Making Your Picture Book Dummy Using Photoshop

Many illustrators stick with traditional tools when creating picture book dummies. There is something special about the feel of pencil on paper that is just hard to recreate with a digital drawing tablet. Although there isn’t anything wrong with the traditional method, Photoshop is my pick when creating dummies.

Creating a dummy in Photoshop with a drawing tablet is too flexible and convenient to overlook. You’re in the process of continually moving around text, experimenting with different layouts and playing this puzzle-like game of how to best fit this story within a certain page number.

Personally this would cause me to waste a lot of paper. Some of the bonuses of using Photoshop over paper is:

  • Never needing to re-write the text (you can just move it).

  • Copy and pasting images.

  • Easily being able to change the size of a drawing to find a better composition.

  • Working in layers.

  • Control-alt-delete.

  • Being able to skip the scanning process.

  • Saving on traditional materials.

Intrigued but not sure where to begin? Let me walk you through it:

1) Let's Get Our Ducks In a Row

Before you can get to the creating stage you need a few things:

  • The manuscript (duh).

  • Notes about any specific descriptions needed to illustrate characters, objects, actions, or settings. Ex: It’s going to be important to remember that a house needs a second floor if there is a scene of a character sliding down the staircase railing.

  • Character Designs. This way you already know what the characters will look like and can make it consistent across the pages. Depending on the manuscript it could also be useful to do this with important objects or settings.

  • Reference images. I spend a fair amount of time creating pin boards before I start drawing. These boards help to make sure I draw accurately and become inspired by different ways I can render something. Pin Boards can also be used as a mood board to keep in mind the overall desired tone. Don’t let this eat up too much of your time. I sometimes have to set time limits for myself because it’s easy to just keep looking and never stop.

  • Information on how many spreads the book needs to be and what dimensions the pages are.

2) We’re Ready To Open Up Photoshop

What type of file should we open? When I put in the dimensions I always like the width to be the size of the spread, not a single page. Because this is only a dummy and I’m working with a bunch of layers, I typically create my dummy at a lower resolution than I would for the finished illustration. This is also because my computer is old and low on space, so working with a lower file size is necessary to keep my computer from lagging on me.

3) Let's Start Out Organized

Now that we have our Photoshop file up let’s create some layers and folders. My first layer is just one simple line dividing the page in half. I lock the layer and keep it at the tippy top of my layer bar to always allow me to see where the fold in the page will be.

Then I create folders for every spread. I like to have multiple layers for each spread, so putting them all into folders helps everything stay nice and organized. When doing this don’t forget about the credit, title, and end pages.

4) Now Let's Layout Some Text

This could end up being a back and forth process of moving the text while creating the art, but it always helps me to first try to estimate best where the text will go before I start drawing.

  • Try not to make any one page too text heavy.

  • Look for important page breaks. One reason for a page break is that a question was asked and you want to give the reader a chance to answer the question by revealing the answer on the next page. Another reason is to create tension and suspense.

  • Figure out what sections could have several small illustrations on one page. These spot illustrations are good to show transitions in time and a variety of activities or transformation a character is experiencing.

  • Which actions and scenes should take up one page?

  • Which actions and scenes need to be created on a full spread? Full spreads can be good to get a sense of location by using all the space to show a scene. It can also create impact. A reader is subconsciously going to realize that the spread, if used sparingly, is more important than the single page illustrations. Reinforce an important moment in the text by giving it more space in the book.

To me this whole process is like a complicated puzzle. But luckily I love puzzles and I find this process really fun. Hopefully you enjoy the it too, because it can get really challenging at times.

5) It's Drawing Time

I like to do my dummies in greyscale, though I know some people like to just use a color instead. Just don’t do full-color, you should only be worried about line and tone for the dummy.

I like to start out with only one layer for each spread folder and do really fast and messy thumbnails of my first thoughts of how the page might look. I play around with this for a bit and usually move the text while I do so until I think I have a good idea of what will work.

Then I start working more clearly spread by spread with new layers. It’s helpful to have the background on it’s own layer and characters and objects on different ones. That way if something isn’t working out you hopefully don’t have to redraw everything.

6) Double, Triple and Quadruple Check, Then Save

Okay so you figured out where the text is going to go and you have the drawings. Before you save it as a pdf file make sure to double check all the text and clean up the artwork ( It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you want to make sure whoever you’re showing this to can clearly see what is happening and has a good idea on how the finished illustrations will look).

If you’re the author and illustrator and you’re querying this dummy to agents and editors, keep in mind that many of them will allow you to include one or two finished illustrations with the dummy. This makes it easier to imagine what the finished product will look like.

Before sending it out, it’s always a good idea to print it and put it together like a book. Sometimes you might catch something in the flow that wasn’t apparent when looking at the images on the computer. If possible, hand it off to a trusted friend for feedback.

7) Make That Baby Into A Multi-Page PDF

I knew you could do it! Now it’s time for the really hard part...You have to send it out. Good luck, and happy dummy making!

Top Photo by Josefa nDiaz on Unsplash, Bottom Photo by Andreas Weiland on Unsplash, Illustrations by Crystal Carter.