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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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 ( [ ] ).


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.


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.


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