Digital Inks – Making Peace with the Beast

I started using traditional inks using brush pens and liner pens back in early 2010 and I thought I had found my ideal method. However, the thing we must remember about the creation of comics on a deadline (or any commercial art for that matter) is that we’re not always in the most ideal circumstances to create comics. Sometimes we’re in a place where we can’t get to our draft table, or our scanner. Sometimes we’re on the road. Sometimes, we’re in the middle of a house move. Whatever the case, that deadline needs to get met and inking on boards to produce digitally colored artwork is not always the fastest way to get things done. Sometimes, inks just have to happen digitally.

I have a long, tortured relationship with digital inking. Honestly, I kind of hated the whole process up until recently. The default pens offered in most programs don’t produce the best results, doing straight lines can be a hassle, and the process sometimes feels like it DRAGS. I feel like I’m working twice as hard for half the results. However, every day is an opportunity to learn something new, and I’ve learned some new things lately that have helped the process along for me. I’d like to share some of these things with you.

Digital Inking – Learning to Pet the Beast

The thing I’ve learned with digital inks is that default brushes with most software packages kind of suck. I’ve been working with Photoshop’s default round brush up until last week, and that thing has never behaved for me. Not really. Then, I came across this tutorial from inking guru Tom Parrish which changed my inking world forever. Lesson learned: Don’t like the brushes Photoshop gives you? Customize them and make them work for you.

However, in the application of his methods, I made a few discoveries of my own and I’d like to offer these addendums to Mr. Parrish’s breakthrough inking tutorial.

Brush Customization

Brushes Menu

The first part of creating your own inking brush in Photoshop involves picking a brush to customize. Mr. Parrish says we start with a round brush, so let’s go with that. I like to pick size 19 because I work at some crazy huge resolutions for my files, and 19 pt pen is my equivalent of a 03 pen to paper. I could go ahead and start inking with this brush, but as I’ve said before, this thing doesn’t play so well with inking so we’re going to tweak it to make it play ball.

Are you familiar with this screen? This is Photoshop’s brush customization screen. It looks intimidating, but it’s really not when you learn what do futz with in order to produce your results. The dimensions I work with most are Brush Tip Shape, Shape Dynamics, Scattering and Other Dynamics.
Brush Size/Shape

Anyway, we want to select the Brush Tip Shape submenu of this screen to adjust the shape of our brush to make it more like an ink brush. I change the angle to 135 degrees and the roundness down to 50%. The roundness number is just a guess-timate. We just want some sort of ellipse to mimic a brush pen. The angle, on the other hand is important. PAY ATTENTION! I go with 135 degrees because I’m right-handed. It’s the angle at which I hold a pen in my hand. We’re mimicking nature, right? Pay attention to what your dominant hand is when you make these adjustments. If you’re left-handed, you might want to try 45 degrees as the ellipse angle. (Note: these are just guidelines; if you find a setting works better for you, then have at it)

Roundness and Angle Jitter

The second part of our pen adjustment is to change the roundness and angle jitter. In Photoshop, “jitter” refers to variation. We can make any number of dimensions wiggle around dynamically based on what their jitter settings are. In this case, we want the roundness to change dynamically, from a slit to an ellipse and we want the angle of that ellipse to change with our pen tilt. Change Roundness to “Pen Pressure” and Angle to “Pen Tilt.” Now, our pen is going to act a lot more like a real brush pen.

Side by Side Comparison

Compare these two quick brush studies I did with both the round brush provided default by Photoshop and with our custom ink pen we just created. The difference is subtle and likely wouldn’t be noticed by the layman, but if you’re reading this, I’ll assume you will at least SOME difference. The difference is also in the usability. You can drive around in a cruddy bottom dollar car or you can drive around in a nicer sedan with leather seats. Both get you from point A to point B but one is just a smoother ride.

Compare, contrast, experiment. Let’s hear what you guys have to say. Inking is not a spectator sport!

UPDATE 1-20-2014 – Eh, screw it. I got Manga Studio 5EX. It’s way better for inking. I’ll have to post a tutorial on how I do what I do some time.

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7 Replies to “Digital Inks – Making Peace with the Beast”

  1. Ahhh… digital inking.

    Thanks for sharing… remember folks, sharing is caring.

    The custom brush info was particularly helpful. I’ve always relied on the brushes that others create, but now I think I will experiment myself.


  2. You’re most welcome. I like advice that tells you how to make your own brush over offering a custom brush download because you might not be in a position to download that brush. You may be working on another machine at school or work or your computer might explode and you need to reformat…there are a number of reasons why a custom brush might not be a viable option. This way, you use Photoshop’s own internal tools to get what you need in any circumstance. I tested this method in CS2 and CS4 and on both Windows and Mac platforms. It’s very versatile.

  3. Tom Parrish has “perished”. No. But the link leads to a yahoo search that suggests both the link and anything related to him is no longer up. Is there an alternative to his work?

  4. Really? Oh, for crying out loud. I’ll have to kill the link then. I might as well write an update to this, because I don’t really even use this method anymore. I use Manga Studio for all my inking stuffs.

  5. I have Manga Studio Debut 4 but I started to update it but it required the disk to finish and my computer for some reason has got the ‘can’t play CD disability”. So this was page was a god send for me.

  6. Aw, I’m sorry to hear your Manga Studio disk isn’t playing nice with your machine. Definitely taking the time to tweak Photoshop brushes can really be helpful when other software packages fail. Glad this could help.

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