We try to keep our lighting neutral and bright enough to bring out all the details. Even the Forest Unicorn, which is supposedly walking in moonlight, has been rendered in bright neutral light to bring out the details and the bright gel light (leafy pattern) has been added on top of that.

Why do we do this? Well, you can always paint shadows in yourself, but you can never recover details that aren’t there. So we hope our products can be used on a cover where a character’s face is in bright light or on a cover where half the face is obscured in shadow.

How do you apply shadows yourself? Get familiar with the Photoshop Dodge tools. If you want to obscure half a face in shadow, try adding a layer above the face in neutral gray, and set that layer’s blend mode to “Color Burn.” Then you can paint non-destructive shadows on that layer with a soft brush set to a darker grey and Mode of Color Burn. Or you can play around with other darkening blend modes and use colors (remember that highlights and shadows are represented best with complementary colors; for instance, a warm orange light would cast cool blue shadows).

While the majority of our products have neutral lighting, there are exceptions. We sometimes employ colored rim lights (e.g. Scout in Sunset, Mermaid I). And, if we feel the character and mood requires it, we sometimes shadow the model’s face (e.g. Dangerous Red).

To assist you in selecting and cutting out the character or object, we try to pick a complementary color (across the color wheel) for the background. Thus, a character whose overall hair and clothes end up in the orange (includes browns) through yellow colors will get a background in the blue through violet colors. Sometimes it’s difficult to pick a background color because the 3D modeling world uses vibrant patterns and colors for their costumes—which is why we work hard to control the entire set of models (i.e., character + clothes + weapons) to a limited color palette (gamut). If we have difficulties after limiting the colors, we’ll give priority to differentiating the character’s face, hair, and torso, before we worry about differentiating background for the lower half of the character.

We’ll also increase or lighten the saturation of the background, depending upon 3D rendered product. For example, a white unicorn or a character with white hair or white clothes will get a much more saturated background than a character all clothed in black.

For more on why artists should limit their color selections, we highly recommend Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, by James Gurney (Andrews McMeel Publishing).

Low resolution (72 ppi) graphics are suitable for the web. If you’re interested in using the graphic for a web site (banners, backgrounds, etc.) or you will be reducing it in size, then the low resolution version might work well. If you will be enlarging part of the image, however, consider getting the high resolution version.

What about e-book covers? Here you have to think ahead. If you’re sure that you’ll only release this cover for e-books, then low resolution graphics may be suitable. Reasons for not going with the low resolution, even for e-books:

  • If you decide later to release in print, you’ll have to re-create the cover in higher resolution (300 ppi). Using Photoshop to increase the resolution may not give you the results you want (there are products that have more sophisticated algorithms for increasing size and resolution than PS, such as Alien Skin’s Blow Up, which will work better).
  • Again, determine whether you’ll enlarge the graphic. For instance, if the character face you really want is in a model shot shown head to foot, you can end up with pixelation and blurring.

What about covers that will (or may) be for print books? Always work in 300 ppi and get high resolution graphics for your composition.