Inking Techniques (Part Deux)

Howdy again folks, we’re back at it with part two (deux for you Frenchies out there) of my articles on Inking Techniques. I will explain a variety of different traditional inking techniques you can try out on your own hand drawn works and in part three of this series, I’ll explain how to apply them to digital if you prefer that method. Ready? Saddle up!

Traditional Inking Tools

As I mentioned in the previous article, there are a number of different tools you can use to achieve some really cool looking ink effects. Here’s a few suggestions for your arsenal.

Pictured here from L -R – Crow Quill + Speedball Ink, Brush and Ink, Micron Pigment Pens.

You can mix and match tools to get your desired effect, but try to stick with one tool per drawing until you’re comfortable with it. There isn’t an UNDO feature when you’re inking with any of these tools, so watch out.

Here’s a few different techniques you can try out:

Spot Fill: This technique relies on creating solid pools of black areas in order to create a solid shape. This technique is mostly used in conjunction with crosshatching in order to increase the level of depth and create varying degrees of contrast. Here are a few examples of Spot Fills.

Note the solid pools of ink that create the silhouette effect and help define the main subject of the panel. In this image of Hellboy drawn by David Finch and inked by Ken Branch, you see how dramatic that effect can be. Spot fills are a great effect for moody, dark pieces, but should be used sparingly if you’re a cartoonist since they tend to dominate the panel.

If you’re setting up a spot-fill, here’s a good way of getting your pencils ready prior to inking.

In this image by Tim Bradstreet, you can see the areas that are going to be spot-filled are left open, rather than filled in with pencil. There are a number of pencilers who will shade in all of the areas they want inked using graphite. Personally, I find this step redundant and quite messy for an inker to clean up. To save a bit of time, mark they areas you are going to spot-fill with an X, like this:

Then there will be no mistake when it comes time to lay down your fills. Take care when spot filling, as some inks can be really watery and may cause your bristol or paper to warp.

Hatch/Crosshatch: This technique is used to add texture and as a shading technique when a spot fill is too solid to create depth. The easiest way to hatch is to create a series of parallel lines going in one direction that taper off. That is a basic hatching technique that is commonly used in Marvel/DC comics. It is simple and gets the point across that there is a shadow that tapers off. Here’s a quick example by Jim Lee of some X-Men.

Note the single hatch technique used on Wolverine’s costume. You get a sense of subtle shading with the application of just a few lines! Here’s how the effect is achieved.

Depending on the direction your shadow takes, your hatching can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal. The more single direction lines you create, the darker the shadow. Remember to increase and decrease the taper of the line size and the spacing between in order to make the shadow appear lighter at its end, and darker at the other.

Crosshatching relies on using a series of intersecting perpendicular lines that look like a weaved pattern. This technique is great for building up even more subtle layers of ink shading. Here’s an example of crosshatching by Kate Walton.

Note how the hatching is built up and tighter to create darker areas, and is opened up to create lighter parts of shadows. This is how to get subtle shading with pen and ink – suitable for covers and realistic pieces, but very time consuming for art within panels.

Crosshatches look like woven fabric. Start with a set of parallel hatch lines, then add a set of new lines that intersect the first set. It should look like this.

Stippling: This technique uses the accumulation of dots in a pattern to create varying degrees of texture or shadows. Depending on the density of dots, you can create softer, subtler shadows than you can with hatching and spot fills. This technique is not commonly used in comics due to its time consuming nature – but it has been used to accentuate certain elements of an inked piece. Here’s an example of an stippled inked piece by Walden Wong.

You can see the stippled dots close up in this cropped shot.

The effect is beautiful. but very time consuming. If you’re going to do this, keep it to covers in order to maximize your time.

Here’s how to do the effect:

Depending on the thickness of your dots, you can create subtle shades, or dark, rick blots. Select an appropriate size of dot  based on the object your are shading and vary the distance between them. Make sure the placement is random and scattered. Avoid making a pattern that will draw the viewers eye to it and defeat the subtle shading you were trying to achieve.

Ink Washes: The last technique I’m going to talk about in this article are ink washes. This is the most versatile way of achieving contrast and subtle shades all in one method. The only problem is the difficult level – it has a steeper learning curve than the other methods, but the end result is amazing. Here’s an example of an ink wash by Tim Sale:

This is all done using one colour of ink, but look at the variety of different shades produced! This is achieved through a mixture of black ink with varying quantities of water. More water = less intensity of black and vice versa. You can also layer thin washes of inks to create varying degrees of depth and build up your forms in that manner. The great thing about ink washes is that you recieve the best combination of all the effects with solid tones – the soft subtle shading of stippling, the building of form with cross hatching, and the dramatic contrast from spot fills, really make your pencils pop off the page.

You can add ink to the page, and water it down further by applying a wet brush to ink already laid on the page. This bleed effect is great for blending if you want to have subtle gradient transitions. I won’t go into too much detail on ink washes, but the techniques are almost identical to watercolor painting techniques – so if you want more specific effects like layering and dry brushing, search for watercolor techniques for ideas.

And there you have it folks – some more basic techniques for inking your work traditionally. Next article, we’ll talk about how to get these same effects in Photoshop.

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

Posted in Featured News, Helpful Hints, Tutorials and tagged , , .


  1. Great article Drezz. I’m primarily a digital inker but would love to get more experience doing it the traditional way. When is Wacom’s crow quill coming out? 🙂 -self-proclaimed slave to the ‘undo’

  2. Well, if the Inkling works out, I’m sure there will be a bunch of WACOM stylus similar to pens/nibs/brushes to choose from. Then you’d have the freedom of a traditional inking tool with the ability to render stuff digitally.

  3. I remember the early days of development for comics that I would eventually turn into El Cuervo. I did everything on a table – I used a ton of India Ink and Microns, and it was quite the experience. Once I moved to digital, I just found the process so much more efficient – but you’re right, there’s nothing like putting ink to paper.

  4. As someone trying to teach himself ink wash, I appreciate this article. 🙂 As you say, it can do the things the other techniques do, but it’s worth pointing out that you can also combine them all together!

  5. Wondering if you would agree that how “sparingly” to use spot fills, depends in part on whether the final art will be colored or not? Seems to me that without color to help delineate form and depth, you need more spot fills in B&W art.

  6. Pingback: Webcomic Alliance - Inking Techniques (Numero Tres)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *