Inking Techniques (Numero Tres)

Hey kids! We’re back with the final instalment of the inking techniques tutorials. This week we’re going to learn about some methods to do inking digitally. If you have a WACOM tablet or ink using your mouse (hardcore!) you’ll find some of these tips that will work with favorite software (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc).

Let’s get to it!

It’s All in the Brushes

Just as you would set up your brushes and pens in real life if you were working on an illustration on paper, you need to set up your brushes and pens in the software of your choice. Since I typically use the Adobe suite of prohects, I will show you briefly how I set up brushes and pens. (NOTE: Perhaps Byron could give us a primer on inking setup in Manga Studio? Faithful readers, harass the old fart and get him to do it!)

This is the key to inking digitally. Make sure your brushes are set up properly and you can achieve all the same effects we talked about in the second part of this tutorial. There’s no difference in technique at all, other then going straight to digital!


First thing you should do is open the brushes palette (select the brush tool from your toolbar and press F5 if the palette isn’t already open – it should pop up). In here you’ll find a wide array of stock brushes to suit your needs. A number of them are fancy and decorative, or used for painting purposes. Unless you’re looking for a watercolor wash type brush, I’d suggest sticking with the hard series of brushes. This will give your outline work a nice solid opaque black.

You’ll notice in the brushes palette that there is a list of functions for your brush. I’ll describe them briefly.

Shape Tip Dynamics: This controls how the tip of your brush will react when you apply pressure. There are a number of subcontrols and settings for pen pressure, the jitter (randomness of ink applied) and other options like fades and tilts. Experiment with the sliders to get some interesting effects.

Scattering: This controls the scattering and the count of the scattered ink on your page.

Texture:  Apply a texture to the ink applied.

Dual Brush: Select a second brush and multiply the two brushes to any ink applied. This is more useful for painterly effects, and doesn’t do much for hard brush inking.

Color Dynamics: You can add color effects to your linework (this creates some interesting effects) if you want to try something a bit more artistic than standard black outlines.

Other Dynamics: This allows you to alter the way the ink is built up in each stroke and whether or not there is a random effect applied (jitter) to it.

Noise: This allows you to automatically add noise to your brush stroke.

Wet Edges: This creates the effect of wet ink edges (useful for an actual dipped brush in ink effect!)

Airbrush: This is used more for painting and applying color – you can build up your paint layering like an airbrush.

Smoothing: Absolutely vital for inking in Photoshop – this will smooth out your curves and negate the natural jitter on the preset brushes.

Protect Texture: This forces your preset brushes to retain all the texture effects you’ve applied earlier.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the brush palette – you understand a bit about the wide array of options you can use to affect your inks. If you’re sticking with a traditional solid outline like most artists, my suggestion to you is as follows:

1) Select a hard tip brush.
2) Make sure Smoothing is selected from the palette.
3) If you prefer using pen pressure to set the thickness of your lines, select Pen Pressure from the Shape Dynamics option. If you want a uniform line weight throughout, make sure this option is not selected.
4) Also under Shape Dynamics, make sure your jitter is set to 0% on all of the available options. This will make your line smooth and devoid of any ragged edges.

You can use all of the same effects as mentioned in Part Two of this tutorial – crosshatching, spot fills, etc. The only difference is you have an advantage with unlimited undo functions – but you’re at a disadvantage also. The tactile effect of ink on paper isn’t as prominent.

Here’s a tip: This isn’t as good as inking on paper, but it helps a bit if you are accustomed to the gravity and drag from pen on paper. Get a piece of notebook paper or a sticky note, and place it on your WACOM tablet and start drawing. You’ll feel a bit more resistance and it should help you with getting your strokes down.

Create a Brush

To create a brush in Photoshop, select Brush Tip Shape from the Brushes palette. Pick a hard brush from the palette and modify it using these options:

  • Diameter (size in pixels)
  • Roundness
  • Angle
  • Hardness
  • Spacing (continuous stroke or broken up)
That’s it – creating a brush is pretty easy. You can create custom brushes for effects – but that’s a tutorial for another day. Stick to simple inking brushes for now – try a few different option changes to alter your brush makeup.


Brushes in Illustrator are set up a bit differently – since this is a vector based program, there are less options for things like jitter, textures and edge options. Photoshop allows for different transparency effects and raster effects – these don’t translate very well in vector, so it can be a bit limiting for artistic effects. The upside of drawing in vector is the unlimited scaling, the precision of the linework and its fidelity. It all depends on what type of comic you produce – if you like the slick features of solid line and spot fills, Illustrator may be for you. If you like the raw or painterly look of your inks, then Photoshop is your best option.

Here’s what the Illustrator brush palette looks like:

There are a ton of vector brushes available on the web, but they aren’t as specific as ones you’ll find for Photoshop. Since we’re inking, we only want solid ink brushes – you can ignore the watercolor or decorative brushes. Select one of the brushes from the list and double click on it. You’ll receive a dialog box that looks like this:

Here you can alter the angle of the brush, its roundness and the diameter of the brush. Under the diameter, there is a submenu that allows you to use Pen Pressure to alter your line weights (I recommend using this option).

Inking in Illustrator can be a bit tricky – there are some things you need to experiment with so you can find the limitations of the program. Illustrator tends to like singular lines and completed shapes. Vectors that cross over each other (like in crosshatching) require a bit more practice. You can’t make a stroke and cross over it unless you deselect the first one (I don’t know WHY it does this, but its a pain.) So there’s a bit of a learning curve you’ll need to get past before you can be really efficient with the program. But – it gives you the most precise and solid linework out of the three programs I’m going to show you today.



Inking in Flash? Really?

Yes – it can be done. In fact, El Cuervo is inked in Flash! So is chainsawsuit and Starslip by Kris Straub!

So what are the advantages to inking in Flash? Well, it renders your drawing in vector, so you can export it to paths in illustrator and scale it up to any size you wish. It also allows you to do one click spot fills – something that Illustrator can not do, but Photoshop can.

The major drawbacks are a WYSIWYG brush menu. The brushes are also scaled – so if you select a brush size and inkat 100%, it will not retain that same size if you ink at 400%. It can be a bit awkward to manage sometimes. Also, the jitter in Flash is FIERCE. You will need to adjust the smoothness of the brush in order to compensate.

Here’s what the palettes look like.

The brush palette in Flash is very simple. The options are:

Object Drawing:  This allows you to draw and have it convert to an object automatically.

Lock Fill: This is used for locking gradient fills across multiple shapes. (Doesn’t apply to us)

Brush Mode: This allows you to paint/ink in a variety of methods. You can paint over everything, only fills, behind other painted items, only selected items, or inside objects. This is useful if you ink using multiple colors.

Brush Size: Alter the size of your brush tip.

Brush Shape: Alter the shape of your brush – round, block, angle.

Use Pressure: Allow pressure to dictate line weight.

Use Tilt: Tilting your pen stylus will alter the behaviour of your line weight.

The other palette looks like this:

This palette allows you to change the color of your ink, and the smoothing of the line weight. The stroke options are for vector lines using the pen tool or line tool and don’t affect brushes.

That’s all folks!

Like I mentioned earlier – you can achieve all of the same effects as traditional inking, as long as you set up your brushes ahead of time. That is half the battle – the rest is up to your imagination and the hand-eye co-ordination you’ve picked up from drawing. I hope this helps you all out in becoming master tracers… I mean, master inkers!

Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is the new guy here at Webcomic Alliance and is the author of the modern noir Online Graphic Novel entitled El Cuervo.  In his spare time he works as a stunt man on MTV’s Jackass and as a punching bag for UFC Fighter Georges St. Pierre.  If you have any suggestions for upcoming tutorials, feel free to connect with him on Google+ or you can follow him on Twitter at @ElCuervoComic

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  1. Very nice and detailed, over all you do not even really need special brushes most the times I know many pros that use the default brushes, it just makes things easier and more fun ^-^ Also if this confuses you their is literally MILLIONS of FREE download brushes for PS, Flash, Illustrator and even Gimp among other programs you can find online.

  2. Thanks for the paper-on-tablet tip! I love this scratchy feel, and the extra sliver of space between pen and tablet makes it easier to get thin lines with pressure sensitivity.

  3. With regards to Illustator inking, I’ve heard several reasons behind the “redraw line if selected” option, but the main one seems to the ability to redraw a line if you desire.

    The reason goes something like this: When you ink, you want just one line in the end. This leads to having to redraw the same line several times until you get it right. Instead of having to hit ctrl+z everytime, they made a simple shortcut by just redrawing a line if it’s selected.

    The really annoying thing is that Illustrator defaults to auto selecting the line you just drew. Since I don’t mind using ctrl+z, I find this feature very annoying. The good news is that you can easily turn it off in the brush settings menu.

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