So, you want to be an inker

by Matthew Russell - Posted 1 year ago


Howdy Vigilantes. Its been another crazy week here at your CryptoComics Marketplace. We have had some fun with the CryptoComics Couch videos and plenty of excitement with the upcoming CouchCon. Lots of Couch talk lately…

I wanted to get down to some simpler conversations and get back to my roots as a creator. So, without further ado, let’s talk about inking.

Inking is a fundamental process for comics. According to the cult classic movie “Chasing Amy” an inker “adds depth and shading to give the character more definition. Only then, does the drawing truly take shape.” So many great moments from that movie.

I would show the clip but then this post would not be safe for work.

Below is one of my favorite pieces showcasing the inking job of Bob McLeod.

There have been so many great inkers in comics; Bill Sienkiewicz, Brett Breeding, Edgar Tadeo, Scott Hanna, Josef Rubinsein, Doug Hazelwood, Alice Kirkpatrick, and even Adam Warren.

Every inker has their own unique styles. Here is a piece from DC Universe. It is an article titled “What exactly does an inker do?” The lettering in the comic is not important. Typically I won't even add the speach bubbles until everything is already colored. I do this digitally. 

It is an essential job in the world of comics. It’s amazing that more people don’t recognize inkers. They are the unsung heroes that bring you definition.

So, how do you ink?

Let me start by stating that this blog is in any way stating that there is only one way. These are merely finding that I have learned through years. I am not an inking sensei by any means.

Inking Gear

So much to choose from. Traditionally I will use a brush with Indian Ink, brush pens with a wide variety of tips from soft to light, felt to rubber from different manufacturers such as Micron, Pentel, Pilot, Kurtake, and Zebra. My brush markers over the years have cost me around $250 for my current collection.

Lately, I have put them all aside to use an iPad Pro with my Apple Pencil. No, this isn’t cheating.

Make sure that you use a high definition image, scanned onto the iPad and you are good to go. My personal favorite brush for inking in ProCreate is Comic Inking Set from Gumroad. They are free so have fun!

Get to know your tools

Either way, you go, digital or traditional paper, test your pens first! Get a scratch piece of paper and start messing with everything. Quick lines, slow lines, pressing harder, softer, quick hatching lines, do it all. I wrote a blog post a while back about the different exercises you should do. Try them out now, then come back.

Do you prefer precise precision and control or big thick swashes? Go on a journey of self-discovery and see what works best for you and your style.

Experiment with the test sheet before every page. The last thing you want is to begin a page and have your ink run dry.

We will not be getting into the color of pens because that is the next level and this post is more for the beginner. If requested, I can get into that in a later blog...if requested...hint...hint.

Our Job As An Inker

It is our solemn duty to bring out the best in a Penciler’s work. We take what the other artist gives us and interpret it as best as possible. We give it life if you will.

The last thing we want to do is take it and change a subject destroying the credibility and integrity of a page. This is known as pulling a Vince Colletta.

You MUST add your own flavor and techniques. Everyone’s work is different. Be original. By adding your style to an inking job, you can both increase the workflow and add your distinctive take on a picture. No 2 people will ink the same way.

The drawing itself

I get a lot of pieces with either a blue pencil or red. This makes it easy to get rid of the sketch lines as outlined in the blog post “Remove the Blue Sketch Lines From Your Comic in Photoshop”.

If I am giving one of these pages, I will ink directly on top of it and take care of everything later. If not, like the image I am inking for this, I will bring it into ProCreate, create a new later and in there. Make sure you turn the opacity down on the original layer so you can really see what you have done.

Both My Inking Projects

The first image is Danger Girls by the artist Marcio Abreu. I love this piece. I remember picking up the title from J. Scott Campbell and loving his art. The story wasn’t too bad either. Marcio is really able to bring out the classic Campbell look and feel.

For those who don’t know, Danger Girl consists of 3 “Charlie’s Angles” type characters. They are Abby Chase (the blond with short hair), Sonya Savage with the strange mesh shirt, and Sydney Savage in all leather.

In the top left corner is the villain Major Maxim. He is your stereotypical Nazi villain.

The second image (that I am not yet done with) is Red Sonja from the artist Vitor. I was such a huge Sonja fan growing up. When I first saw her in the movies I was captivated. Her comics illustrated the sexiness of the female warrior. I never did understand why she wore so little until I grew up and realized that it catered to the male reader. That’s a topic for another post.

I am not going to be doing any of the colorings for these illustrations. I am sending them to a colorist by the name of Sean Nellery. As of now, I am just a simple cog in the great wheel of comic creation. I will do my part and pass it on.

What to Work on first

For the Danger Girl, I knew that the leather would be big and bulky. I started with that so I could see the most progress quickly. If you are working with pen and paper, be sure to start with a corner that will allow you not so smudge your work. Nothing will piss off an artist more than going back to them and showing them a ruined page.

Correct brush sizes

With the ProCreate brushes, they take full advantage of pressure sensitivity. Quick small stokes very lightly on the screen for the outline and the hatching.

Remember to zoom in considerably. The 2 finger pinch to zoom out and 2 fingers spread to zoom in works great here. You can also twist your fingers to change the image angle.

I like to get a good look at the image and then I will zoom in one a very finite section, to the point that on its own it no longer looks like anything normal. This helps me not interpret the work and add too much of my own “variations”.

For the interior, you can click on the black color, hold it, and drag it into place to fill in big spaces. Just make sure your outlines connect or else you will “fill” your entire image with black. It will not fill it perfectly.

Once you have filled in the black sections, you will need to clean it up. This is one drawback. You will notice that inside the filled portion there is a strange outline. Simply take your pen and draw over these to get rid of them.

Inking Clothing

Now that all the leather is done, and there was a lot more than I realized, I am moving onto the “normal” fabric. This takes a lighter hand.

I will turn down the size of my pen using the top bar on the left. Personally I like to start with the outer and work my way in. I won’t add the hatching until I am completely done with the material.

This ensures that I am able to decide how much hatching I want to add. In the case of Sonya’s mesh shirt, I waited until the very end before I added the cross-stitching.

Inking Skin

Due to the fact that they are fair females and not a grizzled character like Bruce Wayne or Conan, I use an even finer line. I will keep all the hatching to a minimum in favor of letting the colorist do most of the heavy lifting here.

I will save the lips and eyes for last. When I reach these features, I can turn up the brush size and go to town. With the amount of shading there, you can’t go wrong. Keep in mind this is a typical late 90s art style. Go crazy.

Inking Hair

This is the toughest part. There is no set way to ink hair. Some people try to keep it minimalistic. Others want to go dark and fill in as much as possible. Don’t go overboard.

Choose your size of brush carefully and don’t try to add every single strand of hair. This is all about researching and experimenting.

Inking Dark Hair

Darker hair is so much more forgiving. I started with Sydney’s hair. I can use much fatter lines for the main section. I am able to go faster.

Hint: always brush towards yourself. Let your wrist be limp and swift. Don’t too fast that you lose control.

Combine your pens so that you can now rough up the lines and add some very finer lines so that it actually looks like hair.

Inking Lighter Hair

Since this is less forgiving, keep your lines light and sparse. I have added 2 video tutorials on inking hair.

Trigger warning: This takes a lot of practice. You know what they say, practice makes perfect.

I added the main section and later went in and added smaller line details. I like to keep it minimalist in the highlight section.

I love this first video. I mainly use this first style (at 3 minutes and 33 seconds) on darker hair for the typical caucasian person. It's so quick and easy. 


Warning: The light source should play heavily into line width or line weight. I cannot overstress this. Light source, light source, light source!!!

Inking the Background

This was the easiest yet most time-consuming. I started with the rocks on the bottom left. If you look close, it is mostly scribbled in order to get the correct texture. If I didn’t do this, it would look more crystalized.

Next I have added the Speed lines. This was really easy. Draw your line and hold down your pen. In ProCreate, the line will straighten out on its own. I love that feature.

Then comes the clouds in the top left. I give it a round line and then take my “hair” brush typically reserved for a more realistic portrait of hair.

I start closest to the center and move out. I will then erase any of the lines that extend past the rounded mark.


Now that your work is done, sign the damn thing. Place your signature right next to the penciler and make sure you leave room for the colorist. Do everything in life as if your going to sign it. Be proud of your work. 

Now that you’ve breathed life into the penciler’s work, turn it into your editor and begin on the next page. A good inker's job is never done!

For more information about creating comics, I suggest leaning heavily on the tutorial books in the CryptoComics Marketplace. You will find some excellent tips and tricks along the way.

Until next time, keep reading!

Bonus, here is the Red Sonya! As you can see, I'm not quite done with the bottom right corner. I added more cuts and scrapes to Sonya herself. This was the most fun to work on. I loved it. When I finish it, I will have to post it on Facebook or something, so keep an eye out.