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Part 6: Speech Bubbles
Josiah's Sprite Comic Guide
Part 7: Creating Simple Special Effects

If you've made it through the previous six guides you should now know all the basics of making a sprite comic. But what if you want to spiff you comics up, you know, do something a bit fancier? Whether it's a simple glow or a giant explosion, good special effects can really liven things up, while bad ones could leave your comic looking kinda amateurish. There's a million kinds of special effects and the whole process of creating them is something that you get better at the more you try and experiment. So, while I can't teach you anywhere near everything, I can give some pointers to get you started.

Effects in MS Paint

No matter what version of Windows you have, Paint is a bare bones art program. If you check the Image menu you'll find options to flip, rotate, resize, and skew images or selections and to invert the colors. And, well, that's about it. If you want many special effects in Paint you'll have to draw them yourself. And that basically boils down to how good you are at pixel art. For example, you can draw a thick outline around an object to add a glow of sorts and you can try and pull off translucency effect by using a color that's partway between the background and the translucent object, although that can be pretty tough to do effectively by hand.

Photoshop Filters

Unlike Paint, which has virtually no built in special effects, Photoshop has so many that it can be overwhelming to a new user. It can take years of work to truly master all of Photoshop's features. But anyway, most of the special effects in Photoshop can be broken into two categories, filters and layer styles. And, if you couldn't tell by the title of this section, we're gonna start with filters.
Photoshop's filters can be found in the very appropriately named Filters menu. Note that many filters won't be available if you're working in CMYK mode, although, since CMYK is made for printed media, you shouldn't be using it for a sprite comic anyway. Stick with RGB. But anyway, there's tons of filters and most filters have multiple settings. When you get the chance you really should try applying different filters to an image and get a feel for what each one does. In the meantime, here's the filters I use most in Pebble Version and a few comments about their use.

Blur: If you want to soften or smooth something up, make it look a bit fuzzier, or any of a dozen other things, just apply a normal blur.
Motion Blur: The obvious use for this filter is to make it look like something is moving quickly. You can just blur the object itself but if you want to get a bit more advanced you can try what I often do in PV. First apply a very slight motion blur (I use 3 pixels) to the object then clone the layer and apply a heavier motion blur (I typically use 23 pixels). The end result is a slightly blurred object with a nice long blur trailing behind it. Just remember to set the angle to match the direction of motion. The motion blur filter can also create some neat background effects when applied heavily enough.
Render Clouds: You may remember this one from Part 3 of this guide series. It's great for skies, thick smoke, and the like.

Those three account for the vast majority of my filter use in PV but that's barely scratching the surface of what filters can do. Like I said, take an hour or two sometime and play around with the different filters. Apply one, undo it, apply another, and compare results. Trying tweaking the settings on a filter and see how different the result is. When you get comfortable with that, try applying a combination of several filters to an image. It's amazing what you can do with a bit of creativity and the right combination of filters.

Photoshop Layer Styles

While many special effects in Photoshop are done with filters, for some things you'll need to give layer styles a try. You can access layer styles from the Layer Style submenu of the Layers menu but it's easier to just double click on the layer you want to modify in the layers palette (Note: you need to double click on the thumbnail or an empty area, not on the title or visibility check box). Once more the best way to learn how to effectively use layer styles is to play around with them for a while but here's a quick rundown.

Blend Mode, Opacity, & Fill: Opacity is simple enough, 100% is normal. Anything less and the and layer will start to become translucent. Fill Opacity is similar except that it only affects the layer image itself, not whatever layer styles you apply to it. This can make for some neat effects if used right. Blend mode is much more complicated and deals with how a layer is displayed in relation to the layer beneath it. It would take too long for me to explain the details here so just play around with it and you should get a basic idea of how it works.
Drop Shadow: This one adds a shadow. I like to use it to help show that something is flying or hovering above the ground. Note: if you don't want all the drop shadows in the entire file to go in the same direction, be sure to uncheck the Use Global Light box.
Outer & Inner Glow: They add an outer or inner glow to things. Pretty simple really.
Bevel and Emboss: When used correctly this gives objects a slightly 3D look, making them appear to pop out or sink in to the image. I use it most often for speech bubbles.
Satin: I don't think I've ever used this one in PV. For that matter, I don't use it much for anything. In a nutshell, it gives things a sorta shadowy cloth like look.
The Overlays: There's Cover Overlay, Gradient Overlay, and Pattern Overlay. Like they sound, they cover the layer with a color/gradient/pattern. You can adjust the opacity if you want the normal layer image to show through beneath the overlay.
Stroke: This adds an outline to the layer. Useful for all sorts of different stuff.

A Few Tips about Special Effects

First off, and most importantly, don't over use special effects. It can be tempting to use fancy effects all the time, especially when you're just starting out or just learned out to do some cool new effect, but you need to learn to resist the temptation. Put too many effects in and your comic is going to look overcrowded and a bit amateurish. For example, you don't need motion blurs each time something moves (trust me, I over used motion blurs early in PV) and you don't need explosions or fancy lighting effects in every other panel. Look at your strip, think about what parts, if any really need special effects, and work from there, being careful not to get carried away.
Also, keep in mind that you don't have to stick with your first attempt. Especially when you're first starting out, it's a good idea to try an effect several different ways and see which one you like best.
Finally, always experiment and try different things with special effects. Like I said before, the best way to improve is with lots and lots of practice.


Special effects can add a lot to the graphical presentation of your comic but they can take a lot of time to master and need to be used with care. But they can also be a lot of fun so play around and enjoy yourself, just don't overdue it.
And this completes the first section of these guides. Read them, study them, and you'll be making your own sprite comics in no time. But that leaves one important question, what do you do with the comics after you've started making them? Well, that's what we'll be covering next so be sure to check out Josiah's Sprite Comic Guide Part 8: Creating & Setting Up a Comic Web Site.

Part 6: Speech Bubbles
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