Onion Skin Color Overlay: Mastering the Art & Technique
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is Onion Skin Color Overlay?
  2. How to set up your workspace for Onion Skin Color Overlay
  3. Choosing the right colors for Onion Skin Overlay
  4. Step-by-step guide to applying Onion Skin Color Overlay
  5. How to use Onion Skin Overlay in different mediums
  6. Common mistakes and how to avoid them
  7. How to enhance your Onion Skin Overlay technique
  8. Inspiring examples of Onion Skin Color Overlay

Imagine you're painting a masterpiece, and you've just discovered a new tool in your creative toolbox. It's called the onion skin colour overlay, and it's about to change the way you approach your art. This technique, often used in animation and graphic design, adds a new dimension to your work, allowing you to see previous and future frames as translucent layers. But what exactly is it, and how does it work?

What is Onion Skin Color Overlay?

Onion skin colour overlay is a technique used predominantly in the digital art world. It's named after the translucent nature of onion skins. Just as you can see through the layers of an onion, this method allows artists to view several layers of their work at once, but in a transparent, 'ghost-like' way.

Think of it as a sort of artistic time travel—you can peek into the past and future of your animation or design. It's like having a visual echo of your previous and upcoming frames, helping you understand the flow and continuity of your work.

Most notably, it's a feature found in many digital art software like Adobe Photoshop, Procreate, and Toon Boom Harmony. Its primary purpose? To guide you in creating smoother transitions, understanding spatial relationships, and achieving a more cohesive design or animation.

Here's a quick rundown on why onion skin colour overlay can be a game-changer for you:

  • Visual Consistency: By allowing you to see previous and upcoming frames, onion skin colour overlay helps maintain visual consistency, especially important in animation and sequential art.
  • Motion Flow: This technique improves the sense of motion in your animations by providing a reference for where your subject has been and where it's going.
  • Time-Saver: Instead of flipping back and forth between layers or frames, onion skin colour overlay gives you a simultaneous view of multiple frames, saving precious time.

Now that you have a clear understanding of what onion skin colour overlay is, let's move onto setting up your workspace to make the best use of this innovative technique.

How to set up your workspace for Onion Skin Color Overlay

Setting up your workspace for onion skin colour overlay isn't as daunting as it may sound. With a few simple steps, you'll be ready to dive into your next creative project. Here's how:

  1. Choose Your Software: First things first, choose the right digital art software that supports onion skin colour overlay. Some popular options include Adobe Animate, Procreate, and Toon Boom Harmony. These platforms provide robust features that support this technique.
  2. Adjust Your Settings: After you've chosen your software, you'll need to tweak some settings. Look for something called 'Onion Skin Settings' or similar in your chosen software. Here, you'll be able to adjust the opacity of your overlay, how many frames you can see at once, and more.
  3. Prepare Your Layers: Now, it's time to get your layers ready. Whether you're working on an animation or a complicated design, you'll want to create separate layers for each element that moves or changes throughout your project.
  4. Activate Onion Skin: With everything set up, you can now turn on the onion skin colour overlay feature. In most software, you'll find this option in the timeline or layers panel. Once activated, you should see a translucent echo of your other layers.

Remember, every artist's process is different, so don't be afraid to play around with the settings until you find what works best for you. The goal is to create a workspace that feels comfortable, intuitive, and conducive to your creative process.

With your workspace ready, the next step is to choose the right colors for your onion skin overlay. But don't worry, we'll cover that in the next section.

Choosing the right colors for Onion Skin Overlay

Choosing the right colors for your onion skin colour overlay can make a world of difference. But how do you choose the 'right' colors? Let's break it down.

  1. Understand Your Project: The colors you choose should serve your project, not distract from it. Are you working on a lively, upbeat animation? Bright, contrasting colors might be the way to go. If your project is more subdued, perhaps a palette of cooler, muted tones would work best.
  2. Consider Your Audience: Who will be viewing your finished project? If it's for young children, bold and primary colors can be more engaging. On the other hand, an older audience might appreciate more sophisticated, subtle hues.
  3. Remember Color Theory: Don't forget about the basics of color theory. Complementary colors can make elements pop, while analogous colors can create harmony. Use color to guide the viewer's eye and enhance the overall aesthetic.
  4. Experiment: Lastly, don't be afraid to experiment. Try different color combinations and see what works best for your project. You might be surprised at the results!

Remember, the colors you choose for your onion skin colour overlay will influence the final look of your project. Take your time, play with different hues, and have fun with it. After all, isn't that what art is all about?

Up next, we'll delve into a step-by-step guide on applying onion skin color overlay to your project. Are you ready? Let's go!

Step-by-step guide to applying Onion Skin Color Overlay

So, you've chosen your colors and you're ready to dive into the world of onion skin colour overlay. But where do you start? Let's take it step by step.

  1. Prepare Your Project: Before you even start with the overlay, you need to prepare your project first. This includes creating or selecting your images and setting up your workspace.
  2. Turn On Onion Skin Mode: In whatever software you're using, look for the onion skin mode and turn it on. This option will allow you to see your previous and next frames as translucent overlays.
  3. Choose Your Colors: Now comes the fun part - choosing your colors. Remember the tips from the last section? Apply them here. Select the colors that best suit your project and your audience.
  4. Apply The Overlay: Next, apply the color overlay to your frames. The exact method will depend on your software, but usually, you'll select the frame and apply the color via a menu or toolbox.
  5. Adjust As Needed: Finally, look at your project as a whole. How does it look with the onion skin colour overlay? If something doesn't seem right, don't be afraid to go back and adjust. Art is a process, after all.

And there you have it—a simple, straightforward guide to applying onion skin color overlay. Keep practicing and experimenting, and you'll become a master in no time!

Now, are you ready to take it to the next level? Stay tuned for the next section, where we'll cover how to use onion skin overlay in different mediums.

How to use Onion Skin Overlay in different mediums

So, you've got the basics of onion skin colour overlay down. Now let's explore how you can use this technique across various mediums. Remember, each medium might have its own unique twists and turns, so stay flexible and keep experimenting.

  1. Digital Art: In digital art, onion skin colour overlay is a godsend. Most art software, like Adobe Photoshop or Procreate, have built-in onion skin features. These allow you to see multiple frames at once, helping you create smoother animations and transitions.
  2. Traditional Art: Yes, you can use onion skin colour overlay even in traditional art! It's a bit trickier but entirely possible. You can use tracing paper to mimic the effect. Simply place a sheet over your drawing and lightly sketch your next frame. Then, use colored pencils or markers to create your overlay.
  3. Video Editing: Onion skin colour overlay also comes in handy in video editing. Many editing software, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, have onion skin features. These can help you to perfectly align your clips and create seamless transitions.
  4. Web Design: You might be surprised, but onion skin colour overlay can even be used in web design. It can help to create an interactive, dynamic user experience. You can use it to highlight changes between different versions of a design, or to guide the user's eye through a sequence of steps.

So, whether you're a digital artist, a traditional artist, a video editor, or a web designer, the onion skin colour overlay can be a powerful tool in your arsenal. Give it a try, and see your work transform!

Common mistakes and how to avoid them

Using onion skin colour overlay is a bit like learning how to ride a bike. You're bound to make a few mistakes on your first few tries. But don't worry, that's all part of the learning process. Here are some common missteps and tips to keep you on the right track.

  1. Overusing the Onion Skin: Remember, the onion skin colour overlay is a tool, not a crutch. Relying on it too heavily can make your work look mechanical and stiff. Use it sparingly to guide your work, but don't forget to trust your instincts and artistic eye.
  2. Using Too Many Colours: Onion skin colour overlay is not a rainbow fest! Using too many colours can confuse you and make the overlay more difficult to understand. Stick to a few contrasting colours for clarity.
  3. Not Adjusting the Opacity: The key to a good onion skin colour overlay is getting the opacity just right. Too opaque, and it can overpower your current frame. Too transparent, and you might miss important details. Experiment to find the sweet spot that works for you.
  4. Ignoring the Final Picture: It's easy to get caught up in the individual frames and lose sight of the final picture. Always step back and look at your work as a whole. Are the transitions smooth? Does the sequence make sense? Always keep the end goal in sight.

By being aware of these common mistakes and taking steps to avoid them, you'll be well on your way to mastering the art of onion skin colour overlay. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep experimenting and refining your technique!

How to enhance your Onion Skin Overlay technique

Have you ever watched a master chef at work? They have their own unique style, but they also adhere to certain principles that help them create delectable dishes. The same goes for enhancing your onion skin colour overlay technique. Here are some effective ways to build upon your skills:

  1. Study the Masters: Look at the work of animation and design industry veterans. How do they use onion skin colour overlay? What can you learn from them? You don't need to copy them, but understanding their methods can offer valuable insights.
  2. Experiment with Different Tools: While there are standard tools for creating an onion skin colour overlay, don't limit yourself. Explore different software and techniques. Who knows? You might stumble upon a method that works wonders for you.
  3. Keep Practising: This might sound cliché, but practice really does make perfect. The more you use the onion skin colour overlay, the more comfortable you'll become with it, and the better your results will be.
  4. Get Feedback: Don't create in a vacuum. Show your work to other artists and ask for their feedback. Do they think your use of the onion skin colour overlay enhances your work? Their input can provide a fresh perspective and highlight areas for improvement.
  5. Stay Current: The world of design and animation is always evolving, and so are the tools and techniques. Stay current with the latest trends and see how you can incorporate them into your own work with the onion skin colour overlay.

Like mastering any technique, enhancing your skills with the onion skin colour overlay takes time and patience. But with consistent effort, you'll see your work evolve and improve. So, keep at it!

Inspiring examples of Onion Skin Color Overlay

Ever watched an animation and wondered how they made it look so smooth and lifelike? A large part of that magic is thanks to the onion skin colour overlay technique. Here are a few standout examples that may inspire you in your own work:

  1. Disney's Classics: Walt Disney Animation Studios, known for classics like Snow White and The Lion King, is a great place to start. Watch a few scenes frame by frame and you'll notice the subtle transitions made possible by onion skin colour overlay. It's a testament to the power of this technique.
  2. Pixar's Masterpieces: Pixar Animation Studios, the geniuses behind Toy Story and Finding Nemo, also uses onion skin colour overlay. Their use of the technique helps create the fluidity and realism that Pixar films are famous for.
  3. Studio Ghibli's Artistry: Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli, led by Hayao Miyazaki, is another great example. Their films, like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, use onion skin colour overlay to create their stunning and dreamy visuals.
  4. Modern Digital Art: Beyond the world of animation, many digital artists use onion skin colour overlay in their work. Check out pieces from artists like Patricio Betteo and Lois van Baarle for some truly inspiring examples.

These are just a handful of examples. With the onion skin colour overlay technique, the possibilities are endless. It's all about how you choose to use it in your work. So, why not start experimenting today?

If you enjoyed learning about the onion skin color overlay technique and want to further enhance your skills in creating realistic skin tones, don't miss out on learning from our 'Daisie Original Animation Course' with none another than Alex Jenkins who will you take you through his complete animation process. Dive in and take your animation skills to the next level!