Program: Photoshop CS5
Difficulty: Easy-Medium (depending on your knowledge of PS)
Translatable?: No (uses selective color)
(please redirect all questions and comments here, thanks).
DO NOT COPY THIS TUTORIAL/PSD EXACTLY! USE YOUR OWN IMAGE!! I'm putting the psd up, but if I see copies I will take it down!
Start by making your base. I got my image of Sammy Droke from samanthadroke.org.
If you're using a small icon image, take the Blur tool and blur her skin with a fuzzy brush, then use the Sharpen tool to sharpen lips and eyes only. This helps get rid of graininess and blemishes.
This image is very pale, flat, and dull. It definitely needs contrast as the first step to help it not look so washed out. I duplicated the layer, then set it to Soft Light, 40%. Your opacity will depend on the image. I didn't want it too contrasted, just enough to bring color to her skin and hair so I can fix it.
Now it needs color. Just start by upping the saturation to add some natural color back. Add a new Hue/Saturation Layer, Master Saturation +25
Now her skin looks more natural. But it needs more pinks and reds than just a yucky yellow. So I added a new Color Balance Layer. These are the settings I used:
M: +16, -3, -9
S: -9, -8, -1
H: +8, -9, -6
Again, adjust these settings for your image. Your image may look too red, it just depends on how light your image is in the beginning. Now it's time for a Selective Color layer. This is what we are going to use to add most of the pinks to the image. Without this step, your image will not look light pink, but I guess you could leave it out if you're not using Photoshop and you don't mind your image being yellow-y. This will also give more contrast by using the blacks. Here are my settings:
Reds: -10, +10, -7, +11
Yellows: -5, -7, -8, +8
Cyans: +10, 0, 0, 0
Magentas: +11, -5, -5, +6
Whites: +9, -6, -3, -3
Neutrals: -10, -5, -10, +3
Blacks: +8, +4, 0, +3
Again, these are the settings that I found worked best for my image. Just toy with it. Don't amp up any of the yellows too much or it won't look soft pink in the end. Now her skin looks way pink, but it is still very dark. The skin is getting better, but we will fix the dark in the next few steps.
Now it's awful pink but there are virtually no blues. If we wanted a lot of blue we could have done that with the selective color, but I only want a little to balance it out. Go to Layer>New Fill Layer>Solid Color set the layer to Color Burn, 25%, then use a cyan-ish blue such as #62bbff.
Now Sam's skin has more blue, but it's very very dark. In this next step we are going to both fix the dark problem while also adding more of that light pink tint we want. This is also going to add a pretty reddish color to her hair. Add another New Fill Layer, solid color again. Soft Light, 32%, #ffbcbc.
Now it's lighter. It's still not light enough, and we also want to add back more of a natural peachy skin color. Another solid color Fill Layer, Screen, 10%. #ffce7a. It's a light orange color and the screen setting will also help brighten the image more.
Almost there! I felt like it needed more contrast now, so I added a Brightness/Contrast Layer. Brightness: -1, Contrast +7.
Now it is too rough-looking for me; it's also kind of matte thanks to the screen layer. So go back to your base layer, duplicate it, drag it to the top, and set it to Luminosity, 100%. This doesn't take away any of the coloring you just did, but makes it a lot more refined and smooth, as well as natural.
To sharpen, go back to the Soft Light duplicate layer. Then go to Filters>Sharpen>Sharpen. Since this layer is on a blending mode and a lower opacity, it prevents oversharpening while getting the job done.
There you go!
.psd (full size image) at my graphics journal!