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Recolor miniatures: from this to this!

PnPG How-To: Recolor Printable Minis with GIMP

In the last PnPG tutorial, I showed you how to collect printable miniatures from several PDFs and format them into a one-page PDF for printing. Our sample project was to create a sheet of fourteen red-shirt crewpersons from David Okum’s Where No Man Has Gone Before line. But at the end of the last tutorial, we still had two crew members in gold shirts on our sheet. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use GIMP to turn those gold shirts red.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

finished red shirt pdf
The red-shirts file so far, with two gold shirts remaining.

Ideally, you’re starting this tutorial having just finished the last one. In that case, continue working on your existing GIMP file, which should be named red-shirts.xcf. If you’re skipping the first lesson and starting at this point, you can download the final PDF from the previous tutorial, red-shirts.pdf, and open it in GIMP. When you open it, be sure to set the Resolution in the Import from PDF dialog box to 300 pixels/inch. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, go back to the previous tutorial—it’s all explained there.

Either way, you should have red-shirts.xcf open in GIMP to begin work. We won’t be needing the guides anymore, so if you’ve just imported the red shirts from the PDF file, don’t worry about not having guides in your file.

Step 1: Duplicate the Figures on a New Layer

Select gold shirt crewmen
Use Rectangle Select to select the two gold shirts.

We have two crew members with gold shirts that we need to recolor as red. We’ll begin by duplicating those two figures onto a separate layer. Use the Rectangle Select Tool to select a box including the two figures. Press Copy (Command-C on Mac, or Control-C on Windows) to copy the selection to the clipboard. Then press Paste (Command-V or Control-V) to paste the selected figures onto the image as a “Floating Selection.”

Click Create Layer
Click Create Layer to convert the Floating Selection into a layer

To convert “Floating Selection” into a separate layer, click the Create Layer icon at the bottom left corner of the Layers window. Change the name of the new layer from “Pasted Layer” to something more memorable, like “Gold Shirts.”

Two layers
Two layers: Gold Shirts, and Background

When you’ve completed this step, you’ll have two layers in your file, “Gold Shirts” on top of “Background.”

Step 2: Desaturate the "Gold Shirts" layer

Desaturate Gold Shirts layer
With the ‘Gold Shirts’ layer selected, click Colors > Desaturate

The next step is to get rid of the yellow in the shirts, so we can turn it into red. Make sure that the “Gold Shirts” layer is selected. Under the Colors menu, click Desaturate…

Desaturate dialog box
Choose Average, then click OK to Desaturate

The Desaturate dialog box will appear over the image. There are three options available, Lightness, Luminosity, and Average. Each of these will convert the image colors into a different range of grays. Check each option to see which might best offer the best gray tones to colorize to red. Don’t be afraid to experiment—you can always back up and Desaturate the figures again later. In this case, I’m pretty sure the Average option will convert to red the best, so choose that option. Then click OK.

Step 3: Colorize the "Gold Shirts" layer

Click on Colorize
Under Colors, click on Colorize

Next we need to find the right shade of red for the shirts we just turned gray. For this, click on Colors > Colorize. The Colorize dialog box will pop up, with a default Hue of 180, which is a sort of aqua.

Now drag the Hue slider to the left until the red looks about right. You’ll notice that all the colors in the figures are changing, not just the shirts. That’s because we haven’t specifically selected the shirts yet. Don’t worry, we’ll do that in the next step.

Colorize values for the red shirt
Set Hue to 0 and Saturation to 100, then click OK

In this case, I pulled Hue slider all the way to O before it looked close to right. (Hue O is a pure red, by the way.) Even so, the red still seemed rather muted. To brighten it up, I dragged the Saturation slider to the right, bringing the value up to 100. Whatever you do, though, don’t try to adjust the Lightness slider. That would lighten the black outlines as well as the red of the shirt, which we definitely do not want. Click OK in the Colorize box to lock in the new values.

Step 4: Create a Layer Mask

Add Layer Mask to Gold Shirts Layer
Click the Gold Shirts layer, then click Add Layer Mask…

In this step, we’ll eliminate the red tint everywhere but on the shirts of our formerly gold-shirted crew members. We’re going to do this by applying a Layer Mask to the “Gold Shirts” layer.

Begin by selecting and then right-clicking the “Gold Shirts” layer in the Layers window. From the pop-up menu that appears, click Add Layer Mask…

Choose Black from the Layer Mask options
Choose Black (full transparency), then click Add

The Add Layer Mask dialog box will appear. From the Initialize Layer Mask to: options, select Black (full transparency). Then click, Add to add the layer mask.

The red tint will disappear from the gold-shirted figures in the image window. It’s still there, but now the entire “Gold Shirts” layer is hidden, rendered invisible by the layer mask we’ve just added.

Layer Mask applied
A solid-black Layer Mask hides the Gold Shirts layer

Notice that a new black rectangle has appeared on the “Gold Shirts” layer in the Layers window. That box shows the layer mask, a black-and-white image that controls what from the “Gold Shirts” layer will and won’t be visible in the image. Any area of the mask that we paint white will become visible. Anything that remains black will remain invisible. In the next step, we’ll paint white on the mask over our crew members’ uniform shirts, to make the red layer visible on them.

Step 5: Painting the Layer Mask

Select a white Paintbrush
Select the Paintbrush tool, with a white Foreground color

In order to paint the red areas of the masked layer back in, select the Paintbrush tool in the Toolbox. Choose the hard-edged round brush, starting with a Brush size of about 20 pixels. Finally, be sure to set the Foreground color to white, as in the screenshot.

Paint the layer mask
Paint the layer mask to reveal the red-tinted layer.

Make sure that the “Gold Shirts” layer is active, and that the layer mask is selected. If the mask is selected, it will have a bold, white border, as in the screenshot. Using the Paintbrush tool, paint carefully over the shirts of the two crew members. As you paint on the layer mask, the content of the masked layer will become visible.

You’ll probably want to zoom in on the figure that you’re painting. Control the size of your brush by pressing the Bracket keys on our keyboard ( [ to shrink the brush, and ] to grow it). As you paint on the mask, you’ll notice white areas appearing on the mask icon in the Layers window—that’s a tiny view of area you’ve painted so far. And don’t forget to scroll your image view down to paint the shirts on the backs of the figures as well!

Paint black on the mask to hide errors
To remove errors, change the Foreground color to black and paint over them on the mask

Try to “color within the lines,” keeping the white within the areas you want to turn red. Fortunately, since we didn’t tamper with the Lighten value when we Colorized the layer, the black outlines on the masked layer are still a true black. This means that you can reveal any black areas on the mask without it showing. If you happen to reveal any other areas by painting over them with white, just switch your Foreground color to black, and paint over your error on the mask. Painting a visible area of the mask with black will make it invisible again. You can paint back and forth between black and white as many times as you need to, hiding and revealing the content of the layer without changing it.

Renamed Red Shirts layer
Now that the shirts are red, rename the layer Red Shirts

Once you’re done with this step, you’ll see your last two crew members in handsome red shirts. To reflect the change, let’s rename the “Gold Shirts” layer to “Red Shirts,” to keep it accurate.

Step 5: Change a Second Color

It’s easy to change a second color, simply by creating and colorizing another layer. We’ll demonstrate that by changing our two new red shirts from human to Orion, by recoloring their skin tone to a deep green. We’ll just be repeating Steps 1 through 4, so I’ll run through them quickly:

  1. Select the figures to be recolored from the “Background” layer, and copy them onto a new layer of their own. We’ll name that new layer “Orions.”
  2. With the new “Orions” layer selected, click Colors > Desaturate to convert the entire layer to shades of gray. Again, I’ll choose the Average setting in the Desaturate dialog box.
  3. Two Color Layers
    Two recoloring layers: ‘Orions’ and ‘Red Shirts.’
    Click Colors > Colorize to open the Colorize dialog box. I chose settings of Hue 115, Saturation 55, Lighting O as the correct skin tone for an Orion.
  4. Right-click the “Orions” layer, and click Add Layer Mask… to open the Add Layer Mask dialog box. Set the Layer Mask to Black (full transparency), then click Add.
  5. Using the Paintbrush tool, paint white on the “Orions” layer mask to reveal the green skin tone over the tan human skin tone. Be sure to do the back of the figures as well as the front.

Step 6: Create a PDF File

At this point, you’ve got a full sheet of red-shirted Federation officers representing five different species. It’s time to save the GIMP file, and export a PDF we can print and share.

Export Image
Change the file extenstion to ‘.pdf’, then click Export

To be sure we know which file is the ultimate version, we’ll click File > Save As… and name the file red-shirts-final.xcf. Now we’re ready to create the PDF.

Before you export the PDF, be sure to click Image > Flatten Image. This merges all your layers into a single layer that GIMP can use to make an accurate PDF. Then Click File > Export As… and change the Name of the file to red-shirts-final.pdf. Note that all you’re changing is the file extension—the three letters after the dot. Click Export. In the small Export Image as PDF dialog box that appears, leave all checkboxes un-checked, and click Export once more to finalize the process.

Job Well Done!

Supplemental: Red Shirts print-and-play miniatures
The finished product: Supplemental Set: Red Shirts

Congratulations! In the previous tutorial, you learned how to collect and format a page of cardstock miniatures for printing. Now you know how to recolor your minis, giving you the power to make an infinite number of variations on them. You’re now an official PnPG Miniature Modder! (Unless you didn’t really do the work, and just want to download the finished sheet of red-shirts. And that’s OK, too…we don’t judge!)

If you have any suggestions or corrections to this process, or if you just want to tell us about your mini-modding successes, leave your comment below.

Otherwise, until next time, keep on printing, and keep on playing!

6 thoughts on “PnPG How-To: Recolor Printable Minis with GIMP”

  1. Excellent tutorial. I’m fairly new to GIMP so this is really helpful. Thanks and I hope you settle in to your new home soon!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Crinkle! I’m glad I was able to help. Recoloring and otherwise modifying printable minis has always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby for me. And the new home continues to shape up…still a long way to go, tho!

  2. Nice tutorial, but I feel like I should point out you could skip a few steps through the use of the layer mode. If you create a transparent layer over the image you want to change the color of and set that transparent layer to mode: color (selector is just above the opacity selector) you can then sample the redshirts color and paint/draw on the transparent layer.

    1. Yes, you could do it that way, but I’m trying to avoid having to free-hand paint the new colors over the old. The steps I lay out in the tutorial let you adjust and modify the colors without painting over the original artist’s shading. Admittedly, this is less of a big deal with the simple, manga-style shading OkumArts often uses. But if you’re working with original images that have gradient shading (smooth, uninterrupted flow from light to dark shades within the same color on a single object), that can be a nightmare to replicate convincingly with GIMP’s paintbrush and airbrush tools. My method might entail some “extra steps”, depending on your perspective, but I find it generally saves time and produces a better final product thqt is much closer to the spirit and style of the original artwork.

      That being said, if you’re comfortable painting over the original artwork, working on a separate layer is definitely the way to do it. There are times when it’s absolutely necessary to do so, when you’re changing features or accessories on the figure, rather than just changing the color scheme. But whatever modification you’re attempting, you should use the technique you’re most confident in, and that’s a decision only you can make!

  3. Thanks for this. I wanted to recolor some of Jim Hartmans figures and remembered you did this, so I came in search of it found it, it helped a bunch!

    1. Glad I could help, Josh! Hopefully I’ll get time to start posting again after the holidays…I’ve got several things I want to share, just haven’t found the time to prepare full tutorials. Check back in January, if you’re interested.


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