It's probably no surprise that I love how I ink. I might be completely self-absorbed, but I love it. And because my inking style is something people ask me about rather often, I figured it would be the perfect topic for my inaugural Tips and Tricks post!
I'll start from the beginning of inking in this post and just cover the basics, and in a later post I'll get into some techniques that can help really bring your inks to life. For this tutorial, you will need to understand the layout of Photoshop and where to find some of the basic tools (Ex: Layers, Eraser, Brush)
I primarily use Photoshop CC for my digital work. I'm sure you could transfer these tips to your program of choice because I don't use many tools that are inherently PS, but you would have to figure out which tools on your program do the same. I also use Windows 10 and an ancient Wacom Bamboo tablet (at the time of writing), so keep that in mind while you read.
Start off with your sketch. You'll want to make a fresh layer for your inks, maybe a couple of layers for inks depending on how detailed the piece is. I like to put my sketch layers into a Group and then Lock that group so I don't accidentally start inking on it.
You can see in my sketch to the left, that it is pretty messy, but clear enough that I know which lines I'll be using in the final piece. Things like the characters are more developed than the backgrounds for this specific piece, but that is only because the backgrounds are so minor. In other works with larger backgrounds, I would spend more time refining that part of the sketch too.
TIP: Put your characters and background sketches on different layers and using different colors! This will help with both sketching and during the inking stages. You can hide the layers you aren't working on, making the others easier to see! Do the same with your inking layers! This will help when you need to clean up your inks, so you don't accidentally erase part of a character while cleaning up the background inks.
I use the brush tool to ink. None of that fancy vector stuff like you PaintTool SAI users can do, no stabilizers like Lazy Nezumi. Just good old-fashioned drawing and erasing, and a lot of practice. Your best friends will be the undo, rotate, and eraser shortcuts.
For my brush, I use the basic brush tool that comes stock with PS. Up that hardness to 100% and turn on Shape Dynamics (aka use your tablet pen's pressure for the size), and turn off Transfer (aka pen pressure for opacity).
TIP: Set up and memorize your keyboard shortcuts! In PS CC, the brush tool is B, undo is ctrl+Z, rotate is R (I suggest holding the key while you rotate. It allows you to use it without having to switch back to your brush when you are done), and the eraser is E.
This first pass with inking will be messy. Right now you need to be concerned with getting the lines smooth and in the correct places, not perfection. They will overlap and be longer (or a tiny bit shorter) than they will be in the final image. In the close-up below, I zoomed in to my initial inking on Melde's head to show just how messy things look. The lines are all in the right place and are nice and smooth, but I definitely have a lot of clean-up work to do!
This stage is where your undo and rotate tools are going to be used the most. I draw my lines in one swift motion, NOT in multiple sketchy ones or slow ones. You're not tracing the exact image and you're not sketching, so don't ink like it! If you struggle with drawing a curve at a certain angle, rotate your canvas so the angle becomes a more natural one that follows the arc of your wrist/arm when you draw. For example, I had to rotate the canvas about 25% clockwise to be able to draw the bottom of Melde's closest horn more easily. Sometimes you might have to rotate the image completely upside-down! If this doesn't make sense, grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a curve by simply bending your wrist on it's natural axis (don't move your fingers!). See how easy that curve is to draw? Now try to draw curve in the opposite direction without rotating the paper. You most likely bent just your fingers to try to create it, which I bet was pretty difficult. Now rotate your paper upside-down and draw your curve again, this time using your wrist like the first time. When you turn your paper back right-side-up you'll see two pretty curves that go in opposite directions! This is exactly the same principle as rotating your image in Photoshop, only you're doing it on the screen rather than a physical sheet of paper (don't physically rotate your tablet; that's just silly).
If you don't draw it right the first time, undo and try again! Don't get discouraged if you have to undo and redraw your line dozens of times; I know I still redraw a lot! But I promise it does get easier to draw a correct line the first time as you practice more and get that muscle memory formed.
TIP: Use thicker lines for the outlines of objects, when an object is closer to the viewer, or deep folds. Use thinner lines for fine details, shallow folds, and things that are far away. I normally start with an "average" thickness then increase or decrease by a few pixels as needed.
Here's where my inks really start looking good. Finally, right? It takes some patience to get decent-looking inks without tools like vectors or Lazy Nezumi, but I feel like it's well worth the effort (nothing against those tools, I just personally like the more hand drawn appearance better). In this step, you will love your keyboard shortcuts even more (you do have them memorized now, right?). I know a lot of tablet pens have "erasers" on the back, but I like the ease and speed of just hitting a button on my keyboard.
My eraser has the same settings as my brush, so check above for those if you don't already have it set that way. For this stage, I normally shrink my brush size just a bit. For example, I used 15 px for the initial sketch, and now I am using 10 px. Don't feel tied down to a specific size though! Experiment!
To clean up my lines, I used my eraser to fix the messy parts of the lines, especially the parts where ends overlapped. This was necessary on the tips of Melde's mohawk, but I used it to touch up other areas as well. To the left, you can see my technique to create nice sharp points by simply using the eraser. Start off with your messy lines, then use the eraser to follow along the outside of one of your lines so you cut off the unnecessary additional length of the other. Then just repeat with the other line!
You can use this same technique to taper the lines at the tips of your points too. Simply shave off a tiny bit of the outside of your lines as you follow them to the tip so it thins as it reaches the point. This can give the appearance of your point getting even thinner, which allows you to create more interesting linework.
TIP: Taper the ends of all of your lines! Don't simply leave a line blunt and round at the end, utilize that eraser and the same technique for creating sharp points to delicately taper your individual lines to nothing. You can see this in practice on the inner lines on Melde's mohawk.
This is also the stage where I will move lines around that I dislike, completely erase things that I now deem unnecessary, or add in tiny details as I see fit. You can see in the close-up of Melde's head where I added eyelashes. Be patient with this stage, fiddle with it until it's perfect. You might have to redraw a messy line if you realize it does not actually work out in that spot, but you should be only refining your lines for the most part.
TIP: Zoom out occasionally. Sometimes you think a line looks smooth, but when you zoom out suddenly you can see all the problems. Better to fix them as you go along than zoom out, thinking you're done, and then see all a bunch of lines that need fixing!
Your final inking should look something like this! Pretty lines just ready to color! (Oops, except for that stray line! Looks like I need to fix that before I can color!) I did spend more time inking the characters than some of the background parts because I am still deciding what in the background needs to be inked and what will be a more "painterly" style, but overall you can see how I employed each step to complete the inking stage.
I hope this helps some of you! If you have any questions, post in the comments on here, or hit me up on Facebook or on Twitter and I would be more than happy to answer them as best I can. There are more inking techniques I'd like to discuss too, but I'll save those for future inking Tips and Tricks. The steps covered in this post are just the basics to get you started. And don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss the next blog!