What is a Colorist?

Sheri Cyprus

A colorist fills in drawings with color before they are published in products such as comic books. These professionals are artists with experience and training in their field, although the required experience and education varies for colorists' jobs. A colorist once worked mainly with paper drawings and coloring pens, but today most colorists work digitally on computers.

A colorist may work on a digital tablet with a digital pen.
A colorist may work on a digital tablet with a digital pen.

Professional digital coloring software is often complex. Colorists must master the necessary software programs in order to complete each digital coloring job. Coloring software may used with a tablet and stylus, a pen-like instrument that the colorist applies to the tablet allows the work to appear on a computer screen. There are many different types of artist's coloring programs that colorists use in their work.

Coloring software is often used on tablet computers.
Coloring software is often used on tablet computers.

The work a cartoon or comic book colorist does occurs during the last stage of the creative process. The captions and basic line drawings are completed first by other professionals such as a penciller, inker, and letterer. The penciller is the first artist to work on a comic; he or she lays out the page and draws the characters. The inker then applies ink or outlining graphics to the penciller's work. The letterer then adds the words in the dialog balloons — either by hand or using digital computer software.

After the other three artists have completed their work, the spaces left for the colorist to color may be blocked off in some way for easy identification. The colorist then adds color to the artwork. Since colorists are the last creative professional to work on the comic book or other project before publication, they usually have to finish the coloring quickly in order to keep everything on deadline. For this reason, colorists need to be able to work well under pressure.

A colorist doesn't simply apply a basic sweep of color to the drawings. Rather, he or she uses art techniques such as shading and color blending to create forms that look three dimensional. Colorists understand how to make shadow and light effects in their work. They also have a strong understanding of color, such as how to use cool and warm colors to create a definite mood in the comics or cartoons.

A colorist is very much an artist. Many colorists have an art degree or background that includes a strong focus on color theory. Although they could have a full-time job with one publisher, colorists often work on a contract basis much like freelance graphic artists or designers. They use computer or print portfolios showcasing their work to market their services to potential clients.

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