Digital Inking in Photoshop

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If you’ve ever thought about inking your line art digitally in Photoshop, I looked into 3 methods of doing so. We’re going to take a look at inking with 1.) The Pen Tool, 2.) The Freeform Pen Tool and 3.) The Lasso Tool.


Here’s the scanned pencil sketch.

This is a look at the Layers panel. This is important and also the only 3 layers we’re going to be dealing with today. The first layer on the bottom is the sketch art. The one sandwiched in the middle is a layer filled completely with white. This is here so we can see what the inks look like on a white canvas while hiding the sketch. And the final top layer will, of course, be the black inks.

The first and primary method of digital inking will employ the Pen Tool. Before you begin using it be sure to make note of the Tool Options at the top of the workspace. You’ll see 2 primary options: one being “Shape Layer”, and the other being “Paths”. Be sure to choose “Paths”.

The following picture is zoomed in to show the detail work we’re going to do. With the center white layer hidden, we’re going to trace along this shape with the Pen Tool. Each anchor point you see there represents every time the mouse clicks down. You can manipulate the curve of each anchor point by clicking an dragging as you go along the shape. Be sure you work all the way around to the first anchor you made to close the path.

Be sure the foreground color is black, and with the Pen Tool still selected, right-click the path you just drew. A drop down menu should appear. Choose “Fill Path”.

Make sure Anti-Alias is checkmarked on and press Enter.

You don’t have to right-click/Fill Path every time you draw a new path. You can save plenty of time by drawing multiple paths and at your convenience, proceed to fill.

The next two digital inking methods involve using a tablet pen. If you only have access to a mouse, that’s OK. The final result can be achieved with the default Pen Tool and mouse alone. It may take a bit longer but it can be done nonetheless. The shapes in the following image were made using the Freeform Pen Tool option. Hold down the Pen Tool in the Photoshop Toolbox and you’ll see the option for it. Freeform draws the path shape as if you were drawing freehand with a tablet. You can still try with a mouse, but I would suggest sticking to the default tool if this is the case.

For the finer lines I use the Lasso Tool to draw selections. This is the third and final method I’m going to show. You can still achieve these fine cuts with the default Pen Tool; you would just have to zoom in a bit closer and meticulously plot the shapes.

While inking, something you should take into consideration is line weight. This is something I definitely should keep in mind more often. But in this exercise, I’ve made the lines on his fist and arm a bit thicker. This is technique often used by inkers to create visual distance between objects. Since his fist is closer to the viewer, thicker lines give the illusion that it is closer in space. This trick can be used throughout the entire scene if you’re dealing with multiple subjects and background information.

If you do have the means of using all 3 inking methods shown in this tutorial, you may want to pick and choose which ones to use in any given situation. For instance, the first Pen Tool method was most helpful in creating the curve on the strands of hair drooping down from his forehead. The natural bend of the pen’s spline curves made it much easier than hand drawing a geometric curve like that. Your hand may be perfectly steady, so choose what approach works best for you.

Here are what my final inks looked like using these 3 methods. Click on the image to see a closer look at my final lines. Stay tuned to DevWebPro for a follow-up tutorial using this line art.

About the Author:
Mark is an animator and ad designer for WebProNews. He has a passion for illustration and 3D art.