some free time.

Tutorial Assets

1. Prepare the Painting Base

Step 1

Create a New File and paste your line art into it. Lower its Opacity to 20 and lock the layer.

female warrior lineart sketch

Step 2

Create a New Layer. Use a hard brush (if you use my set: Ink) to draw the outline of the warrior. Don't leave any gaps!

female warrior painting armor outline

Step 3

Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the area outside the body. Invert the selection (Control-Shift-I), create a New Layer, and fill it with the Paint Bucket Tool (G). You can now remove the lower layer.

female warrior painting armor base

Step 4

This layer defines the borders of the character. We don't want anything crossing these lines. To do it we need to clip a layer to the base.

female warrior painting armor clipping mask

Use vivid, bright colors to paint different areas of the armor, with a separate layer for every color. You need to plan it to use as few layers as possible, without making the areas of one color touch each other.

female warrior painting armor clipped layers

Step 5

Even though we don't see what's outside the Clipping Mask, these parts are still there. Let's remove them! Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the area outside the mask, and then use that selection to cut parts from every clipped layer.

female warrior painting armor clip outside

Step 6

This isn't the end. If you Control-click a clipped layer, you'll see each of them has some parts covered by another. Let's clean it by selecting an area of one layer and cutting the selection from every other layer, step by step.

female warrior painting armor clip inside
Control-click one layer to select it...
female warrior painting armor clip effect
... then Control-X the selection on every other clipped layer

It may take some time, but in the end all the colors should cover only the areas they're supposed to.

female warrior painting armor clipped layers finished

2. Paint the Armor

Step 1

The Clipping Mask with all its clipped layers will be our guides, but they won't be a part of the final picture. Create a New Layer and use the selection of the Clipping Mask to fill it with dark blue (but not black). Fill the background with 50% gray to see the lighting better.

female warrior painting armor base dark

Step 2

We did cover the guide layers, but we can hide/show that upper layer whenever we want to see them. Each of the clipped layers creates some borders—we need to use them.

The whole suit of armor isn't made of a single material. To color a part:

  • Hide the coloring layer.
  • Pick the Move Tool (V) and Control-click the part you want to color.
  • The layer of that area will be selected; Control-click its thumbnail to make a selection.
  • Show the coloring layer.
  • Fill the selection with chosen color.

Use only dark shades of the colors! Tip: if the selection distracts you, use Control-H to hide it.

female warrior painting armor coloring

Step 3

Time to add some shine. Create a New Layer. Grab a brush with variable Flow (like my Sketch Detail), pick a very bright color (e.g. low-saturated yellow, but not white), and paint the shine on all the metal parts. Still use the previous method to constrain your painting!

female warrior painting armor shine
female warrior painting armor shine stripes
female warrior painting armor shine done

Step 4

Use the same method to add shine to the golden parts. Again, don't use white, but a very bright version of the base color.

female warrior painting armor shine gold

Step 5

Add light to the non-metal parts, too. This time use only a slightly brighter shade, and cover a bigger area with it.

female warrior painting armor lighting diffuse

Step 6

Use a dark, low-saturated green to paint reflected light on the opposite side of the armor.

female warrior painting armor reflected light metal

Do the same with the golden parts, this time using a yellowish shade.

female warrior painting armor reflected light gold

Non-metal parts have reflected light, too, but weaker and less spectacular.

female warrior painting armor reflected light leather

Step 7

Create a New Layer between the coloring layer and the lighting layer. Use a soft brush (like my Soft) and bright, low-saturated blue to give a kind of glow under the shiny stripes.

female warrior painting armor metal glow

For golden parts use orange.

female warrior painting armor gold glow

3. Finish the Armor

Step 1

Non-metal parts require a softer blending, according to their texture. Take some time to make the light distorted by the surface of the leather.

female warrior painting armor texture leather

Step 2

Create a New Layer and paint a small golden rivet on it. It will work best if you create a subtle shadow under it.

female warrior painting armor golden rivet

Step 3

If you have Photoshop CS4 or lower, you need to copy and paste the rivet to decorate the armor. If your software is CS5 or higher, try the trick described in my Mixer Brush Tool tutorial (section 2, steps 1 to 3).

female warrior painting armor mixer brush tool rivets

Step 4

You may need to adjust the rivets to the perspective. Select the area with the Lasso Tool (L) and use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to fix it.

female warrior painting armor adjust shape

Step 5

To adjust the rivets to the lighting without working too much, we can use a trick. Double click the layer with all the rivets and play with the blending options as described in my tutorial about Blend If.

female warrior painting armor blend if shading
female warrior painting armor blend if result

Step 6

Use the same trick to add other rivets.

female warrior painting armor all rivets

Step 7

I've chosen a trendy blackened metal for the armor, but if you want a more traditional steel-gray, just add more reflected shades. You can add stripes of low saturated red.

female warrior painting armor steel metal

Step 8

To create the chainmail, we can use the Mixer Brush trick.

female warrior painting armor chain mail

Use the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) in Warp Mode to adjust the "texture" to the proper shape.

female warrior painting armor chain mail shape

You can use the Blend If trick to automatically adjust the lighting.

female warrior painting armor chain mail lighting

Step 9

To show that the armor isn't made of paper-thin plates, add subtle lighting to its edges.

female warrior painting armor thick plates

Step 10

At this point it's up to you what you do with the armor to make it look better. You can break the shiny strokes with our Scratched Metal Brushes, or you can add colorful reflected light here and there... Just have fun!

Female warrior in suit of armor

The Armor Is Done!

Isn't that one beautiful suit of armor? As you can see, painting metal isn't as hard as you might expect. I hope you found this tutorial useful. 

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