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.
My drawing table sure misses me, though ;0)