The Complete Digital Comic, Part 2: Inking in Illustrator


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.



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.

  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.


  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.


    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.


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


      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:

    • 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:

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!