The Inking Compendium

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Digital:  Bitmap (Raster) and Vector

While there are some short cuts, digital is not a magic tool that solves your problems. If you're not a decent artist traditionally, chances are, you wont be that great digitally either.  That's not to say that you shouldn't try, but rather, when miracles aren't produced in Photoshop, don't give up.  There's a fairly steep learning curve when it comes to digital artwork, and the best advice I can give you is to follow some tutorials and really familiarize yourself with the tools you plan to use.
I am personally not really a fan of digital inking my own work, mostly because I am prone to nitpicking, and it will take me twice as long to finish.  With that said, there are a lot of really neat things you can do digitally that would take much longer or not even be worth the effort if you did it traditionally. 

There are a variety of programs you can use to ink digitally.  Bitmap based programs include Photoshop, Paint Tool Sai, Open Canvas, Manga Studio, Gimp, Painter, and even MS Paint.  I only have experience using Photoshop, Open Canvas, and Painter, and I prefer to ink in Photoshop simply because it is what I am the most comfortable with.

When inking in Photoshop, your strokes are not invididually editable objects, rather they form a whole, as they would if you were inking traditionally.  I recommend you ink on a seperate layer from your pencils, and you can change the opacity of your pencils to make it easier to see your inks.  Although images only display at 72 DPI on the web, you should probably work with a DPI of at least 300, especially if you plan to print your work later.  Because Photoshop is not vector based, it is harder to get super crisp strokes, but you can compensate with higher DPI's.  If you are not working at a large enough size, you may find that your work looks fuzzy.
Compared to Illustrator, Photoshop is really grainy.  Working at a higher resolution can help resolve the grainy-ness, but it makes the file size larger, and requires more memory to process, so it will slow down your computer.  For large images, it may be best just to work in vector.
When applying your blacks, you may find it most useful to work on a seperate layer with a lighter opacity.  This makes it easy to redraw necessary lines in white later on.
Example of a page inked and lettered in Photoshop.

Vector illustrator may be challenging to people who are used to traditional inking or bitmap based programs.  The fidelity of brushstrokes in a vector based program is not as true as bitmap. Fidelity means the accuracy of the computer stroke compared to your actual hand movement.  The higher the fidelity, the more the computer stroke will mimic your hand's movement.  Vector based images are easier to edit than bitmap, and programs like Illustrator save individual strokes as individual objects.  With Illustrator, you are able to work in layers just as you would in Photoshop, and I recommend taking advantage of this.  Vector based programs are ideal for creating large images at reasonable sizes, since you can scale your image nearly endlessly.  In programs such as Adobe Illustrator, you have a variety of tools available to create your linework.  The easiest route is to use Livetrace, but the results are often less than satisfactory.  For a decent Livetrace linework you need to start out with really really clean pencils.  My favorite is the brush tool, as it most closely mimic's Photoshop's brush tool, so it's what I'm used to.  There is a little bit of tweakability in your brush settings, but you probably won't have the same fidelity as Photoshop.  One of the nice things about Illustrator is that you can achieve more 'snap' in your brush than you would in Photoshop, getting crisper lines, so you spend less time shaving down your lines.  You can also use the pen tool, which is comparable to the select tool in Photoshop in that you pick points, and then it creates the line.  Flash is also vector based but I have very little experience with Flash.  The problem with Illustrator's brush tool is that your inking starts to become a bit generic, because the pressure sensitivity and fidelity are iffy.

Working on an entire mini comic in one document.

The brush settings I used to ink Chat.  It took me a bit of playing around to find settings I liked.

Note the ink lines have no pixellation.  This is because I'm working in vector.
With any digital based inking, it really helps to either be amazing with your mouse or to have a tablet.  You don't need a top of the line tablet to achieve satisfactory results, an entry level Bamboo is perfect for most inking needs.  This link describes the differences between raster (bitmap) images and vector based.  Basically bitmap images are the actual image, whereas vector files explain how to recreate the image, which is why they can be resized with no detrimental effects.

Traditional Methods:

I'll begin with the cheapest and most basic category- the felt tipped pens.  While many artists start off using felt tipped pens, a great majority end up moving on to more traditional media.  Felt tipped pens are cheap and easy to find, but may not be archival, may have faulty felt nibs, or may have bad ink.  Examples of felt tipped pens include Sakura Microns, Pitt Pens, and Copic Multiliners, and most are disposable.  The bad thing about felt tipped pens is that you have to compensate for the fact that they do not naturally give you variation in lineweight, which means it takes you longer to finish inking.  I do the majority of my inking using felt tipped pens because I have minor hand tremors, which makes it hard to control a brush or nib.  With felt tipped pens, its difficult to fill in large areas of black, so I recommend at least having regular ink and brush handy.  A brushpen is also sufficient.  While Sharpies are technically felt tipped pens, please don't use them, they are not archival and will eventually destroy the paper they're used on and eventually yellow.  Felt tipped pens are great when the nib is new, but awful when it gets worn down, so either replace your nibs often or replace your pens.  Felt tipped pens work great on smooth surfaces like plate bristol, but tend to skip on rougher vellum.  The surface of the vellum can also eat away at your pen nib.

By popular (and to me, strange) request, let's take a look at my usual inking process!  It's seriously nothing special, since I rely on Copic Multiliners.  I like Multiliners because they are Copic marker and watersafe (unusual for inks, since many inks run at the mere mention of Copic markers), I can bring them anywhere with minimal mess, and they are both refillable and have replaceable nibs.

First, I tighten up the printed bluelines in pencil.  This is really fun for me, because I've already figured out all the difficult things (pose, anatomy, clothing) and can now focus on making things pretty.  Next, I ink the face, using a smaller tip than I'll generally use for the rest of the piece.  For this, I used a size .3, whereas the rest of the figure was inked with a .5 and a .7 (and a brushpen).  For superfine details, I went down to a .2.

The hair is inked with a combination of .3 and .5

I started inking the acorn cap in a .5

But later decided to go over it in brushpen, to make it more organic.
Now I start inking the figure.  The light source is coming from her upper right, so the heavest lineart will be to her left.

She's looking a little plain, but don't worry, it was never my intention to leave her tunic white.

I apologize, Blogger keeps auto rotating the image the wrong way.  Anyway, I inked the paisley with a brushpen to make it stand out and to differentiate it from the inking used on the figure.  This denotes that it's printed fabric, and not it's own 3D entity.

I'm not a big traditional brush user, I've never had much luck with my purchases.  They may pull a nice point in the store, but as soon as I start inking, they begin to splay out.  Honestly, this is fine with me, I lack the fine motor control to really do brushwork justice.  You can use a brush to ink in a variety of ways (inkwash and drybrush included), and it really gives a nice, expressive lineweight.  It takes a lot of practice to develop proficiency with a brush, so you shouldn't give up easily.

I do, however, frequently rely on a brush pen for inking.  Brush pens have self contained ink (usually in cartridges), and are far less likely to cause a huge mess.  I use a Kuretake brush pen, and refill the empty cartridge with Bombay Black ink, because the ink the Kuretake comes with is too thin and transparent.  Kuretakes are a bit expensive, so feel free to start with a Pentel Pocket brush, it's excellent, and you can refill the cartridges with the ink of your choice.
I always have to digitally tweak my traditionally inked scans, as my scanner tends to blow things out.

Tech Pens include Rapidograph, and my only experience in using them is to rule out borders and for lettering.  They give a dead lineweight no matter what you do, need to be refilled, and require special care and cleaning for them to work properly.  They're a bit expensive, and I don't recommend them for a beginner.  The recommended ink tends to spider out on cheaper paper (including Plate Bristol, which isn't cheap at all, but works fine on Paris Marker Paper).

Ink Wash
Inked using nibs and inkwashed.  This page has been digitally tweaked using curves.  Further back in my blog, there's a tutorial on how to do this yourself.

There's a wide variety of nibs available, as well as nib holders.  I mainly rely on crowquill and Tachikawa g nibs when I do ink a piece using nibs.  I find nibs to be extremely messy, which increases my chances of ruining a piece, and I've had some bad luck lately with my nibs cutting into my plate bristol and causing feathering, so I rarely ink with nibs anymore.  I've had some success lettering with nibs (mainly B nibs, size 5.5)

Once you've inked over something, no matter what white ink you apply, you'll never reachieve the purity of that initial white page.  This is important to keep in mind when you're doing reverse lettering (white on black), or really any kind of design.  Sometimes it may be easiest just to leave that area white, instead of filling it in and trying to redraw it in white ink after.  You can invert the image in Photoshop, but I find that it gives a grainy appearance to the inverted selection.  If you're still interested in white inks, I've found that Bleedproof White usually gives the best results, but it's still far from perfect.  My favorite white gelpen is the Signo, which is available in several sizes and from Jetpens.

Inking Techniques:

Inkwash:  Inkwash can give your work a midtone (or several midtones), which is often helpful for establishing mood, particularly in dark scenes like this nightclub.  Inkwash is fairly simple to do and is similar to watercolor.  Make sure you water down your ink in a seperate container (small ceramic ramekins or dixie cups are ideal for this), and strongly consider making swatches beforehand.
Drybrush:  Can also give your work midtones, but I personally feel that it makes the work look kind of dirty.  This can be fine for certain artstyles, but if you have a clean artstyle, you should probably reconsider drybrush.  Drybrush is applied using a dried brush that has had the majority of the fresh ink removed (usually on a scratch sheet of paper).  Drybrushes can be any beat up old brush that you have lying around, I do not recommend doing it with your nice brushes, and it's pretty hard to consistently drybrush using a brushpen.  The best results I've had with brushpen is on vellum plate.
Toning with Copics:  This is my favorite method of applying tone, as the results are like cleaner inkwash and are much faster.  I usually use Copic's warm greys.  You should be careful what ink you use, as a large number of bottled inks run when Copics are applied over them.  Copic Multiliners do not.
Toning digitally:  This method offers a huge amount of versility, and you can recreate a variety of techniques with a little tweaking.  When you see 'manga tone' on a webcomic, its probably applied digitally using the halftone filter in Photoshop.   I can do a tutorial on this at a later date.

Inking for color is probably easier than inking for black and white because you don't have to worry AS MUCH about inking for high contrast, since your image will also have color to add interest and readability.  Inking for color leaves more white space than inking for black and white, and doesn't necessarily require as much texture in the inking stage, since a lot of that can be added in color.
This illustration really could go either way- color or black and white.  For this to be a stronger black and white image, I'd need to black out her hair and add highlights.

When you're inking for black and white high contrast, you have a lot of space to fill, and only two color options to differentiate objects from one another.  You're going to be making a lot more use of texture and filling in more spot blacks when you're inking for high contrast.  Pieces inked for high contrast tend to be more graphic.
As you can see, I use the black ink to denote shadow, which I wouldn't necessarily do with an image inked for color.  With an image inked for color, there might be a heavier lineweight on the shadow side, but a lot of the shading would be carried by the color.  
Figuring out black placement was difficult when I first came to SCAD.  I hadn't read a lot of American comics, and my experience with manga taught me that a lot of artists relied on tone.  I was a bit reluctant to use as much black in my inked images as I needed to, and it's taken me a while to get comfortable with the levels of black I use.  When deciding what will be black and what will be white in an inked image, I keep several things in mind:

What are the darkest objects in the image?  The lightest?  Darkest will automatically become black, lightest stay white.
Is there any way I can black out a wall, window, or doorway to better frame an important character?
Can I black out a shirt, hair, or pants to make it easier to tell one character from other?
Is there any sort of texture or design I can judiciously use to better render the object and to increase the black placement?
White highlights and halos are tricky things.  The more you use halos, the flatter your image will look, which might be ok if you have a cartoony style.  You need to practice using both to really get a feel for what works for you.
Let's use a sample page to illustrate these concepts!
In retrospect, I could've added texture to the walls.  You want to go from busy to uncomplicated the closer you get to your important characters, as it helps the reader focus on what's important.
The areas of highest contrast will immediately draw the reader's eye, so you want your blackest blacks and your whitest whites closest together.  Patterns become a visual graytone and the eye often reads that as 'unimportant' at first glance.  In this image, the reader is probably most likely to notice either Kirsten (strong black and white) or the picture frame she's holding first.  Both of these readings would be fine.  It helps to understand what's most important in the story you're telling, so you can work your compositions and your inking around that.

No matter, what, if you want decent reproduction with traditional media, you need to use a good scanner and scan at a high DPI. You may need to fiddle with the settings and tweak in an graphics program anyway, but its easier to start with a good scan than to try and salvage a bad one.

I've covered everything I could think of with this compendium, but if you have any additional questions or need more examples, please let me know.


  1. You should recommend artists work in a higher resolution, as DPI only represents the display size. I could have an image which is 1px by 1px which would be of equal quality on my screen if it was in 72 DPI than if it was in 300 DPI. It wouldn't be until I printed it that I may notice a difference in quality, but you can convert between any DPI with no loss in quality.

    Also, you should mention that many of the bitmap-based programs can use vector-based graphics, and further, that saving a file in a bitmap format (JPG, PNG, BMP, TIF) will permanent limit the quality because the visuals are no longer repesented as vectors. Most browsers support SVG (support vector graphic) though if you want to stay in vector form and that Google Doc Viewer will now render Photoshop and Illustrator files straight to a website so you don't have to worry about losing resolution.

    It would help to explain that vectors have infitite resolution, like a fractal. You can magnify to your heart's content and it will never become pixelated. This is because the visuals are being represented by mathematical functions rather than just a grid of colored dots. Think of how your TrueType fonts can be blown up as large as you want and you still have a crisp edge to the type; they're not insanely large bitmaps, they're vector-based, just like your illustrator image.

  2. Do you ever use a multi-liner to add line dynamics by thickening lines or do you always use a techpen or brush if you need thicker lines? If you do use a multi-liner, is the result noticeably worse than if you just used a single stroke with a brush? You've told me that inked areas should just be treated like they're black, but especially over time I imagine individual stokes become more distinctive and could be distracting.


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