Comic inks: Project MUSE – Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society


Inking Superhero Comics in Clip Studio Paint


Gather ‘round, children, and I’ll tell you a tale old as time. When I was a young lad, I wanted to make a superhero comic, and I thought at the time there was only one program that was capable of digitally replicating the real pens that liked to ink with. Then I heard of a little program called Manga Studio. “But wait,” I thought. “This couldn’t be for me!” I wanted to make superhero comics. Those classic American comics with good versus evil, strongmen in tights, all that stuff! Not manga!


Well, boy was I wrong. Manga Studio or, as it’s now known, Clip Studio Paint is actually built to be completely style-agnostic. Style, it seems, comes from the artist, not the tools, and Clip Studio Paint has a wide variety of fantastic tools that you can use to make comics.


In this article, I want to talk about the three tools most American comic creators use to traditionally ink their comics, and how you can use Clip Studio Paint to replicate those tools digitally.


Tools of the Trade


Obviously, any tool that transfers ink onto paper is a viable way to ink your comics, but there are three types of tools that (in my experience) American comic book creators use to ink their superhero comic work.


Firstly, you have a Brush. Most comic creators I talk to that use a brush will use a Kolinsky sable-hair brush, sized 1, 2 or 3. A Kolinsky is a type of weasel, whose hair is very fine and, when put into a brush, forms an incredibly fine tip. These brushes are able to create very thin lines as a result, but can also spread out to very thick lines, especially if you’re using a Size 2 or 3 brush.


Brushes have the widest range of all the tools we’re going to talk about today, and, although that can be very handy in an all-in-one tool, it can also be very difficult to control and create consistent line weights.


Second on the list, we have the Dip Pen. Most often, I see American comic creators using a G-Pen style of dip pen. The G-Pen consists of a nib holder and a replaceable metal nib that is dipped in ink. The nib is split at the end, so that when pressure is applied, that split widens and more ink goes onto the page. Because of the metal build, pressure won’t widen the stroke as much as a brush, but you can still get a good amount of size variance. And nibs that haven’t been used very much can get some very precise thin lines, as well.


Lastly, a lot of comic creators will use Multiliner Pens for their superhero comics. These pens are based off the old cartridge-based metal multiliner pens, where a metal tip would be pushed into the pen opening, allowing ink to flow out at an even rate, theoretically creating even lines.


These pens are pretty famous for being finicky, though, so there is a wide variety of felt-tip multiliner pens that create fairly consistent lines without the risk of ink rushing out or splattering everywhere. These are set at certain sizes, like 0.

1, 0.3, 0.5, etc., with each number relating to the millimeter size of the line it creates. While these pens do have a slight variance, it’s not nearly as much as a G-Pen or Brush.


These tools are all fantastic… until you want to hit the Undo button. Luckily, they all can be easily replicated in Clip Studio Paint!


About Clip Studio Paint

For this tutorial, I’m using Clip Studio Paint, a versatile software for illustration, comics, and animation. It comes with a range of digital art tools and brushes so you can start drawing with it right out of the box. There is also a version available on the iPad.


Inking with a Brush


Right out of the box, Clip Studio Paint has a number of India Ink Brushes that work great for making superhero comics. Personally, I’m a big fan of the India Ink Smooth, because of its clean lines and subtle texture.


I would encourage you to see what the default settings of these tools behave like in a few drawings before digging in to customize them. Sometimes knowing what a tool behaves like helps you figure out what you really wish you could change about it.


Once you’ve had some practice, though, feel free to hit the wrench icon on the Subtool Palette with the Tool you want to edit selected.



In the Subtool Detail panel you’ll find all sorts of ways to customize your brush, including the Brush Size Curve, Opacity, and some helpful line-correction settings like Starting and Ending.


Setting the Brush Curve like this could get you some nice fine lines at low pressure, but really expand out if you push hard! Play around with this and customize it to get a tool that works for you.


Inking with a G-Pen


To get the look of a G-Pen, look no further than the built-in G-Pen in the Pen Subtool. This tool will give nice and thin lines if you apply light pressure, but will still expand out if you push down hard, although not as far as the Brush. But that’s what you want, since G-Pens behave that way in real life!



This particular tool uses a Circle Tip to create even smoother lines, as opposed to the Smooth India Ink Brush, that has a bit of texture to its tip. This makes for very crisp and precise lines, but can feel artificial if sized up too far.


So, when using this G-Pen, I’d recommend keeping it sized relatively low. The default is 5 pixels, which might be a bit small (more of a Maru nib than G nib), but I wouldn’t push it past 12 or 15 pixels on a 600 dpi canvas. In the demo below, I used an 8-pixel version, and it got a good amount of line variance.


Inking with a Multiliner


Lastly, let’s talk about Multiliners in Clip Studio Paint. These aren’t built-in by default, but I made my own, since I use these types of pens pretty often in real-life inking.

You can download them on my Gumroad site here.


These are made to emulate the consistent width of real-life Multiliners. They have a texture for each tip that I scanned from the real-life tools and tried to size according to real marks that I made on a scrap piece of paper. So the 0.1 will have a much thinner line than the 0.3, but also note how the 0.3 won’t get quite as thin a line, even with light pressure, like the Brush or G-Pen.


That’s the main difference between the Multiliners and the Brush or G-Pen: with the Multiliners you choose the right size for the lines you want to make, as opposed to trying to use pressure to get consistent sizes with the Brush or G-Pen.



Neither is better than the other, though! It’s all about using the right tool for the right look. And when inking superhero comics in a classic American style, there are a few things that I always try to keep in mind.


Tips for Emulating an American Style


Tip #1: Keep your light source in mind at all times.

It’s easy to think inking should be just like penciling, where you just draw the shapes as they are. But really dynamic inking is set apart by making sure your line thickness relates to the amount of light that is hitting that side of your subject.



You can see in the above example, on the left the hand is inked evenly, so the viewer has no idea where the light might be coming from. The hand on the right, however, is inked while keeping the lighting in mind. You can tell by the thin lines facing the light and the thick lines facing away from it where the light source is coming from.


Tip #2: Push your Spotted Blacks

Similarly, when inking your superhero comics, try to push the amount of spotted black you have in your finished piece. Spotted blacks can be scary when starting out, because you think, “I spent all this time figuring out where things go, and you just want me to cover it up!?” But when used well, spotted black areas can create some really dynamic values to push your inking to the next level.



Spotted blacks really help show the value of objects at the inking stage, in a way that will enhance colors later on. If a character’s hair is dark brown, don’t outline the hair and then fill it in dark brown later! Your colors will end up too close to your inks and it will look incredibly muddy. Instead, use some spotted blacks in the hair to show the values (and the direction of the light), so when you get to the color stage, you can use lighter colors that will compliment your inks.


If you’re a bit hesitant to ruin your drawing, you can always put your spotted blacks on a different layer than your regular inks! That way, you can test out some different ideas while saving your initial drawing. Sometimes more spotted blacks are better, since the old inking adage is “when in doubt, black it out!”


Tip #3: Pull your feathering
into your spotted blacks, not out from them.

I got this tip from a pro inker at a New York comic convention, and it was like a light bulb flared on in my head!


Feathering is the process in inking where you have a bunch of lines that go thin to thick that, from a distance, end up looking like more of a tone than a full black or white area. This is used a lot to show gradation, since ink is really just either black or white.



When you’re doing this, start from the furthest part of the feathering and ink into the darkest part. A lot of times new inkers (myself included!) will start at the darkest part and flick the pen outward to get dynamic lines. While this may have a lot of energy, it makes it nearly impossible to have the ending points of those feathering lines consistent.


Instead, try starting at the thinnest point and working back into the spotted black area. This way, you can have a consistent fall-off for your lines and they will look much cleaner and more professional.


Tip #4: Keep Inking Brush Textures Consistent with the Transparent Swatch

The best part about working digitally is that Undo button, but sometimes you just want to carve out parts of your drawing without going back a ton of steps and doing a lot of rework. Sometimes switching to the eraser makes sense, but a lot of erasers don’t mimic the texture of your inking tools, so this doesn’t look nearly as clean.


To avoid this, I often use the Transparent Swatch with my inking tools. This way, it erases the black parts of my drawing, but the edges still feel like they were inked.



On the far left, you can see that I’ve selected the Transparent Swatch under the Foreground and Background Swatches, which are black and white.


In the dot on the left, I’ve cut back into it with the Smooth India Ink Brush, so those ink lines retain the texture of the brush. On the right, I’m using the Hard and Soft Erasers, which don’t have that texture and don’t quite fit, giving it a little bit of a mechanical look. See the difference?


Putting It All Together

What kind of article would this be without a demo?


Let’s put my brush where my mouth is (hopefully without getting ink everywhere) and see what these tools can do on the same pencil drawing. If you’d like to see timelapses of these, check out the accompanying video on YouTube.




So, here’s Super Hero Man, just your classic superhero guy in tights, ready to be inked up. I’ve drawn him on a 10.25” x 8.25” canvas with a 10” x 8” Binding Size at 600 DPI.


For the Pencils, I used a Grey Layer, and my Perfect Pencil. I then set the Pencil Layer to Blue using the Layer Properties Panel and decreased the Opacity to 30% so I could see my inks a little better.



Here’s the first inking example! This one with the India Ink Smooth Brush. As you can see, this brush has a ton of line weight variance, which works great in some areas, but can be harder to control in tighter detail areas. This brush really sings in the broad strokes, and gets nice variance on the side facing the light.


Speaking of which, you can tell that I’ve tried to establish a light source at the top right of the drawing, since the lines on the right of his face and arm are much thinner than the lines on the left of his face and under his arms.



The G-Pen, on the other hand, has some really nice crisp lines. The feathering here is much smaller and tighter than the brush. Notice also, how I’ve spotted the blacks on the left side of his hair, so you can tell that it’s dark. I’ve also left a space at the far left side of that hair open for some nice rim lighting.



With the multiliners, I tried to use a few different tools to get the results I was looking for. I did an outline around the entire character first, in the 0.3, then switched to the 0.1 pen to do some detailing work. I tried to focus on hatching in this one, really getting some deeper shadows in his armpits and on one side of his face.


I also completely blacked out the black parts of his costume for a more iconic look, as opposed to rendering the light reflecting off of it.



And finally, these tools are really just that: tools! You can absolutely mix and match them, like I did in this last version. I liked how the India Ink Smooth Brush was able to get nice sweeping lines, so I use it for the outlines of his body. The G-Pen was able to get me some great details, so I used that for a lot of his face and muscle rendering. Then I used the Multiliners for different parts of his costume, so that would have a little more manufactured feel, since the lines were more even.



Each tool has a different feel, creating a different look in your final drawing, which is really interesting! How you use them is up to you!


If you want a deeper dive on this, be sure to check out the video I’ve made to go along with this article, with some tips and timelapses of the inking demos.


Now, get out there and make some great comics!



How To Start Inking Comics

Many people of all ages are very fascinated with comics compared to other printed media. Kids and teenagers will immediately be impressed with all the illustrations that literally bring the story and its characters to life. Comic book artists that have years of experience seem to have no problems in rolling out future publications and the quality of these comic books show. One advantage that many of these artists have is the use of computers to come up with digital versions of comics. These comics can not only be printed with amazing detail but also posted online. This is probably a good path for you to start, but you risk skipping significant comic procedures like the inking comic process.

Comics have been around far longer than graphics applications so it certainly helps to know how to make your own comics the traditional way. The process in making comic book illustrations actually has several phases but do not let it intimidate you. Once you learn the ropes in creating comic books, you should have an advantage of bringing out your creativity in digital or using the marker and that gives you the most flexibility. First, you will start with the sketching and you can quickly do that with a pencil and paper. With these two basic materials, you can practice different designs and make erasures if necessary. Your creativity goes to work already and once you are done, you can proceed to the next big stage, which involves inking comic sketches.


About Inking Comic Books

Inking is a refining process that builds on the sketch that you made. At first, you might consider this as tracing since you are making the penciled edges more visible but this inking comic process involves so much more. Inking gives you a chance to make certain areas of the sketch stand out more and can double as a guide to coloring the rest of the highlights. The more defined comic book illustrations have lighting and depth and inking also gives you the opportunity to create that depth and perspective.


Preparing Yourself for Inking Comic Books

Unlike coloring, you won’t really need many tools for the inking comic book process. Set up a clean and large workspace to get yourself comfortable because some precision will be needed. Every comic book inker should have India ink to work with. Also called black ink, this ink retains the color as soon as it is placed on the page since the ink is carbon-based. This ink is stored in a container so you won’t be using markers or the like for inking. Instead, you will rely on inking instruments such as ink brushes and mechanical pens for greater position. Sharpies can also count as inking instruments as well as crow-quill pens. You can even be resourceful and use q-tips to get that nice smudge effect.

In fact, smudge and splatter effects are included when you start inking and are crucial for giving the sketch some texture. If you want some variations, you should get a sponge so you can create nice splatters or an older brush. Other useful items for drawing like rulers can come in handy as well especially if you are not steady in making straight lines. The same applies with other tracing tools like French curves and compasses. While precision is required for inking comic books, you do not necessarily have to be perfect. Making a small mistake won’t mean that you have to make an entirely new sketch and start the inking comic process from the very beginning.

Some creative comic artists make use of colored pencils because they give them finer control over coloring. They are commonly used for tracing so you can predetermine which areas should not have any coloring. If you have erasers and white out at your disposal, you can quickly make the correction and proceed with your comic inking.


Getting Started

Since your jar of ink may have a lot of ink, it is best to conserve by placing just a little bit of ink in a smaller container or cap for easy dipping. Before working with the India ink, you must first dip your instrument in water. Have a paper towel ready because you are going to absorb any excess water. Once finished, dip your pen gently to get some ink and use the same paper towel to absorb the excess ink.
This is where the actual inking comic process begins and you can come off to a good start by focusing on the larger areas first. Sketches look pretty lifeless because of the areas that have a lot of white space. Focusing on those areas first really give you progress and guides you on what areas you should tackle next.

Take the opportunity to figure out where the light source is because this step will involve the necessary shading to give your subject a sense of perspective. To get a better grasp of the concept, it is best to try this out with a comic book character. The idea is to draw additional accents and lines on areas where the light source will hit so you can then determine what shading needs to be applied.


Other Notes

Inking comic books by hand surely has its rewards especially if you plan to do the entire comic book project by yourself. You can consider inking as a precursor to the actual comic book coloring where you will still need to have a steady hand when using the markers and other drawing instruments.

It only gets better from there once you finally move on to digital imaging of comic books. Since you know the basic concepts of inking and coloring, you can quickly make comic book creations much faster in digital form especially if you have the software and peripherals. It is best to use digital art as a guide for handwritten art because natural drawings can really let you express freely and inking comic processes simply make comics look more natural and appealing.


Recommended Books

The Art Of Comic-Book Inking 2nd Edition by Gary Martin

This book is absolutely amazing. The artwork and techniques described in this book are priceless. These are the same techniques pros use in what you buy in the comic book stand. It’s fairly easy to ink, and the author and his talented band of contributing artists prove this through their many examples and explanations on how they achieved their results. You will learn valuable techniques, starting with the basics, how to hold the pen or brush, line weight, and pen / brush control. Also, cross-hatching, dry-brushing, feathering your lines, etc… (these tend to be my favorites). You’ll learn how to translate a penciled piece of artwork into a finished inked drawing primarily. You’ll learn how to ink faces and facial features, as well as backgrounds and other objects. The author also clarifies any question you may have on the duties and tasks performed by the inker, as well as finding jobs as an inker. There is a lot more to be taught in this book, believe me.


The Dc Comics Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson & Frank Miller

If you have ever wanted to learn ALL about how to create stunning ink graphics (not only paper cartoons and comic art), then this book is for you. It teaches you tips and tricks that you can learn only from professionals in art colleges. A very extensive book for all illustrators and graphic artists. But wait, it also teaches you the principles of what I call “cinematic art composition” or how to convey your message to the book readers in portraying a specific text passage, etc. This can be your very own private-college-in-a-book thing. I highly recommend it!


Pen & Ink by Yasuhiro Nightow, Oh-Great & Satoshi Shiki

This is an excellent instructional how to book not only for manga but for anything regarding pen and ink. It is jam packed with how to techniques, materials and supplies. must have for anyone interested in working with pen and ink!



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How to Ink Comic Art for Your 8-Page Comic Story | #8PgChallenge – Step 9 (Updated)

Welcome back, creators. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you’ve been following along with the challenge, you are pretty far along with your 8-page comic story. That puts you one step closer to being a published comic book creator. Give yourself a nice socially distant high five!

In this next step, we’ll be adding depth and dimension to the penciled pages by adding inks.

In the Step 1, we reviewed how to plan a story idea for an 8-Page Story. In Step 2, we looked at how to break down your pages and plot. In Step 3, we worked on revisions to the plot. In Step 4, we created character sheets. In Step 5, we scripted our comic book story. In Step 6 we built our thumbnails. In Step 7, we drew page roughs. In Step 8, we penciled real comic pages. So awesome.

In Step 9, you will add inks to your pages. 

Post your inked comic pages in the Step 9 folder in the Forums.

About Inking

Inking can be a difficult concept for some people to really understand. If the penciler is the artist of the comic, then what’s the inker? Well, the inker is an artist too, just an artist that contributes to the art in a different way. Some pencilers ink their own work and some inkers are also pencilers.

If it sounds like you need art skills to be an inker, you would be correct. Inking can enhance or destroy penciled art, so it’s important for inkers to have art ability.

Inking was traditionally something done with actual black ink on art boards. These days, however, inking can be traditional, digital, or a mix of both. You can and should find the inking technique that works best for you.


Ron Lim’s Inks for Avengers Assemble (updated section)

Here are the inks from Ron Lim’s Avengers Assemble. You may also want to check out Ron’s pencilled pages and Buddy Scalera’s script for Avengers Assembled.


Inking Resources

At this time, we’re following the creative workflow of an Avengers Assemble story that I wrote for Marvel Comics. My editor Darren Sanchez provided insight into the creative planning and editing process. Legendary artist Ron Lim shared his pencil roughs and final pencils.

We do not have the inked pages at this time, but when I get them I will post them.

In the meantime, I’ll provide some useful resources for learning more about inking comic book pages.

Todd McFarlane Digital Inking (and some coloring)


Walden Wong on Inking Faces for Marvel Comics


And then there’s this classic scene from Kevin Smith’s “Chasing Amy” movie. You’ll recognize some significant Hollywood stars talking about inking comic books.

Chasing Amy “You’re a Tracer”


Ready, Set, Ink!

Okay, so now it’s your turn. If you are participating in the 8 Page Challenge, you should post your rough comic book pages in the Step #9 Inking Showcase forum in the [email protected] forums. Also, you should feel free to leave comments for the participants to help them improve their work.

Post your inked pages into Step 9: Inks in the [email protected] Forums.

Previous Steps

Step 1: How to Create a Story Idea for an 8-Page Comic | #8PgChallenge

Step 2: How to Plot Your 8-Page Comic | #8PgChallenge

Step 3: How to Revise Your Plot | #8PgChallenge

Step 4: How to Create Character Sheets for Your 8-Page Comic Story | #8PgChallenge – Step 4

Step 5: How to Write the Script for Your 8-Page Comic Story | #8PgChallenge – Step 5

Step 6: How to Create Thumbnails for Your 8-Page Comic Story | #8PgChallenge – Step 6

Step 7: How to Create Page Roughs for Your 8-Page Comic Story | #8PgChallenge – Step 7

Step 8: How to Create Pencil Art for Your 8-Page Comic Story | #8PgChallenge – Step 8

In the meantime, here is the original Announcement of the 8-Page Challenge.


Challenge Calendar: Register on the Forum to Be Added to the Calendar

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To Think of Ink: The Role of the Comic Book Inker | by Tho Carrion

Image courtesy of Bob McCleod

When you read a comic book some of you probably don’t think about the detail in the art. Sure you look at a page and think, “this spread looks amazing” or “damn that drawing is badass,” but how many of you understand the different layers that go into creating the art. The true unsung heroes of the comic world are the inkers. Inking is the process of adding shading and detail to the original drawing, giving it more character. It’s one of the most important and most unrecognized aspects of comic books. Without good ink work, comics tend to not feel right. At least that’s my opinion.

Some out there know a little about inking while others think that they are basically glorified tracers. In fact the movie Chasing Amy has a running joke about that very thing, yet there is so much more to the process. A good inker can bring feeling and emotion to a simple drawing. Some inker styles are sharp and polished, while other can be rough and gritty. No matter what the style, inking is crucial to developing the final product that we receive.

The reason most don’t think about the ink works is because it’s easy to overlook when you’re not an artist or hardcore comic reader. While the work is impactful and important, it is quite easy to overlook. The question about what an inker does was actually answered by DC once in a one page layout seen below.

Image courtesy of DC Comics

This layout shows the different styles that inkers utilize and how they each bring their own value to the art. Some inkers prefer more detail and less shading while others are the exact opposite. Both styles are valid and both have their place in comics, but not all styles are for all works. That’s why it’s important for an inker to match up with a penciler. While there are famous inkers in the comic industry, most go unnoticed due to the nuance of their work.

The Spider-Man/Punisher layout at the top of this article was done by a very famous artist, Bob Mcleod. Bob has held the role of both a penciler and an inker and the piece up top is an example of his inking ability. The pencil work was done by artist Lee Weeks, and we can see how much detail was added when Bob put the ink on the page. This is the perfect example of how inking works. The original drawing was nice and had a fair amount of detail, but doesn’t have the same impact on the reader that the finished product has. There’s really no comparing to a properly inked book.

In fact there are since titles out there like Walking Dead All Out War, that were published without ink. These comics are unique in their own right, but when reading them you get the sense that something’s missing. It’s like all the puzzle pieces are there, but they won’t fit together. Comics that use this approach always feel washed out or faded, and I personally don’t enjoy them as much as inked issues. So the next time you read a comic, take a moment to look at the art, see if you can notice where the inker added detail or gave a scene emotion with their subtle style.

Talk to Me about Writing/Pencils/Inks/Colors/Letters!

Adventures of a Comic Book Newbie is the place where you’ll find a discussion of the fundamental elements of comics and comic culture. If you’re new to comics (or perhaps a seasoned vet eager to get back to the basics), this column will serve as a guide on where to start and what you need to know to get the most out of your comics experience.

Panelteer Swapna: Writing a comic book isn’t like writing a regular book. With a regular prose book, there is usually just one author writing the words, but comic books have multiple authors, who focus on different aspects of the finished product. It helps to understand the role of each of these people and how they work together (and separately) because it changes the way you think about comics. As a reviewer of traditional prose books, it was hard for me to make the switch to comics because it was hard for me to grasp how the art tells its own story, rather than just being an afterthought (which is how I saw it at the beginning). Understanding the relationship between the different creators of a comic makes it easier to see how the comic comes together to tell a story.

So, tell me about the relationship between the inker/colorist/writer/everyone else I’m missing.

Panelteer Jennifer: This is a complicated question, and the answer is often different with each individual comic. In general, though (and I’m speaking specifically about modern, mainstream corporate comics here — indies are often very different), there are five people involved in putting the physical comic together (not counting editors and other people who work at the corporate offices): the writer, the penciler, the inker, the colorist, and the letterer.

The most important thing to know about the relationship between these roles is that the people who fill them may or may not know each other. Sometimes, these people can be good friends or even family, in which case an editor isn’t facilitating their relationships, making the process much more fluid and collaborative. More often with corporate comics, though, due to busy schedules and hard deadlines (not to mention language barriers and geographical distance), the five people involved don’t know each other very well, or at all, and the steps are made more discrete. It’s the editor’s job to “cast” each book by hiring all of these people, and it’s the editor who moves the pieces of the comic book from one person to the next and helps the different people communicate with each other when questions or discrepancies arise. E-mail is the best thing that ever happened to the comic-creation process.

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The writer of a comic, as you might assume, writes all of the dialogue that you see in the balloons on a comic book page. However, they’re also responsible for describing what happens in each panel, giving the penciler a guideline for what to draw. They’re writers, but they also do things we’d associate with directors and stage managers in film or theater. In most cases, the writer creates a full script in which they describe each panel on each page, and write out the dialogue the characters should be saying in those panels. Having the dialogue planned out is useful, as it lets the penciler know how much space to leave in each panel for the balloons, and what facial expressions the characters should have. In some cases, though, the writer might use a method called “Marvel-style,” where they write only a general description of what should happen on each page, sometimes without panel breakdowns at all, and then leave it up to the artist to decide how to lay it all out. Once the pencils are done, the writer then goes back and writes the dialogue, basing their decisions on the art as it exists. This is a matter of personal preference, and often depends on the relationship the writer has with the artist. I’d say more writers use the full-script method these days.

Once the script is done, it’s passed along to the penciler, whose job it is to draw what the writer described. They’re called pencilers because that’s usually the medium they use–pencils on big, stiff pieces of paper called “boards.” They may also draw digitally, but the art still feels like a “pencil” because the lines are light and somewhat loose, with no shading or heavy blacks–that’s work for the inker. To continue the theatrical metaphor, pencilers are the actors. They have to follow the script, but it’s their interpretation that brings that script to life, that gives the characters facial expressions and body language. They often have room for ad-libbing, and they can make structural changes if necessary to make the script work better visually. They create the dynamism of the comic, making the action move fluidly across the page. They’re also the costumers and set decorators, giving the world of the comic book weight and texture with background details and the design of props and costumes. In science fiction stories like superhero comics, props alone can require a ton of skill and imagination to create.

As the penciler finishes each page and it’s approved by the editor, the page is then passed along to the inker. Sometimes, the penciler will physically mail the page to the inker, who may live halfway around the world–or they’ll mail it to the publisher, who will then pass it along to the inker. These days, though, pencilers are more likely to scan and upload a high-resolution version of their page that the inker can download and print onto their own board. This is helpful, as it means the inker can always print out another copy of the pencils and start over if they don’t like how their work is going, leaving the original pencils unaffected. It also means the penciler and inker can each sell their original artwork online or at conventions, because both of them retain their original work.

This is Mitch Gerads. He’s inking. Or pretending to. More about him later on.

The inker, as I mentioned above and as famously described in the movie Chasing Amy, enhances the artwork by going over the pencils with ink and adding all of the sharp lines, heavy blacks, texture, and shading. They also act as lighting directors, deciding how the light sources in each panel would create shadows on the characters and objects. The visual difference between a pencils-only page and an inked page is huge, and that inked page would look completely different if inked by another artist who might make different choices about where and how to lay down ink. Inkers have their own individual styles, and it’s up to the editor (with the penciler’s input) to decide what kind of inks would be best for each penciler: clean, thick lines? Precise, thin definition? Scratchy, sketchy texture? The work of the right inker is just as important to the final product as any other role.

Once the inker is done with their work, they scan the pages in at high resolution and pass the files along to the colorist, the next person in the process. Modern colorists are probably the hardest-working people in comics, working their magic on what are often incredibly short deadlines. They work digitally in almost all cases, using Photoshop to turn the black-and-white inked pages into a colorful masterpiece. They may hire flatters, people who outline the different segments of a page and fill them with placeholder colors, but it’s the colorists who choose the color palette for each comic and add all of the shading and texture to those colors. The colorist’s job isn’t just to “get it right”–to color costumes correctly, or correctly convey the time of day. They’re also the people who create the mood of the book, crafting every variation from dark and gloomy to bright and happy. They follow the inker’s lead to show the effect of light hitting each object in a panel, creating glow and shadow, and they provide definition and texture to backgrounds and other areas that the penciler and inker may have left empty.

Finally, when the editors (and often writers and artists, depending on the editorial process) have approved the colorist’s work, the colored files are passed on to the letterer, the final link in the chain. The letterer is given the script, and it is their task to use Illustrator to digitally create and place every balloon and caption box you see in a comic. Placement is key–if the balloons aren’t the right size or arranged in just the right way, they might cover up important parts of the art, be read out of order, or interrupt the flow of the action. Letterers also decide on things like the color of caption boxes, and they create and place every sound effect you see on a page, choosing the color, shape, and font to convey the sound without disrupting the reading experience. These are the people whose job it is to work with the editors at the very end of the process, often making a ton of little tweaks and changes to the dialogue and balloons to make the comic as clean and perfect as possible.

There are some people, especially in non-Big Two comics, who do all, or most, of the work on a book themselves. Thom Zahler, who writes IDW’s Love and Capes, writes, draws, inks, colors, and even letters all of his own comics! And there are a lot of other cases where the same person will both write and draw a comic, or where a single artist will do the penciling, inking, and/or coloring of a story. In most cases, though, the above process is the standard, especially at the Big Two. It’s a long, complicated process with a lot of moving parts, and each creator involved leaves their mark. Change just one link in that chain, and you wind up with a very different comic in your hands.

Panelteer Swapna: The next time you have a couple of different comics in front of you, look at aspects such as the shading and color. It’s really helpful to take note of these things in order to understand the story a comic is trying to convey.

Panneralissimo Paul: As a special treat, artist Mitch Gerads (The Punisher, The Activity) gave us some insight on his own process, from rough layouts to finished art. And yep, that is indeed Mitch playing the combatants. Click for a closer look.

1. Layouts – These are as “tight” as my layouts ever get. The only reason I do them in color is just to help my editor decipher these insane scribblings.

2. Shoot photo ref – Essentially I act out every issue I work on. Complete with rough costumes and everything. Often I’ll bring in a couple friends to help me out. My normal model for Frank is a badass!

3. Layouts 2.0 – I basically skip the whole idea of “pencilling” and I arrange, tweak, and add in elements creating a reference montage that will be my entire page. This is a dangerous step that I don’t recommend for others. Photo ref is a trickster. It requires a LOT of manipulation and altering for things to appear right and in proportion. You can’t just draw photo ref exactly, it will look crazy wonky. Also, what’s the fun in that??

4. Inking/Drawing – Like I said before, I skip the traditional idea of pencilling and I do all my drawing and line choices right into the inks.

5. Flats – I hand my inked pages over to one of my trusted flatters because I have ZERO patience for it. Flatters are the real heroes of comics.

6. Colors – My absolute favorite part of the process. It’s where the drawings become frames in my movie and become alive!


Home – InkyPen

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Comicbook Inking Tools

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What should I use to ink a drawing? What’s the best type of ink to use? Can I just us a Sharpie marker or a Bic pen? These are some of the questions I see daily on any one of the comic art facebook groups I belong to. Honestly, these are all legit questions. For anyone just getting started with inking the tool choices are many and can be confusing. If you watch Youtube, and who doesn’t these days, you can pull up hundreds of artist videos showing how to ink a drawing. If you notice the tools the artists are using, you’ll notice they are varied and might not all be what many of the “How to” books tell you are the “standard” tools for inking. While everyone has a favorite brush, pen or marker they like to use, there are some tools that are considered industry standard, but that is not to say those are the only tools you can use. Lets talk a bit about inking and then I’ll go over some of the tool types available to help get you started in the right direction.

First and foremost, what is “inking” exactly, isn’t it just tracing? In basic technical terms, yes, it is a form of tracing, but if Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy has taught us anything, inking is definitely not tracing! So what does happen when a drawing is inked? Well, the inker will take a pencilled comic page or drawing and reinterpret the pencillers lines using a diverse set of pen and ink techniques to enhance the drawing and give it depth by manipulating light and shade. This is not something that can be achieved by simply tracing. The inker must be able to interpret what the penciller is trying to achieve in the piece and create that feeling with ink. Typically the inker will trace over what the penciller has done as a guide. Then they will move around the page, isolating sections where spot blacks will go or where feathering or cross hatches will be. At times the inker may have to adjust the lighting scheme of the piece because the penciller may have pencilled something incorrectly in contrast to the light they indicated in the piece. In this regard, the person inking should be as good or better an artist as the person who pencilled the piece. A good inker can make bad pencils look great, conversely a bad inker can make great pencils look bad. Considering that the inked line is what will be printed, you want the inker to be top notch. As an example, Scott Williams has inked over Jims Lee’s work for years. Scott is an accomplished artist in his own right and knows exactly how to interpret what Jim puts on the page. His inking enhances the art without overpowering what Jim has pencilled. That ability is something that is honed with time and hours upon hours of study and practice. Since I mentioned Jim Lee, he is also a very accomplished inker in his own right. If you watch any of his videos on Twitch, you’ll see he does more of the drawing in ink then he does in pencil. He also uses a lot of different techniques, in particular, using tissues to create a cloud effect for his backgrounds. So now that we know a bit about what an inker does let’s talk about the tools.

Before the internet, trying to find out what comic artist’s used to draw was a bit of a chore unless you knew a comic artist. Back in the late 80’s early 90’s we had Wizard Magazine which came out monthly and would always have a small How-to section in the book featuring an artist in the industry. It was here I first learned about what an inkers tools were. Two tools were always mentioned consistently, a crowquill pen with a 102 mapping point and a Windsor Newton Series 7 no. 2 brush. Great, where do I find those! A quick trip to the art store solved that. So what are these anyway? Well, a crowquill pen is basically a plastic handle that you insert a steel nib in the top of. The steel nib, a 102, comes to a point but has a split in the middle. You dip this nib into a bottle of india ink. The ink fills up the slit in the nib and you can then ink with it. Though made of steel, the nib is flexible so that you can use varying pressure to make thick or thin lines.

There are a lot of other nib sizes you can get to ink with but the 102 was the nib of choice and to this day still is. Quill pens are used mostly in calligraphy but can easily be used for comics and cartooning. If you are going to use a quill pen you will need the other component which is the ink. As an example I am showing Dr. Martins Hi Carb Black Star ink, but there are several on the market such as Pelikan, Higgins Black Magic, Speedball Super Black India ink, Koh-I-Noor Black India Ink, Blick Black Cat and Daler Rowney Pro inks.

Now the other tool, which is my favorite of the two and one which I think every artist should own is a brush. The most popular brush for comic inking that I always saw mentioned by pretty much every inker ever interviewed is the Windsor Newton Series 7 No. 2 brush. It is a natural sable hair brush, meaning the hairs are from a small mammal called a sable, or can also be from a weasel. Both are small animals that are similar to ferrets. The fine hair of the brush holds a good amount of ink and is capable of making the finest thin lines to very thick expressive lines. Also when you have to fill in large areas of black you can do that easily with this brush.

Other brushes in this category that are equally as good are the Raphael Kolinsky No. 2 and the Isabey 6222 No. 3. Both are equally as good as the Windsor Newton. These type of brushes vary in price depending on where you buy them. They may seem a bit pricey, but if you take care of the brushes they will last quite a long time.

One thing to keep in mind, inking with a brush requires a lot of patience and skill, so like the crowquill, you have to put in the time to study and practice your technique. Once you get the hang of it the brush will be your best friend!

Being we are in the year 2019, pen technology has come a long way. If using a traditional brush is not your thing you may want to try some of the brush pens that are on the market. The ones that you can buy today are amazing and can give you lines on par with sable hair brushes. Some brush pens literally have a brush at the tip tethered to a handle where you can place an ink cartridge. Other brush pens use soft flexible nibs that you vary the pressure on to give you beautiful thick to thin line work. The beauty of these pens is that you can get them fairly cheap, you don’t need bottles of ink, you can buy refillable cartridges in bulk packs and they come in various sizes and styles. For instance, once of my favorites is the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. All the functionality of a brush in the small size of a pen with a cap. Easy to take with you and no bottle of ink required.

A similar type of pen to the Pocket Brush pen is the Pentel Fude Brush Pen. This pen has a similar brush tip to the Pocket Brush pen. The long handle is a softer plastic that you can squeeze to feed ink into the brush tip. These are similar to some degree to Sumi Brushes. Again, an excellent tool for spotting blacks or doing fine line work.

Next up we have brush tip pens, but these have flexible nibs as opposed to actual brush hair tips. There are several brands on the market each with their own feel and performance. I would encourage you to try out a bunch of them and see which ones you like the best. After all, the best tool for the job is the one that makes you feel comfortable using it. These area bit cheaper than the hair brush tipped pens and can be found online or at any art store. I will say that most of these seem to come out of Japan, so kudos to Japan for making really cool art tools! I guess we should thank the Manga artists as it seems that is the market in Japan that these pens are made for. Anyway, here are a few you may want to check out.

The Sakura Pigma Brush pen is a a nice option. The pen tip is capable of making nice thick and thin lines and the nib glides smoothly over the paper surface. You can find these in a Hobby Lobby for about $3-4. They do sell sets of 6 pens in various colors for about $10-12.

Also by Sakura are these medium and fine tip brush pens. These pens are fairly cheap in price but they perform great. The nibs are sturdy but flexible enough to allow nice line variation and control. The ink is nice and black so you can do some nice ink work with these. These are also great to take to a convention if you are a sketch artist, just buy a bunch of them and you’re all set.

These two pens are the Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens in hard and soft tip. I got these on a whim after some Manga artists were raving about these. Since I’m always open to trying new tools, I ordered these from Amazon and they came all the way from Japan. I have no idea what the packaging says since it’s in Japanese, but in English I think it means “These are really frikken cool pens!” Seriously, I like these a lot. They move smoothly across the paper surface and can make very fine lines to very thick lines. A lot of Manga artists are using them, so if that’s your style of art you may want to give these a try.

Both Copic and Prismacolor also have really good brush nib pens similar to the Sakura and Tombow pens. They are equally as good. Honestly, I would be hard pressed to pick one over the other. I like all of these brands but ultimately, you will have to find the tools that fit your budget and feel right when your using it. I know it’s tempting to order everything from Amazon, Blick or Jet Pens, but before you do, if you have an art store close to you, go there and look for these pens and see if they have a sample one out that you can try. If you like it, buy it, or check the price and then see if it’s cheaper online and get it there. Better to test drive the pens in a store then order online, hate them and have to return them.

The last group of pens I’ll talk about are technical pens. These pens were traditionally used in architecture, drafting and engineering drawings (until AutoCAD took over). They are ink pens with very fine tips ranging from .005 through 1.0 mm. You can buy them separately in the size you need or in sets. The sets sometimes also come with a brush pen and a chisel point pen as well. You might hear artist refer to these as “Microns” or “Rapidographs” which are two very popular brands of technical pens. Most of the pens sold now are disposable and can be gotten fairly cheaply. You can buy more expensive refillable ones as well. Most of these have somewhat flexible felt nibs capable of making nice accurate lines. Back in the early 90’s I had bought a set of technical pens with jewel tips for architecture school. They cost about $200 for a set of 5 pens and you had to use an electrostatic cleaner to keep them clean and gunk free. You really don’t have to do that nowadays. Technical pens are great for doing crisp even line work for things like backgrounds, buildings and other elements that require fine detail. You can do your figure work with these as well. Comicbook artist Todd Nauck comes to mind. If you’ve ever seen him draw on his Youtube channel, he will sometimes ink with technical pens. As I’ve said before, all of these tools require patience and practice to get good at them. If you want to be able to ink at the same level as a Todd Nauck, Jim Lee or Scott Williams, study their technique and see which tools give you line quality that you desire. It may take a combination of tools as opposed to just one. Have fun and go find out. While you’re finding out, check out some of these pens.

These are Copic Multiliners, they come is an A set and a B set. These technical pens are refillable and you can get replacement tips if they wear out or break. Plus they are made by Copic. Everyone knows that Copic makes the best markers and their pens are no slouch either. The fact that you can buy replacement tips, nibs and inks for their pens and markers make them an attractive piece of kit. These come in other sets with more sizes, this is just the one I have on hand.

Also by Copic is this set of Multiliner pens ranging from a .003 to a 1.0 and additional brush nibs pens. These come in a set and can be had online for about $20-$25 depending on where you get them. These are more disposable as opposed to the Multiliner SP pens that are refillable. The refillable pens sets cost around $50-80 depending on how many pens are in the set. Both sets of pens are good, reliable tools. You will definitely get a lot of use out of these or any technical pens you buy. Aside form Copics, as I’ve mentioned there are Pigma Microns and Rapidographs and these from Prismacolor that I like a lot as well.

Prismacolor Premier pens are another brand of technical pens that are popular. These are not refillable so once they die out you have to buy more. You can get sets like this or individual pens. This set also comes with the standard sizes .005 through 1.0 and a brush and chisel point nib. There is another set similar to this called Prismacolor Premier Illustration Marker Set for Manga which is geared toward manga/comic artists, but they are essentially the same type of pens, though the manga set may have a few different pens in addition.

So now that you know what type of tools you can buy to make awesome ink illustrations, what happens if you make a mistake? Or a big blob of ink falls off your crowquill onto the paper. Or, what if you want to make those cool rain lines or splatters that Jim Lee does on all of his drawings. Well, this is where your trusty brush comes in along with the aid of a bottle of Pro White.

Pro white is a paint like substance that can be used full strength or can be thinned out. If you make a mistake inking you can just paint over it with pro white to essentially erase the erroneous ink mark. In addition to masking out mistakes, you can use pro white to paint areas of white, flick some off the edge of a business card onto your drawing to make grungy splatter effects and use it to outline objects in the drawing to make them pop or separate. This is useful stuff so keep a few bottles on hand, you will need it!

For small areas that need correcting, or to make those awesome Jim Lee rain effects, you can’t go wrong with Pentel Presto Correction pens. Just gentle squeeze the body of the pen to feed the white correction fluid through the tip. These are pretty inexpensive and you can get them in most office supply stores like Staples, art stores, or you know, Amazon, the place of all things.

The Sakura Jelly Roll pen is good for making small precise corrections. These are also good for outlining figures to give them emphasis in an inked drawing. These are also great if you work on sketch cards as the tip is small enough to give you a line that isn’t overly thick for a small drawing on a card sized piece of stock. Another great option is the Uniball Signo White Pen. This is similar to the Jelly Roll and is a great all around pen for corrections or just adding some pop to your drawings.

The last piece of inking kit I want to show you is the Pentel Aquash Water Brush or Aquabrush for short. This is something you would use to do tonal work where you have grey tones in your ink drawings. The Aquash brush can be filled with water and used to thin out your ink to give a nice inkwash look. You can also use this with watercolor pencils, or straight up watercolor paint. At the East Coast Comic Con here in NJ I watched artist Simon Bisley use one of these to do all of his inked convention sketches. I had him do a Lobo illustration for me and he used the Aquash as a regular inking brush, dipping it into an ink bottle and going to town. So although it’s meant to be filled with water you can use it as a regular brush as well.

I hope this article has helped clear up some of the confusion about inking and what tools to use. What I’ve presented is a good basic overview of the tools available. Keep in mind that new products come out all of the time, so try out different tools and see which ones you gravitate towards. Always keep in mind, at the end of the day, these are just tools, it is your talent and dedication to the craft that will make you a better inker, not the tool.

In my next post, I’m going to continue my article from a few months ago (yes, I dropped the ball) on the best how to books for comics. It will focus on a few books for inking comics. I going to try doing a post of videos to show some inking demonstrations with some of the tools mentioned here, so be on the lookout.

Keep Drawing!

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