The Complete Digital Comic, Part 2: Inking in Illustrator

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This is part two in my series of tutorials about how to make comic book art on the computer. If you have not read the first part, Sketching and Pencilling in Photoshop, you might want to give it a look. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Ready? Okay, now that we have a nice and refined pencil sketch, it’s time to give it some ink.



Software

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To ink a drawing, I would choose between either Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. They are distinctly different in the way they work, so here is a breakdown:

  • Photoshop is pixel-based, and Illustrator is vector-based. This means Photoshop “paints” pixels, or tiny little dots on your screen; Illustrator, on the other hand, draws shapes and strokes using mathematical calculations.

  • In Photoshop, you have specify a resolution (how many pixels are crammed into your image) before you begin. The higher your resolution, the more you can enlarge your image without it looking pixelated. In Illustrator, it doesn’t matter because the drawing will stay the same no matter what size it is.

  • Photoshop works best for painting because you can get subtleties of color, value, and texture really well. Illustrator is best for solid, flat shapes and lines.

So, which piece of software do you use for inking? Both of them work pretty well. Photoshop works more like traditional media because of its painting nature, but with Illustrator you can resize the drawing without worrying about resolution. Experiment and find out what works best for you.

Inking in Photoshop

  1. Open up a new document that is the size of your page. Make sure the resolution is very high (around 600 ppi or higher).

  2. Place your sketch on its own layer. Lower the opacity to 50% or so.

  3. Create a new layer on top of your sketch. This will be the layer you ink on.

  4. Choose a brush that is hard-edged. The normal round brush actually works pretty well for this, but you can experiment with different brush shapes if you like.

  5. In your brush settings, make sure that Shape Dynamics is turned ON, so that you get a calligraphic line while you draw. Make sure that Other Dynamics is turned OFF, so that your line will stay solid black, no matter how much pressure you put on your pen.

  6. Ink your drawing just as you would normally. This can be a frustrating task to do with a tablet, but it can be done. It just takes practice and persistence.

  7. When you are done, hide your sketch layer. You now have a finished ink drawing!

Inking in Adobe Illustrator

I will concentrate most of my tutorial on Illustrator because that is the software that I use myself. I will be inking the sketch I made in part one of this tutorial, which you can see here.

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  1. Getting Started

  2. Create a new document in Illustrator. Place your sketch by going to File–>Place.

    In the resulting window, find your sketch file, check the box that says “Template,” then click Okay.

    Your sketch will be placed at the center of your document at 50% transparency on a locked layer.

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  3. Creating Your Panels

    1. Select the Rectangle tool. Draw a rectangle that covers your document.

    2. Make sure you have a stroke on your box, and no fill (so you can see your sketch underneath).

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    4. Use the Rectangle tool to draw in your panels (for simplicity, my demo here only has one panel). If your panels have an irregular shape, you can also use the other shape tools or the pen tool.

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    6. When you are finished, Select All (Command+A) to select all your shapes. Then go to the Pathfinder window. If you do not see it, go to Window–>Pathfinder. Find the button that says “Exclude overlapping shape areas” and click on it.

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    8. All of the shapes you’ve drawn will now be combined into one shape. Thicken the stroke and change the fill color to white (or black, for a “frame” look). You can see that your panels have been cut out of your larger rectangle shape, so you can see your sketches in all the panels.

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    10. If you need to tweak the size or position of your panels, use the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow) and click on the center of the panel. Then use the free transform tool to modify it.

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  4. Inking Your Drawing

  5. The Pencil and the Brush

    There will be two main tools that you will be using to ink your drawing: the pencil tool and the brush tool. For more geometric shapes, you might also dabble with the pen and shape tools, but it will mostly be the pencil and brush if you are going for the traditional hand-drawn look.

    The Pencil – If you were to draw a stroke with this tool, it would be a thin line with no variation in width. It is not good for drawing lines, but it useful for drawing organic shapes. I use it mostly for solid black areas.

    The Brush – If you were to draw a stroke with the brush, you get a nice calligraphic line. This is the tool you use for drawing your lines.

    Because of the nature of these tools, remember a couple simple rules:

      If you’re using the Pencil tool, use no stroke and a black fill.
      If you’re using the Brush tool, use a black stroke, with no fill.

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    The Inking Process

    • Lock your panel layer so you don’t accidentally ruin it.

    • Create a new layer and place it underneath your panel layer.

    • You can now draw on this layer. Any strokes that you make “outside the lines” will be hidden by the frame of your panel layer.

    • Tool Settings

    • You can change the settings of either the brush or the pencil by double-clicking on it in the Tool palette.

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      You can also change the shape and size of your brush by double-clicking on its icon in the Brush palette (Window–>Brushes).

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      Use brushes of different sizes to get a good variety of line in your drawing. It is easier to make a bunch of brushes beforehand so you don’t have to change settings all the time.

      You can find more detailed instructions about this process in one of my previous tutorials: http://danidraws.com/2006/12/13/video-notes-bake-sale-brush-tool/

    • Use the Brush tool and start inking your lines. Vary the thickness of your line to give it some interest.

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    • Use the Pencil tool to block in your solid black areas.

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    • Fill in further details, texture, and hatching.

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A Little Demo

To help you understand a bit better, here’s a little video of me inking my drawing, using the process I just outlined.

For more inking tips, please read my previous article here: http://danidraws.com/2007/01/08/creating-line-drawings-in-adobe-illustrator/

The Final Drawing

Hide your sketch layer, and you’re done!

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Keep an eye out for the next part of this tutorial, Coloring…

If you have further questions, need something explained a bit better, or have something to add, please leave comment on this post. Happy Drawing!

24 thoughts on “The Complete Digital Comic, Part 2: Inking in Illustrator

  1. Francesca

    wow! I’ve tried to ink in Painter but I’m totally unable to draw such well defined strokes!
    I will try your method with illustrator, the result is really super!
    Thank you for this tutorial!

  2. Kelly Johnson

    Thank you so much, Miss Jones. You’re the only artist lending their digital skill to improving our superior knowledge. Any chance your coloring tutorial will cover skin tones in depth for different ethnicities

  3. 38kia

    wow, great tips and tutorial !!
    thank you, I’ve been using Flash to draw all these years.
    time to explore further on Illustrator !

  4. lukxiufung

    Hi there, I was wonder why the brushes that I set same as what you are showing. But the line I draw just not look like yours. Can help?or can send me the brushes that you define? please :P

  5. Dani Post author

    lukxiufung,

    I don’t use any fancy brushes here, just the regular round brush. If you are using the settings that are shown, it should work. Are you using a tablet? The thickness of your line will depend on a pressure-sensitive tablet. You can try reading some of my other Adobe Illustrator articles to see if they explain things better. Other than that, I don’t know how to help you, as it’s hard for me to see what you’re doing differently.

  6. Bryan

    These examples have really helped me gain confidence to do scientific storyboarding in my job. I much appreciate your dedication to helping others learn these techniques.

  7. Sven

    Thank you so much, I have been looking for this, I knew there was an easier way to ink in illustrator than using that annoying pen tool. Much appreciated.

  8. Dani Post author

    Dave – Artwork is generally scanned at 300 dpi, the standard print resolution. Since the sketch is not the “final” artwork, it really doesn’t matter that much, and I might scan it at 150 or 200 for a smaller file size. The particular sketch in this tutorial was drawn directly in Photoshop (see part 1).

  9. Ujo

    that was AWESOME !!! Now i have learnt how to work with photoshop and Illustrator and still be able to edit my illustration… that bit wasn’t known to me.

    Thanks!

  10. Bernhard

    Wow, that has really been helpful!
    I never knew how effective inking in Illustrator could be. I think I have found my way of inking :)
    Thanks for the great tutorial!

  11. Classic Boater

    Do you use the 4 pt brush described here all the time, or do I need to design a whole collection of custom brushes? How can I make my new brush available each time I create a new document, so I don’t have to keep creating the brush over again? Thank you for your great tutorial!

  12. Ian

    This is really awesome. I had no desire to ever use either the pencil or the brush tool before, but now that I have seen what they can do, I’m going to be using them more. This will save me a ton of time otherwise spent using the pen tool!

  13. Nat

    Excellent tutorial for both sketching and inking! I have a Bamboo pen tablet and it works perfectly with this tutorial! Thanks!!!

  14. Sent whorland

    Is there an equivalent to the “paths” tool to Illustrator? I don’t have a tablet, but I want to be able to “draw” my lines using a tool like photoshop’s paths tool, but also be able to customize my lines so I can get a wider variety of types

      1. Sent Whorland

        Well, there is the pen tool, but how do I customize the inking that comes from it? As in change the width, length and color, change the pressure. I found some options for the pen tool, but I’m not sure how to change exactly how the pen tool inks things – I want to simulate pressure points as if it was a pen doing it, and I want to change the widths of the pen tool

        I notice the options for the paintbrush tool (double click to get those tool’s options on fidelity and smoothness, but I don’t know how to access those options for the pen tool

        1. Michael Carter

          Sent, the best results come with using a Wacom tablet. They are pressure sensitive and really the best way to use these programs! I think the Bamboo is an inexpensive way to get started using a tablet. I highly recommend one if you are attempting digital art.

  15. Sarah

    Thank you so much for this tutorial. It was so daunting to try and figure this out on my own. I will definitely be passing this tutorial on to my friends. thanks again!

  16. Raiden

    Thank you so much for this tutorial!! I just started my web comics and I normally use Photoshop. I am frustrated because how my pencils are turned into crap after I ink them using Photoshop. Illustrator really works wonders but only to an extent (that is if you’re not painting or working with textured lifelike models).

    Again, thank you so much!

  17. rodrigo

    it is posible to use this technique using mouse? i should forget ir isn,t it. and why making this way when since the is a effect tool that do all the linework for you. i know no one use that, but can you tell me why. excellent tutorial, thanks a lot

    1. Dani Post author

      The technique I describe in this tutorial can’t be done with the mouse because it needs pressure-sensitivity to control the width of the line. However, you can use other techniques and tools like the pen and pencil with the mouse.

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