How to Paint Skin Tones With Just 4 Colors [Digital Painting Tutorial]

How to Paint Skin Tones With Just 4 Colors [Digital Painting Tutorial]

Alright so today I want to talk about
limited palette. And to give you an example, I want to talk about Anders Zorn’s limited
palette. Anders Zorn was a painter from Sweden and he was renowned to use only a limited palette of four colors. Here I got some examples of his paintings, and you can see that the skin tones were pretty realistic. So I love the idea to do my own palette
of color, and base it on Anders Zorn’s palette. So basically I tried to get the
four colors he was using. So here I got a white, a black, a red that is pretty bright, and a sort of a yellow–a little bit kind of dirty yellow. And with those four colors, the theory here will be that I would be able to do every
skin tone that I want to. And obviously those four colors will
create a lot more different variants of those colors, so a lot of
different tones from it. So if you go from black to white, and
this side you mix them together, it’s gonna give you a lot more. And basically what I
did is I created myself some sort of ultimate palette here, where I mix them
all together. And from there, I’m able to use this if I want to paint. And
basically what I did is I created an exercise, and this is the exercise I want
to show you. I want to show you how to use a limited palette to create every
kind of skin tone. So here’s the exercise that I prepared for you guys. Basically, it’s a document where I have 5
photos of different skin tones. And I have five simple circles where I can try to
replicate the skin tones. And I obviously have a reminder of my palette here, I got
my four colors which is my limited palette, and I got my ultimate palette, which is a mix of all the colors together from white to black, and the
colors together, and with these colors, I am going to try
to replicate those colors of skin tones. So basically what I’m going to do here is
I’m going to first, go on the first circle, and you’ll see when you open the
document that I already locked the transparency of the pixels
which basically means that when this is clicked on, you see that is already locked, and means that now, wherever I paint, it’s only going to paint on this circle. So you simply have to click on the layer
that you want. If you click on No. 2, it’s going to be on No. 2…
If I click on No. 5, it’s gonna be on No. 5. So with that being said, I’m going to try to
replicate this color of the skin here. And I am going to pick only the colors
that I have here in my limited palette, or the one that I created in my ultimate
palette. So I’m going to start with a little bit of yellow, which I’m going to
paint here, and I’m going to pick up the red and mix them together. And I’m going
to take that new tone here that I just created, in the
mix of the two, and I’m just going to paint the whole thing. So as you can see now, it’s already
skin-beige color. So what I’m going to do is I’m just
going to try to add a little bit more tones to it. So I see that there are
lighter parts and darker parts. I’m going to try to replicate that. So I’m going to take some white here, and
i’ll paint a little white, and just paint a little bit of it. And then a little bit
of black, pick up that new color, and just paint it like this. And I feel like here, over the eye, it’s a little bit more red. So I’m just
going to pick up some red, and just paint it a little bit. Pick that new color,
and just like that, I’ll be able to create a skin tone that’s pretty close to this. Now I feel like the whole skin tone
should be a little bit more light, so I’m just going to pick up some white here,
and put my opacity to 20%, and I’m just going to paint all over it. Now I think that’s a little bit closer to
what it’s supposed to be. I just feel like it’s still missing a little bit of
red here, so I’m going to paint a little bit more, and maybe even a little bit
more black, Okay, I think that’s pretty close! I’ll try another one here. So I’ll just
click on the No. 2 here, and like I said, everything that I paint is going to
stay in it. And what I’ll do is I’m going to start by taking a different color here.
And I’ll just fill up my circle by doing a shortcut ALT + DEL. And it’s going to fill it up.
Now I think this is a little bit too greenish-yellow, so I am going to add a
little bit of red, and take some red here. And actually what I’m going to do
is I’m going to pick up a red that’s more like mixed with white already,
so something that’s more pink. Paint it here, take that new color, and paint it
all over. More like a better base, but it still seems a little bit too dark, so I’m
going to take some white and fill it up. And I think that’s a much better base
for it. So now I’m going to try to replicate the orange color
of the beauty marks that she has all over her face. So I’m going to pick up some red, and
pick up some yellow, and mix them together. And try to get a color that I need for this. It seems to get better slowly, just a little bit more red, and yellow a little bit and more…
I think that’s really good So from there, I’m just gonna keep that
smaller here, and I’ll use this… I’ll use this to just paint some patches
to replicate skin tone that I see here. The thing with skin tones is that
there are a lot more small variations. So it’s important to mix colors and having
a few colors like the limited palette that I have here, just gives me the opportunity to actually
play with those colors. So I’m just going to add a little bit more black here.
And a little bit more white at the top just to get a feel of it. My goal is not to be exactly exactly
like this, but just to find a way to get close a little bit. I could have a lot of fun and take a lot
of time to just add details, but at this stage, the only thing that I want is just to
have a feel of it. I think it’s getting pretty close… And I’m going to just add
I think a little bit more yellow… Just one of those things that get a perfectionist… Even though this is just practice, you want to get
as close as possible. Alright, I think I got a good feel of it now. Obviously what I could do is add a
little bit more texture to it. I could just add an extra brush here
and try to pick up something in the middle here, and go down with my opacity,
and just add a little bit more texture to it, and then go by…
Just add a few more big [spots]… Alright! So I think so far it’s working,
that limited palette, So I’m just going to go real quick
and finish the three other ones. And that’s it for this tutorial, guys!
I hope you liked it. If you want to give it a try,
you can download the PSD below this video. And as always…
Happy Painting!


  • Digital 101 says:

    awesome as always

  • M3lldryck says:


  • COSMICb0y says:

    ty so much!

  • Ahmad Kadi says:

    Nice video, can I know how you changed the color wheel in Photoshop?

  • Alex Parkinson says:

    Fantastic !

  • Martin C says:

    Great video, but I have one question. What brush are you using? You have opacity set to 100% but you are adding subtle washes, for example when first adding white on the first skin tone exercise.

  • Rudy R says:

    Very interesting for a beginner like me. I have always struggled with color. Please do more videos on limited color palettes for digital painting.

  • Dee Morgan says:

    great video. thank you very much!

  • Disappointing Rooster says:


  • Pedro Moreira says:

    Hi, great video Paintable !
    One thing that intrigued me is that brush, which brush is that ? 🙂

    Best regards

  • kakao3188 says:

    two questions, please how do you configure the pressure of your tablet pen/pencil in photoshop? what type of brushes are you using?

  • Screamingdk says:

    I love Zorn and I think your method is on the mark.

  • Chloé Martin says:

    Ahh I can't thank you enough for this! I have been studying Zorn's palette for a while now, but I just could not get/make that amazing colour wheel! With that wheel, I can finally understand exactly how it all mixes together, truly magnificent! I did the tutorial/challenge myself and uploaded it to DeviantArt if you'd like to check it out, and once again thank you for making it that much easier on us young artists! 🙂

  • Chris G says:

    nah…you also Need green, blue, and purple for believable skin

  • glacierthealfa says:

    Ok I cannot for the life of me find this PSD link. Where do I download?

  • Katrina Newburn says:

    but how did you make the palette? I've stated with the 4 colors before and can't make a smooth palette like you and others have done. can you do a video of you simply mixing the colors?

  • Lyka says:

    I have found myself a new good channel 🙂 love the logo!

  • bae mina says:

    less is more! nice tutorial, thanks! 😀

  • Mirowshka Bourquin says:

    Nice ! thank you 😀

  • Itz Cloud says:

    what brush did you use? also when i do my shadows its just one thick layer

  • Dayo .Beyioku says:

    Very interesting… I will be best myself for good positive.

  • DefinitelyNot AShark says:

    I feel like you should have included a blue tone – on most skin tones, blue will only be a result of reflection, but many fair skin tones (especially with cold undertone) will have clear "blueish" areas where the skin is especially thin. Apart from that, I found this super helpful. I have always found it fun to paint digitally with a limited palette and have a "go to" for fun-palette, but these colours used in the video were absolutely great for mixing any realistic skin colour!

  • Wolf says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! It's a great idea. I had no clue where to start since I am not very familiar with color theory, so I appreciate this method.

  • xpez says:

    i am not getting the idea of making a palette when you have the color sample inside the picture itself. This whole idea seems great for mixing color in real life with real paint. But if you have the exact color of the photo open in photo shop and access to the internet you can find exactly the skin tone with the color picker… It seems there needs to be one degree of separation like you have a photograph in your hand and you are using this method to mix colors to match something in the physical world..

  • Miss Payntbrush says:

    thumbs down for skipping through all the ethnic skintones. why does everyone do that, like its just not important? that is the skill none of us have. we can go anywhere to learn to paint pale pink skin. everyone's interested in teaching that. the last thing anyone needs is another pale pink skin tutorial

  • Purushothaman M says:


  • Eva Julia Olivares says:

    What kind of brush u use?

  • Aifa MINAR says:

    Nice! excuse me, where's the PSD to try?

  • May Cava says:

    Thank you for this video!! I been struggling a lot with skin tones lately 🙁

    Pd: can you please tell me which brush are you using please??

  • LoonyDrawer says:

    It's a tough tutorial video.
    Content was amazing but it' was tough

  • P.V.N Sutar says:

    nice video

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