Digital Inking 101

If you’ve been creating comics for a while now, you’ve probably debated if you should switch to digitally inking your work. The thought of no pencil lines to erase, no ink to accidentally spill, and the powerful control/command-Z option is intriguing, is it not? Heck, if you can sketch your comic digitally, the scanner even becomes nothing more than a paperweight! It’s a definite time-saver once you get used to it. As I have touched on before,  some people just need the feel of paper and pen to get the most enjoyment out of the experience. This is totally fine, but for those of you who are interested in trying out that wacom tablet, or even have a Tablet PC laptop like me, this is the tutorial to get you started.
*note: this tutorial is focused on Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator CS4. Earlier or later versions may be slightly different.

With either the wacom tablet or a Tablet PC, there is a bit of set-up before you can jump into inking your comics. Simply plugging in the USB and installing software will get your the basics of a mouse. But syncing the pen to Adobe applications to gain access to the awesomeness that is pressure sensitivity, is what takes a few preference tweaks and some testing out to see what you prefer the most. Once you follow the instructions for the basic set-up of your tablet, follow these steps for Illustrator and Photoshop.

Step 1: Brushes in Illustrator

I have found that I prefer Illustrator to Photoshop when it comes to inking. The line is always crisper and sleeker, and vector art can be blown up or shrunk so easily without losing quality. In Illustrator, the key is in the brushes. Only calligraphic brushes offer tablet settings, so set up some new brushes that will be used entirely for your tablet and pressure sensitivity. Go to your brushes palette and select NEW BRUSH. Make sure it’s set to “Calligraphic”, and name it if you please. The next window that appears is key.

The universal factor in all the brushes you create is selecting “PRESSURE” in the drop-down. I use a bunch of custom made ones: a little tiny 1 pixel one for “penciling” the sketch, a medium size calligraphy one for inking, and a large calligraphy one for filling in black areas and coloring. Playa round with the angle and roundness percentages until you find a brush you enjoy using and emulates your lineart style best. Once created, these specific brushes will work with the wacom capabilities of pressure sensitivity… Other brushes will not. Keep in mind you can always go back and adjust them as needed.

Step 2: Paintbrush Tool Settings

Narrowing down the size brushes you want to use is only half the battle. Next up is the actual setting for the paintbrush tool itself. Another reason I like Illustrator is that the paintbrush sleekness can reduce “human error”, in that it can smooth out your line. What can I say, I like the sleek look!  The paintbrush tool can allow you to control just how much it will smooth out your artwork.

To adjust these settings, an easy way is to double-click the tool on the tools palette. An options window will appear. In the top section you can control the “fidelity” (anchor points) and the “smoothness” (curvation). The best way to understand this fully is to, again, play with the settings. Set both of these very high, and do some doodling. See how the paintbrush tool “corrects” your line and smooths it out? It may be too much for your style, as it was for mine. This is why I keep both settings very low.. Gives me more control over my line. The vector brush comes out smoothly, but still is close to my natural style of drawing.
*note: this also depends on how large you work. The larger you work, the less the line will be smoothed. I do not work terribly large (approx. 15” wide), so I need to keep my settings very low.

The lower section of the Paintbrush Tool Options should be set to “edit selected paths”, and 12 pixels. If it was set to “keep selected”, you might have noticed an annoying feature that keeps each line selected after you draw, so that the next stroke just adds to or corrects the last. That certainly is no way to draw.

Once these 2 settings are figured out, you’re all set to ink your comic in Illustrator!

Step 3: Photoshop

Photoshop is a slightly different breed, when it comes to inking with a tablet. For one, there is less to set up. It all comes down to the brush palette, and what options you check. If you open the palette, you’ll see a left-hand sidebar with options to check. “Shape Dynamics” is first, this will control how thick or thin the line gets as you press down on the tablet (pressure sensitivity!). Set the drop down menus to “pen pressure”. What is nice about Photoshop is that you get a preview of how the brush will “draw” as you play around with the sliders, so dive right into that! Again, due to my love for sleek lines, I prefer low settings for these.

The other bonus Photoshop offers is the ability to not only change the size of the brush with pressure, but the opacity! These settings are listed in “Other Dynamics” (I know, how vague). Here, you can alter the jitter in opacity and flow. An excellent option for those of us who like the “painterly” style.. Or want to add different percentages of shadows & highlights to their characters.

That’s it folks! Hope your adventure into Digital Inking is as fun as it was for me!

My drawing table sure misses me, though ;0)

Posted in Drawing, Helpful Hints, Tech, Tutorials and tagged , , , , , , , .


  1. I plan to re-read this at home tonight and try it out. I use a mouse for all my inking in illustrator (I know I know, get a tablet. I have two but the mouse works well for me…I’m crazy like that). I’ve been wanting to play with customer brushes but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    • very cool, let us know how you do! But, the best usage of calligraphy brushes is with pressure sensitivity of wacom technology. Otherwise the thick-or-thin-ness of the line is not determined by your hand, but by the application. In my experience, that never works out the way you want it to.

      You mouse-inkers amaze me! I made attempts, but to no avail, LOL

  2. been digitally inking in PS for nearly 2 years now and have yet to find a setting for a brush there that matches what I am looking for in a stroke. I have tried to digitally ink in Illustrator, but am finding it hard to make the leap 100%. It all falls down to the time I can spend in the micro-studio without major nerve damage, but for now, will stick with what I am comfortable with in PS while continuing to play with the settings until I get the stroke I am looking for. I think part of my problem may be, at least with PS, is the size of screen that I am working with. I have a 17″ laptop screen but working at 600dpi and the size of the comic being about 4800px wide, I can only ink a little, move the page a bit and ink some more. If I zoom out to say 65%, then zooming back into 100%, the lines are all jagged and not smooth. Illustrator may help with this, but the learning curve for now is the wall keeping me from doing that. I could get a large screen to look at, but again, I am limited to room in the studio. LOL…anyone have a cintiq I could borrow?

    • Hiya Karl;

      There is a learning curve, but I swear by Illustrator due to the same issues you have with PS- the jagged lines. AI makes my strokes smooth and crisp.

      But the tablet laptop I have is really what made the transition easy.. drawing directly on the screen is 10x better than the wacom tablet. I couldn’t sketch at ALL with a wacom tablet, but can easily & naturally do so on my tablet laptop. Without it, it was pencil sketches, scanned and inked awkwardly with the wacom tablet. Or sticking with a fountain pen and ink, traditionally.

      These tablet laptops are being reduced all the time. The one I got for $950 can now be bought for $750! AND it’s portable– the biggest PRO over the Cintiq for me.

      • the one thing I wished Illustrator did have was the ability to scan (import) directly into it. As it is now, I still have to scan into PS and then open it in AI. At least I don’t see a way of scanning into AI on the version I have.

        • Karl, once you get over the awkward stage of moving your page to ink sections of line, you’ll be fine. It took me about a year to transition from table to digital. Now I do everything exclusively in digital format.

          The only exception is doing page thumbnails, character sketches and designs, where I prefer to whittle away in my sketchbook until I hammer out an idea I like.

  3. I have a small wacom bamboo fun, is it enough for backgrounds or should I start saving for an intuos or something?

    Can you make a tutorial for panel dividing sense/techniques, or do y’all just wing it?

    • Hey Camui!

      If you can afford an Intuos, I’d recommend it highly over the Bamboo. I think you’ll find it has a better “feel” and much better sensitivity.

      As far as panels, I start with one big panel for each comic and then place the dialog inside. The dialog pacing will give you an excellent reference where to break your panels. It’ll also show you if you have too much dialog as well.

      Most of the time, I place my dialog, do rough sketches (very rough) of my characters and then make my panels. Since I’ve been doing that, I think my comic pacing has improved a great deal.

      • “feel”? So it’s more like drawing on paper, or is it a different, awesometablet “feel”?
        I..I don’t understand your method.

        • Feel of the tablet. It’ll sense how much pressure you are applying, etc. Like a pencil to paper, you can push harder or softer. Some folks talk about the “drag” of paper, I don’t miss that personally.

          I have an Intuos 3 and it is extremely responsive to pressure. Not overly so, but my pencil sketches on the Intuos in Manga Studio look fantastic.

          • Actually there is one nib for the the Intuos 3 that feels almost like an inking brush gliding across the paper, naturally they only include one of those in the nib set… and it wears out quick.

          • I have a Cintiq and recently bought a screen protector that has a paper feel to it.

            It’s actually quite nice and was so easy to order and install. I’m really glad I did because I love the feel of drawing with pencil and paper.

            That being said – I still draw on paper, but now when I ink, it’s not as glossy.

  4. Well. This is the second time within a week someone has mentioned preferring Illustrator to PS for inking. So I’m going to have to fire it up and twiddle with it. But it’s got a job in front of it to pull me from the tight PS grasp.

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