Digital Inking Tutorial #1

I draw a lot of comics, and I have a typical flat style when it comes to inking which makes it very easy to learn and adapt to your own work environment. I’m going to attempt to keep this tutorial as basic as possible for those who:

1) Have never digitally inked before
2) Don’t have the necessary software
3) Want to learn an easy workflow technique

So let’s get started.

The Planner & Preparations

The easiest way to get organized for inking is making sure you have your pencil roughs set up to your satisfaction. You can always go back and refine your forms while you’re inking, but its really difficult to redraw entire frames. So make sure that when you’re ready to ink, you’re happy with what you’re filling in. Generally I will start with a thumbnail sketch for my pencils, then move into a full size rough with very minimal detail. If you’re a beginner, you may want to add more details to your work to ensure consistency and have a solid guide when it comes time to inking your final work.

Here is a sample page from a webcomic I’m producing.

You’ll notice that it is VERY rough. I tend to work quickly for the sake of efficiency, so I’ll hammer out the details more at this inking stage rather than before. I may change my mind about a pose or facial angle etc (all MINOR details, remember). With enough practice, you’ll be able to do the same if you feel comfortable working like that.

In this sketch by comic illustrator Alex Ross, you can see the enormous amount of detail he has with his pencils. Generally, the pencils are then handed off to an inker who is given some instruction on fills and flourishes – you can see that Ross has filled in most of the blanks for his inker so that person can stay within the confines of what Ross has imagined the final piece will look like with the inks.


You can see there’s little room for interpretation on the inker’s part. I don’t work that way since I’m a one-man-army so I can take those liberties for now. Chances are, you’re in the same position. So here’s the next step!

Scan your linework (if you did it manually like a majority of people) and save it at a relatively high dpi setting (300-600 at full size). If you’re doing a traditional comic page which is roughly 6.75 inches wide by 10.25 long (including artwork that bleeds off the page), and you are not working at that size when you do your pencils, you will want to scan at a higher resolution to ensure your details remain nice and sharp. Scan your artwork as a greyscale photo in order to keep all the subtle tones intact – some scanners scan B+W based on bright white and dark black so your greys tend to disappear.

Personally, I do everything digitally so I will open up my program of choice for artwork (generally Photoshop or Illustrator) and set all my canvas settings ahead of time. This tutorial is based off a 6×9 format.

Set up your Workspace

Now that you’ve completed the prep portion of your artwork, I recommend you set up your working file with the following layers. Photoshop, Sketchbook, Gimp, etc all have layer options. If you’re using a program that does not, I’d suggest finding one that does, as it makes the process of inking much easier.

Here’s the set up:


The first layer should be your canvas/pencil layer. Since I drew my comics digitally on the same file, I had a separate layer specifically for pencils. If you scanned your work and placed it into your new file, you can use that as your base layer. It would be a good idea to reduce the opacity of that layer so your pencil work doesn’t appear as dark (for tracing purposes.) The reason for the additional layer below is to have a solid white color below the transparent pencil layer.The top layer is your working layer – that is labelled ‘ink’ and you will be placing your solid blacks here.

The ink method


There’s no right or wrong way to ink your drawn work. Some people prefer using a calligraphic brush for varied line weights (it looks like a ( / ) in your brushes palette most of the time) while others prefer a round brush with custom brush settings applied. Each program has a variety of different features that allow the pressure control/sensitivity or the brush shape you want to use for your inking. In this tutorial, we are going to use simple round default brushes because my style is relatively flat and clinical.

To begin, select a thick/large brush to create your main outline work. In the example above, you can see the outline of a character’s head with a thick round brush. I did not outline the hair – instead I chose to use the flat filled shape act as its own border since it is dense enough for the definition I want. In this example, I used a Round 7 pixel brush for the outline.


Complete the outline and make whatever necessary alterations to the pencil work as you see fit (within reason.) In this case, I didn’t like the proportions of my sketched figure so I fixed it during the ink phase (most of the time you would have done this already). Fill in your solid shadow areas with black – there’s two ways you can do this: make a selection around the area you wish to fill (using a lasso tool or a point/pen selection tool) and use your fill tool to fill the area with a solid black. Alternatively, you could use brushes and fill it in by hand. It all depends on your comfort level when it comes to efficiency. Find out what works best for you.

Next, select a smaller brush to fill in the details from your pencil work. Generally, I will use a brush that is approximately half the size of my outline brush for varied line type – here’s an example of it in action below:


Note the thinner line weight in the details. You could use a different brush for additional line weight variation WITHIN your thick outline for additional depth and contrast. But again, thats up to you and the style you want to achieve.


Continue filling in the details with the smaller brush. Feel free to use more brush styles and shapes as you like, and other ink/shading techniques like cross-hatching. This example uses fills and outlines (since the rendered product is in tones of grey.)


Eventually your page will begin to fill out with dynamic contrasts and begin to have a life of its own. Here’s a half finished product from the other day. Typically, I take a few hours to do a page since I do revisions on the fly. If you have a tighter pencil sketch, it may take less time (or more time depending on the complexity of the detail.)

A few other things to note – I rarely use my Wacom/pen tablet for inking, since my line weight is even throughout. I will use the mouse + Shift Clicking in order to get the “connected line” between the gap from the points I’ve placed on the canvas. This gives me more precise control over the direction of the line. It is definitely not very organic, and essentially eliminates the pressure options that you have with a digital pen. You may want to have that variable line width and prefer the use of the pen for control. I suggest you use whatever works best for your style. In this tutorial, the figures are flat and 2D cel like, since that is the effect I prefer for this comic.

Experiment. Find your style and learn from others. I hope this tutorial gives you some insight on how to digitally ink your pencil work and gets you on the path to creating comic books or webcomics of your own. The next tutorial focuses on coloring your comics after you’ve completed your inking.

Good luck!

4 thoughts on “Digital Inking Tutorial #1

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