The Complete Digital Comic, Part 1: Sketching and Pencilling in Photoshop

Pencilling

I recently received a request to write a tutorial about creating comic book art on the computer. Although I don’t work as a comic artist, I’ve always been fascinated by the process. So, this will be part one in a series of tutorials that will outline how I would make a comic digitally.

This was a very fun experiment, and I hope all of you, even you non-comic artists, can learn something new by this series. And by all means, if there are any “real” comic artists out there with any input, please leave a comment on this post.



Supplies

Software

Adobe Photoshop – Photoshop is probably one of the best pieces of software you can use for sketching because of it’s brush tools and editing capabilities. Acceptable alternatives include Photoshop Elements, GIMP, or ArtRage – anything with basic painting capabilities, compatibility with a graphics tablet, and the ability to work in layers.

Hardware

Besides a good, fast computer, you will need some kind of graphics tablet, like a Wacom. You can read more of my thoughts about them in one of my previous articles. I am personally using a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet.

Creating a Pencil Brush

Got your handy-dandy Wacom tablet in front of you? Good. But we’re still not ready to draw yet. The first thing you need to do is change your brush settings so you’ve got a good “pencil” to work with.

In Photoshop, go to Window–>Brushes to open your Brush Palette.

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The Quick and Easy Brush

In its most basic form, the only thing you need to make a good pencil brush is the default round brush. You just have to check on two very important settings.

  • On the left side of the window is a bunch of categories. Click directly on each name to see its settings. The first one you will be concerned with is Shape Dynamics. Go ahead, click on it.

    Make sure the checkbox is checked, then find the Size Jitter setting at the top. Underneath it is a “Control” drop-down menu. Choose the Pen Pressure option. This makes it so your brush changes size, depending on how much pressure you put on your tablet pen.

  • The next setting you need to change is in Other Dynamics. Make sure this box is checked, then change the Opacity Jitter Control to Pen Pressure. This makes is so that the lightness/darkness of your brush is affected by your pen pressure.

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That’s it! That’s all you need to make a good drawing tool. Experiment and scribble with it. You will find that it’s a lot like real-life pen and paper.

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A Better Pencil

If you like the look and texture of traditional pencil, the round brush isn’t really going to do it for you. With a little tweaking, you can make your brush look even more like natural media.

1. Change the brush shape.

Click on “Brush Tip Shape” in the Brush Palette (It is above all the checkboxes on the left). You will want to find a more organic, interesting shape to use for your brush, like a spatter or sponge looking one. If you don’t see anything there in your current options, try opening up another library like Photoshop’s Natural Brushes. You do that by clicking on the little arrow in the upper-right corner of the window.

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2. Apply a texture.

Next, check the box and click on Texture in the Brush Palette. Click on the pattern thumbnail and choose a texture that is more natural, like a canvas or paper texture. If you don’t see any, click on the arrow in the right-hand corner to open some more. Once you’ve chosen one, you can experiment with the sliders if you want (I usually just leave them as they are). Then, you’ll want to change the “Mode” option, which is right underneath the Scale slider. These modes work in different ways that are hard to explain, but I usually use Color Burn or Multiply.

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Give your new pencil a scribble. It should look a lot more “real” than the first brush.

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Working with Your Brush

Brush Settings

For whatever brush you use, you will use different settings while you are drawing depending on the effect you need.

  • Opacity – With your brush tool selected, this setting will be at the top of your screen. This effects the transparency of your brushstroke (i.e. how light/dark it is). You can use the number keys as shortcuts for this setting: 1=10%, 2=20%, and so forth.

  • Diameter – At the top of the screen, you will also see a little thumbnail of your brush. Clicking on it reveals a drop-down menu, where you can change the size of your brush. However it’s much easier to use the bracket keys ( [ ] ).

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Get to know these keyboard shortcuts well, because you will probably use them constantly while you are drawing. Here’s a few hints:

  • A “hard” pencil – for when you want to create thin, light lines for rough sketches – lower the opacity of your brush (around 10-50%) and keep your brush size small.

  • A “soft” pencil – for creating thicker, darker lines and heavy areas of shading – use a high opacity (50-100%), and a larger brush size.

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Drawing with Your Tablet

It can be tough, but here’s a few tips:

  • Sit directly in front of your monitor, with your tablet in front of you parallel to the screen.

  • Remember not to rotate your tablet. This is kind of a natural thing to do at first, but it just throws everything off because your computer monitor won’t move along with you. It will kind of be like drawing on a piece of paper that’s glued to your table.

  • Practice, practice, practice. Your biggest challenges will probably be straight lines and circles. Just keep sketching and drawing, and eventually you’ll gain the necessary hand-eye coordination.

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Finally, let’s pencil some drawings.

After you’ve changed your brush settings and created a good pencil brush, your sketch process will be just like working with traditional pen and paper.

1. Open up a new document in Photoshop in the size your final page will be, with a resolution of 300 ppi or more. Create a new layer.

2. Draw a rough sketch. Indicate where your panels are going to be. (Hint: Hold down the Shift key while you draw to create a straight line.) For simplicity’s sake, my demo here has only one panel. Use this layer to scribble to your heart’s content, and really nail down the composition of the panels, the gesture of your characters, and other general forms and shapes. You’ll want to draw very lightly, so use a “hard” pencil that is small in shape and low in opacity. Even use a light color if you must.

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3. When you are finished with your rough sketch, create a new layer so you don’t lose what you have so far. Start refining your drawing using a darker, heavier pencil brush start planning what your final inking will look like. Pay particular attention to how heavy/light your lines are and how you are going to indicate value, such as hatching/crosshatching and solid blacks. When you’re done, hide the layer that contains your rough sketch and save your file.

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You’re now ready for some ink!

Look out for Part 2, Digitally Inking in Adobe Illustrator.

If you have further questions or suggestions, leave a comment on DaniDraws.com.

45 thoughts on “The Complete Digital Comic, Part 1: Sketching and Pencilling in Photoshop

  1. Kelly Johnson

    Been looking like something like this everywhere. No one every starts with a pure digital sketch and how to do one. Thank you, Miss Jones.

  2. Jared Bishop

    Love the write up. I do have to take issue with rotating the tablet. To me the motion of my hand seems to feel more natural when at a slight angle. I go I back and forth which way I like. It is much easier for me to have it straight when I’m doing page layout. But when I paint I can’t help but rotate it. eh to each his own.

  3. Lukas

    I agree with the Kelly. Every tutorial seems to start with how to abuse the computer’s abilities to supplement for a person’s skill. Your tutorial is on how to translate normal drawing skill onto the computer. Thanks.

  4. Marinha

    Fantastic tutorial series! Thank you so much. I really have to get one of those tablets (I’m one of those nerds who have brought drawing with a mouse to perfection ;) ).
    And while I’m at it – a great big compliment for your blog – it’s been an extremely interesting and inspiring read and I’m looking forward to more.

  5. Dave

    Cool Tutorial! I’ve been drawing solely with a Wacom for years (aside from paper doodles) and never really thought of trying to emulate a pencil sketch stage. When you can erase your virtual inks it seems easier just to start on the ink stage. But this is fun, maybe there is something to bringing in that rough pencil feel to help get your idea down before you commit to it. One note, in comics usually pencilers don’t shade in the bigger black areas, or spot blacks, but instead outline the area and then put an ‘x’ there as an indication to the inker to fill it with black. I guess this is probably to save pencillers time as they can be the slowest part of the process.

  6. Dave

    “Pencilling with Photoshop
    I stumbled on a cool tutorial for Photoshop today. Dani Jones goes over steps for making a pencil-like brush, and gives us some good ideas about drawing comic art (with a tablet) in Photoshop. She also takes her original Spiderman art through inking and coloring stages in subsequent tutorial posts.
    Dani’s portfolio has a bunch of fun illistrations and is also worth a look.
    After reading her pencilling toot, I sketched this space girl in Photoshop.”

    http://blog.pixelgun.com/2007/09/14/pencilling-with-photoshop/

  7. Nielsen

    I can’t really work up a decent pencil brush – at least not one I’m fully satisfied with. Would it be too much of a haggle to ask for the brushes you’ve made for this tutorial, to be put up for download? :)

  8. Deale

    Hey, I just wanted to thank you. I bout a Wacom Graphire 4 a year ago because I was excited about drawing and tricking out my webcomic, but I couldn’t make it work for me. Until today, that is. You’ve made my tablet 250 well spent, and I couldn’t be Happier. Thanks!

  9. Rivaldo Barboza

    Hello, Dani.
    I hope I’m not boring you, but do you know any visual reference books? [about clothes, weapons, building, architeture, etc.]

    Thanks a lot.

    I’m your fan.

  10. Dani Post author

    No, Rivaldo, you’re not boring me. I don’t really know of any reference books; I usually just look up whatever I need specifically on the internet or whatever. Sometimes, I’ll buy something from the Bargain Books section at a bookstore – they usually have cheap books on a variety of stuff (I just bought a book about lizards. Hey, I might need it someday, right?).

    If anyone else has a suggestion for Rivaldo, please leave a comment…

  11. Charles

    Hello Dani,
    Thank you for the tutorial, it is just what i was looking for. This will save me from wasting a lot of paper.

  12. Christopher

    Wow, fantastic. tutorial. May I post this on my site (junglejar.com) with full credit given to you? If you have the time, an email would be excellent.

    Thanks.

  13. Dani Post author

    Christopher, articles on the site may be linked, quoted, or referenced freely with credit given to the site. Please do not reproduce any posts in their entirety.

  14. Jeff

    Dani, not to be rude, but it seemed to me like you dodged the question that Nielsen put up. I have made some semi acceptable brushes, but was wondering if you could even just put up the settings that you use (i.e. brush 14 splatter, 40% opacity…)
    Unless, of course, it’s a trade secret… ;-)

  15. Dani Post author

    Jeff – No, I did not dodge the question. The brushes I linked to are the ones that I use regularly. I don’t want to post them here because they are not my brushes to post.

    As for the specific settings, I can’t even remember how I’ve modified the original brushes, and I constantly change the settings as I paint. There is no magic brush that will give you everything. It just takes a lot of experimenting. I’ve done my best to explain all the settings that I use most often in this tutorial and in other tutorials on the site.

  16. Ryan

    Nice tutorial, as is every other one on this site I’ve gone through. Thought I’d add to your list of programs for sketching. If you have the opportunity, give Sketchbook by Autodesk a try. It’s simple, clean, intuitive, and fantastically easy to use. I’ve been using it for years. I’m pretty sure they still have like a 2 week free full trial for it, give it a looksee. :)

  17. Chris

    Thanks for the tips/advice on sketching/drawing using photoshop. Before this I wasnt aware of changing the brush into a more natural one! thank u veryy much, ill be checkin gout your other tutorials ; )

  18. A

    Nice Work! Ive been looking on the internet to find a “real” pencil for photoshop and you solved the great mystery. :)

  19. Dani Post author

    michael – You are looking for the Shape Dynamics settings in the Brush panel. It is explained in the above tutorial near the top.

  20. Claire

    For the “Quick and Easy brush”, i followed all the steps but it didn’t work =(
    the only difference was in Shape Dynamics/ minimum diameter, mine was set to 1% does this affect it at all?
    its not letting me set it to 0%

  21. Monet Hinnenkamp

    Very informative post. I’ve found your site via Yahoo and I’m really happy about the information you provide in your articles. Btw your blogs layout is really broken on the Chrome browser. Would be cool if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!

  22. Matt Dominger

    Thanks so much Dani! I’ve been trying to simulate colored pencil digitally and this tutorial closed a lot of gaps for
    me. Your work rocks!

  23. Alsafysh

    Thanks for this, it’s really cool. I wanted something like this for so long. Brush dynamics have always been shrouded in some mystery for me.
    I’ve been trying for about an hour now to reproduce a nice pencil look as you have, but I cannot get one. I have stumbled upon other textures that look nice on the brushes and I have saved, but darn it all, you always want the one you can’t get eh?
    Are you using a standard PS texture? I can come close by reducing the scale of some of the textures to about 25%. scale makes a huge difference!

    1. Dani Post author

      Alsafysh – The texture I use most often is just a watercolor wash that I have scanned. I would just experiment until you find something you like.

  24. jazz

    i bought a wacom bamboo pen and touch 460k.. with a free bundled software photoshop elements 7.. but the pen pressure does not work in photoshop elements 7.. can someone please help me out..

  25. Larry

    @ Jazz. I could be wrong but I don’t think the Bamboo tablet has pressure sensitivity. Only the Cintiq and Intuous version of the Wacom has pressure sensitivity pens.

  26. Jacky

    Thank you so much! This was truly helpful. I have a question though, you know how when you sketch using the brush and the lines sometimes overlap and the point of intersection becomes darker, can you get rid of that? It can be kind of annoying for me. Thank you again for this amazing tutorial. :D

    1. Dani Post author

      Jacky – That’s not really something you can avoid. Either draw really lightly so the effect isn’t so prevalent then put down darker refined lines on top, or draw at a higher opacity so you can’t see through the strokes. It just takes practice, getting to know the tools, and having more confidence in your linework.

  27. bharat

    hi
    I am drawing artist but new to digital painting and purchased my tablet 3 days before .
    Why not to rotate my tablet ?
    when I put tablet straight , my lines not comes straight and well but it is ok when I rotate tablet

    1. Marduk

      I think it’s a case of alignment. It’s the same reason why it’s good to flip your drawing horizontally when you get it done, so that it looks well aligned.

  28. paul

    Very informative tutorial! I’ve been searching all around the web how to make a good realistic pencil on photoshop and now I finally got my answer – and a perfect pencil!! Thank you so much!

  29. Drew

    Dani, thanks for a lovely tutorial — very helpful for someone like me who is just starting out. May I ask: why do you prefer Photoshop for penciling? Is Illustrator not able to accommodate the kinds of settings, or is there some other reason? I understand why Photoshop is preferable in coloring, but it seems like a vector-based software like Illustrator would be desirable in the pencilling stage.

    1. Dani Post author

      I find vector based programs a challenge to draw in. There’s not a lot of subtlety in opacity and texture, which I kinda like while I’m sketching. Illustrator also smooths your strokes out, which while that is good for inking, I don’t always like it for sketching and pencilling.

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