Creating Dimension with Masking Film & Airbrushing

Posted On: 01/15/15

Using the Copic ABS airbrush system with your Copic Sketch or Copic markers opens new doors for creative expression. From backgrounds to patterning, the ABS system is incredibly versatile. Jayleen Weaver explains some great techniques to help you create unique, layered backgrounds and detail separation using the ABS-3 with X-press It masking film.

Follow along and then try these techniques on your own artwork!


The low-tack Mask It film is the only masking film I've ever successfully used on paper without problems. Masking films can be very tricky to use. A true low-tack film is needed. Otherwise, if you leave it on too long—and I'm talking minutes—it can quickly tear your paper or remove bits from the surface. Or leave a residue that interferes with coloring. I try to do all the work with masking film in pictures first then do the rest of the coloring after I'm done with the film.

The X-press It Mask It film is true low-tack film and doesn't leave any residue to interfere with your coloring after you remove it. You can easily color right where the masking film was applied.

For this tutorial I decided to do a play on the common Coyote howling-at-the-moon silhouette as a perfect model to illustrate the use of the Mask It film.

Tools & Supplies



My original drawing was sketched in my sketchbook with an IC blue mechanical pencil(Ed. note: available from Copic in 2015). I scanned the drawing and made it a grayscale. I cropped it to the aspect ratio I wanted for my final artwork (5x7) and printed it out. I'll use this image to transfer to my final paper.



I made a file that had 4 of the same sketch so I could plan my colors. I usually do this for most of my drawings to make sure I can even do the technique I want, and to make sure the colors I have in my head translate onto paper like I envision.


I did some quick tests with colors on the thumbnail sheet to see which method would work best, and how I could most effectively portray the mountains with atmospheric depth using the masking film. I decided to go with a combination of the bottom 2 as I really liked the silhouette over the white moon.

Transfer to Paper


I trace the sketch onto the X-press it blending card using my lightpad. I tape the sketch to the back of the paper, then place it on the light pad so you can see the sketch come through. I chose to ink the dinosaur in blue so the line art wouldn't show through in the end. But I also wanted to be able to see the line art through the masking film when I cut out. Since the dinosaur is the darkest layer it won't matter.


This image shows the difference in the ink and the pencil. I penciled the lines of the mountain layers because these layers would be lighter than the pen—and I did not want them to show.

Masking Film


My method of this image is to gradually remove sections of masking film as I go. To start, I cover the whole image with masking film. I cut out a piece slightly bigger than the image. The masking film is a very thin film of flexible plastic on a piece of backing paper. It's very much like the sticky paper for lining cupboards and drawers.

To lay it on my paper, I use the same skills I learned from lining my cupboards!I start one edge by pulling back the paper about half an inch. I smooth the sticky side down on the paper, and then—while pulling the backing paper off the underside—I smooth the film down as I go.

Don't rub the masking film down, or feel like you have to make sure it's really stuck on. As long as there are no air bubbles you're good!


Here you can see where the film is over my image. You can see all the lines clearly through the film. Now we can start cutting away.

Cutting the Film

This is the part where people will have the most difficulty. Cutting through the film without cutting the paper definitely takes a little finesse. I always recommend trying out on scraps first before going into you final work. Don't go in your first time and start hacking away at your picture and then get upset when you've done so much damage.

Patience. Practice. Perfect.

A swivel knife is going to be the easiest way to get all the curves. If you're doing a lot of angular shapes then a regular craft knife will do but to get those smooth curves the swivel knife will help out immensely.

Make sure that whatever knife you're using it has a fresh blade. If the blade is dull you'll be trying to push too hard and you'll cut through the paper.


You need to cut through the film but not through the paper. To do this you need a really gentle hand. The blade is so sharp that the weight of the knife alone is enough to cut through the film. You can feel the difference when you start cutting through paper, and you can also hear it. Be careful and be patient.


I'm going to cut out the sections in the order on this image. The foreground (6) is going to be the darkest and it will recede to the lightest as it goes farther back. This is a common technique for creating atmospheric depth in an image. The farther away something is, the less detail there will be, and the lighter it appears.


The first section I will be cutting out is section 1. I very gently cut through the film with my knife being careful not to put any additional pressure on the blade.


Then I carefully pick up the edge of the film and peel it off. It should come up really easily. Don't be too hasty. If you can't pick it up with your fingers or finger nails use the tip of a blade to start the edge and peel up slowly.

Air Brushing


Next I take the airbrush and start filling in the first layer with my B37 marker. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you start spraying off the edge of the film and move the spray into the area you want colored.


This technique prevents you from having dark spots in the middle of your layer. Some darker colors can be a little sputtery in the airbrush so be sure to test your colors first. These are the things you will discover in the thumbnail "test" stage.


Once you're happy with the first section, cut and pull away section 2 in the same way you cut out section 1. You'll see it creates a lovely, crisp edge along the two colors.


I airbrushed B24 into section 2. It's a little lighter than the B37. You don't have to cover up section 1 because the color is lighter and won't affect the first section at all. This is why I've chosen to work dark to light in this image. Trying to line up the film onto the already cut out section would just be impossible.


Continue until you've done the mountains. For section 3 I used B24, and section 4 I used B21. and you've just exposed the sky layer (5). The only things still covered in film should be section 6, which is the Dino, foreground, and the moon.

To color the sky I used B21 and B24; I didn't do a solid layer. I did the top edge a little darker, and around the edge of the moon I added a little bit of darker color with some streaks. I tried to keep it light while still creating contrast.


When it's done how you like it, you can take off the final layer of film. You can see a couple areas where my film didn't quite match the lines so I fixed those up with the final layers of color.

Final Layer


I wanted the middle section of the T-Rex to have a lighter color so the contrast between the face and the moon would create more of a focal point. I used B24 and blended it with B37, and then used the darkest color, B39, near the head and tail.


The edges of the back leg I left highlighted a bit to add some dimension and interest to the overall image.


I used a bit of B99 to get the darkest color to be just a little darker around the face and the tail. I used the same 2 colors (B99 and B39) to color in the rest of the foreground space as well.


When it's all scanned and color corrected (and not all yellow from my poor lighting) it looks like this. There are a lot of other ways you can use the masking film for creative effects. It's fun to experiment with.

Some parting words of advice when using this film:

If you're wanting to color the area with the marker rather than airbrush, in my experience it works better to color without soaking the paper too much along the edge of the film. It can create a dark edge where it can easily over saturate. Also, if you've accidentally cut into the paper a little, the cut will pick up some of the color and make a dark mark along the line.
The film is a very slick plastic. When you're peeling off the film be careful about any ink that might not be dry on the surface of the film. It will smear if it's not dry and you could end up with unwanted marks on your image from ink fingerprints or smears.

We hope this helps—and that you've enjoyed this tutorial! Now it's your turn to try adding the ABS and masking film to a project!

Find Jayleen Online

CopicColor MarkerGuru

Tags: How To, Inspire, Airbrushing, Edited, Mask it,