Ink Slingers

17 min read

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

The role of inking

Inking, sometimes called rendering or embellishment, was used to make the pencil sketches the artist drew easier to reproduce using photographic reproduction and presses that were used to make comics back in the 30s and 40s. This was because comics were printed using presses that could only print a limited amount of colors and couldn’t print grayscale or full color.

Adding inks to a penciled page is the next step in creating what the reader will see in our comic. This is where we make our drawings vivid with clear lines and pools of shadows. By recreating the pencils with only solid black lines and fills, we end up with a page that is ready for toning or coloring.

One of the most important things that we should keep in mind while inking is if the inks aren’t solid, clear, and understandable, we cannot expect to make it better with colors. Without good inks, we won’t have a good page. We can fix some penciling errors with good inks; however, once we commit to our inks, we must be happy with them.

Another important thing to keep in mind while inking is that we’re interpreting 3D objects using black lines. Any shading at this point is done by varying the thickness of lines, crosshatching, and feathering. If those terms sound unfamiliar, we’ll get their definitions as we proceed with the exercises.

It’s all about the lines

Before we examine the kinds of tools, we need to have an idea of the kinds of lines we need to create.

When we are penciling the page, we are interested in composition, lighting, perspective, and anatomy. When we’re inking, we are interested in how the lines work in context to the rest of the drawing, as shown in the following figure:

In the preceding figure, the right-hand side sphere was rendered using the default marker tool. It creates dead-weight lines. This means that the thickness of the line doesn’t vary, unless we go back over the lines.

The sphere on the left was inked using the default G-Pen. With the pen tool, we can vary the pressure on the stylus to get lines of varying thickness. This results in a feathering effect, as shown in the following figure:

This looks simple and easy to do, but requires much practice. The example shown here took less than a minute to do. Feathering is a technique that we can do quickly and accurately once our hand becomes confident.

Crosshatching is another tool we can use while inking.

The preceding figure shows an example of crosshatching. Here, we can also provide an illusion of one color blending into another. Even though the example is made up of lines that are at a 90 degree angle from each other, we can alter the angle to give us different looks.

In each of these two examples, we can see how the thickness of the line and the spacing of the lines gives us a graphical illusion of shading.

For those of us who are wondering what we meant when we talked about blending one color to another, it’s simple. Instead of only having the black ink, as in the analog work, we can use black, white, and even transparent colors in our digital inks. By using the color effects, we can give an inked layer, that is, a uniform color instead of black. Now, before we will get into more esoteric aspects of inking, we need to examine the tools we have at our disposal within Manga Studio.

Inking tools in Manga Studio

In the following INKING TOOLS diagram, there are explanations about the tools we’ll be focusing on in this article:

At this point in our learning about Manga Studio, we should know how to make the tool size larger or smaller and change to different subtools and main tools.

In the downloaded files, there’s a file named ch 07 inking tools.lip that we’ll use in the Time for Action exercises. If you want, use your own file. Just keep in mind that this is all practice; we will be deleting layers and experimenting with making different kinds of lines.

In the next part, we’ll cover the various marking tools in Manga Studio and learn how to create new subtools of each kind. The new tools will be compared with other tools and the differences and similarities will be examined. After creating new tools, we’ll render the objects in the ch 07 inking tools.lip file. First, we will outline the object and next we’ll render in shading for the light source (from the upper-right side, just above our head).

As with the penciling, it’s assumed that you are familiar with the basics of the subject at hand.

Now let’s get onto the tools!


We’ve all used these tools in real (analog) life. From sharpies to microns, these marvels of marking have aided artists in many ways, and hindered them too. For our purposes, markers have a uniform width. They do not get thicker or thinner no matter how hard we bear down on them with our stylus. We’ll be using tools such as technical pen. These are the pens that have a metal barrel and are refilled with ink cartridges. In our digital world, the ink never needs to be refilled and the tip never dries out. Even though markers give us a dead-weight line, they do have the uses that are invaluable. Backgrounds, machines, and many other objects are best drawn first with a marker. We can go back and add shading, thicken the lines, or break the lines after we lay down the basic linework.

Time for action – making a technical pen subtool

In this section, we’ll create a technical pen subtool that will be able to step though predetermined sizes and give us consistent widths quickly. Let’s get started and perform the following steps:

  1. Choose the Marker tool.

  2. In the Sub tool palette menu, choose the Marker pen.

  3. Go to the Sub tool palette menu.

  4. Choose Duplicate sub tool and name it Technical Pen in the dialog box that pops up. Then click OK.

  5. Click on the Wrench icon to call up the Tool Settings palette.

  6. Make the following settings in the categories that follow. If a category’s not mentioned, then it should remain at the default.

    • Brush Size: Set the brush size to 5

    • Ink: Set the opacity to 100, set the combine mode to normal

    • Anti-Aliasing: Set this to None (the first or leftmost dot)

    • Brush tip: Set the shape to circle

    • Hardness, Thickness, and Brush Density: Set this to 100

    • Direction: Set this to zero

    • Correction: Make corner pointed should be checked

    • Stabilization: Set this to 6, this is set according to the speed that is unchecked

    • Possible to snap: Make sure that this is checked

  7. We will want to click on the eye-con button to show Possible to snap in the Tool Property palette. This way we can turn off snapping for the tool and not for the entire document. Click on the Register all Settings to Default button on the Tool Settings palette.

  8. In the Tool Settings palette, click on the tall rectangular button.

  9. Choose Settings of Indicator… from the pop-up menu.

  10. We have five positions in which we can enter specific sizes. Let’s start by entering the following in each of the indicator entry boxes from left to right: 5, 10, 20, 30, and 50 in the last box. Once that’s done, click on the OK button. The slider will be replaced by the selection indicator. Each square contains the respective value we just entered. For example, the first square on the left will set our pen size to 5, the third one to 20, and the fifth one to 50. Notice that when we click on the squares to the right of the one we pressed last, the squares get filled with a darker gray color if they are further to the right.

What just happened?

We duplicated a marker pen, named it Technical Pen, and set it up with specific sizes, which we chose by clicking on a selection indicator. This pen will ignore pressure from the stylus so the line thickness will be consistent. We made sure that it had a stabilization setting to help smooth out some jitter that our hand can introduce.

It’s nice to have the indicator for the technical pen; however, we must realize that this feature is tool-wide, which means that it’s either on for all tools or off for all tools. The settings we entered are also for all tools. So, we must decide whether we want to have the indicators on for every tool or not. Once we’re finished with the technical pen, we’ll set the indicators back to our friend the slider.

Indicators, as implemented in this version (5.0.2) of Manga Studio, are a part of what I think of as feature. It is where a feature that would be great for a few tools affects all tools. The indicator values we entered in are used for all the tools when we choose indicators, a one-size fits all kind of thing. It’s a bother to turn on and off because we have to right-click on each tool setting category that uses it and choose Show Slider on the contextual menu. It can’t be set via a keyboard command or by an action. It’s included here for those who may like it. I think that indicators are poorly thought out and need to be active and customized on a per-tool basis, maybe in a future update.

Now we’re going to test out this new technical pen!

Time for action – inking basic shapes with the technical pen

With a new pen tool, let’s see what we can do. Open a file to ink, create a new layer, and then begin inking by performing the following steps:

  1. Open up the ch 07 inking tools.lip file.

  2. We’ll be working with a ruler layer, so make sure Snap to rulers is turned on.

  3. On the Layers palette, choose the Outlines layer. This is the layer on which we will be creating our outlines. Shading will be done on the layer below it. This way, we can easily correct wayward lines without erasing our outlines.

    While you’re working on the inks for a page, don’t hesitate to use more than one layer. It may seem confusing at first, but once we get used to it, it will make our digital inking go much faster. For instance, we can have one layer for background inks and another for foreground inks. This makes cleaning up overlapping lines so much easier. When we’re finished with our inks, we can combine the different layers into a single layer.

  4. We will treat each of these four objects as foreground objects, so we’ll want a thick outline on them. Choose the 30 or 50 size and outline each one. Be careful on the cube, it’s made from two separate rulers and we don’t want to have any interior lines inked in yet.

  5. Keeping in mind that our light source is coming from the upper-left side, we want to have thinner interior lines for the edges on the top 2 objects: the cube and pyramid. We’ll use the size 30 to outline the side of the cube that’s farthest from the light and the size 20 for the horizontal edge and the edge of the pyramid.

  6. In the image for the finished outlines of the cube and pyramid, notice how sharp the corners are. That’s because we turned on the Make Corners Pointed option in the Correction category of the Tool Settings palette.

  7. We have a few choices for inking the cube. We could render in the shadowed areas by hand. That would be okay, but since this is a mechanical object, let’s use a ruler to draw straight lines.

  8. Select the Figure tool (it’s the second tool below the paint bucket tool).

  9. In the subtool palette, choose the Special Ruler subtool.

  10. In the Tool Property palette, select the Parallel Line Ruler option from the top drop-down menu.

  11. In the Layer palette, select the shading layer, as we’re going to do our shading inks on that layer.

  12. On the canvas, click-and-drag the ruler to adjust it to the angle of the top-right side of the cube (the edge that’s going away from us).

  13. Choose the technical pen tool. Make sure that Snap to special ruler is on in the command bar and snapping is on for the tool itself.

  14. Now, lay down some of the horizontal receding lines. We can vary the distance between each line a bit.

  15. Once we are happy with the horizontal receding lines, we can turn on the parallel ruler for the vertical lines. Choose the Object Selection tool and click on the ruler, as shown in the following figure:

  16. As shown in the preceding figure, we can now click-and-drag the object on a hollow dot to adjust the angle of the ruler. Holding down the Shift key while dragging will snap the ruler to the angles we’ve set up in the Preferences menu.

    While adjusting the ruler, be careful that we don’t accidentally click on the dreaded diamond! This diamond will toggle the snap of the ruler. The only indication of it being on or off is the lines turning from purple to green. So, if the marking tool has snapping on and if we have snapping on in the command bar but we aren’t snapping to the ruler, then click once on the diamond with the object selection tool, switch back to the marking tool, and see if we’re getting the snapping happiness we want. If the diamonds or the dots aren’t visible, then zoom out and see if they are off the canvas area of the document. Use the Object tool to move the entire ruler so the dots are within the canvas area.

  17. Now, we can lay down the lines at the sides and front of the cube.

  18. Use the same ruler and ink for the pyramid and cone. The sphere will be done free hand, because straight lines will flatten out the sphere and make it look like a disc.

  19. When inking, we should be aware that the mind of the eyes that gaze on our work are unconscious artists and will fill in the blanks. That’s why the vertical lines in the figure are interrupted. This gives the impression of a vague reflection of the cube’s environment, which adds interest to the final work.

What just happened?

We used rulers as an inking aid for the shape outlines and for the inking of interior shadowed areas. By using interrupted lines, we can make our shading look more random and interesting.

Have a go hero

Before we leave markers, there’s an issue with the sphere. One thing that technical pens excel in is rendering mechanical objects. Unless our hand is supernaturally steady, our poor sphere may not look too good. There needs to be a way to create a curved ruler that would radiate from a single point. There is and it’s from the same menu from where we got parallel rulers from the special rulers. It’s named Focus Curve. We can select it from the Special Ruler menu. Then, in the shading layer, we click on the area where the sphere is highlighted (brightest area). We also click on a curve of the sphere. Usually two more clicks is enough to get a good curve. Press Enter to commit to the ruler. A focused type of special ruler will have a single point that will be the origin point for all the lines that are drawn. Now, we will use what we know about interrupted lines and cross-hatching to ink that puppy.

The difference between the focus curve ruler and the parallel line ruler is that on the focus curve ruler we can have curving lines coming from a point, while the parallel line ruler only allows straight lines.


These are the workhorses of inking. With a practiced (steady) hand, there’s nothing we cannot ink with these tools. Unlike the metal and hair pens and brushes in the analog world, we don’t have to worry about the sharpness of the points or ink clogging up the works. However, we need to learn to work with our graphic tablets and stylus pens.

There is something that we need to know while using our tablets and stylus. First, go to the maker of your tablet’s website and make sure your drivers are current. Many times, an odd behavior can be attributed to an out-of-date driver. That being said, always have the previous installation file of the driver at hand. Sometimes, an update can cause more problems than it solves. Having the previous version at hand is a great insurance policy.

As for the stylus, I use a Wacom Intuos tablet and it’s served me very well over the years. The biggest upgrade I did for it was to purchase a second stylus pen and extra nibs for it. While the solid plastic nibs that come with the tablets are fine to use, I purchased the felt nibs and the stroke nibs.

The felt nibs adds a bit of friction to the stylus without having to put a sheet of paper on the tablet itself. They tend to get blunt quickly, but they’re still usable. I find these excellent to use with the marker tools. Because of the friction, they give a smoother line without adding extra correction to the pen in Manga Studio.

The stroke nibs have a pointed end and a spring in the middle of the nib. That spring adds a bit of resistance (almost feeling like a real dip pen nib) to pressure, and the smoothness allows for long strokes that can be very nice looking.

Both of these nibs don’t seem to interfere with the pressure sensitivity of the stylus. All the stylus nibs will wear out eventually, so don’t hesitate to replace them as you would replace a dip pen that doesn’t have a sharp point. I bought a large quantity of nibs (the felt, stroke, and default plastic) a few years ago and that’s been good, since I’ve had many 2 a.m. nib changes that helped save me a lot of waiting. If you’ve lost the nib changer that came with your tablet, a good pair of tweezers will suffice just as well. In fact, I like them better.

Our plan for the pens are two fold. First, we’ll set up the basic settings for the pen in Manga Studio and then we’ll adjust the pressure settings for the specific pen. As mentioned a few times earlier, pressure settings are very personal. Everyone’s style and method of inking is unique. Consider the settings we’ll be looking at here as a starting point. Never be afraid to change the pressure settings. If one doesn’t work, just reset the pen to the initial state and try again. There is nothing wrong with experimenting with settings.

Once we create a pen, we’ll ink in the four shapes using the pen tool. We’ll experiment (there’s that word again!) with using transparency to ink in solid blacks for a unique look.

Before we embark on our adventure in inking, take a moment to visit I’ve used these for years and still have my initial two pairs. I use one for analog and the other for digital. They are fingerless gloves, except for the pinky and ring finger. For analog penciling and inking, they protect the paper from oils that’s on our skin and from getting our hand all smudged up with the graphite from the pencil lead. If we are using one with the Wacom tablet or a display tablet, our hand won’t stick to the plastic of the tablet’s surface. My hand just glides across the tablet. They’ve made a big difference in my inking digitally. I didn’t want to risk washing them in a machine so I hand wash them every couple of months or so, and they’ve held up amazingly well. In short, a bandana wrapped around the palm and the heel of the hand can work to avoid the heel of the palm from sticking to the plastic surface.


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