Tips on drawing comics/graphic novels?


Hope this is the right forum for this type of question. Basically, I’m wondering if anyone has any experience drawing line art for comics because I need some advice on how to speed up the process. Right now I’m doing everything in Photoshop with a wacom (this is an example), but it is taking forever to do a single page. The coloring only takes a few hours, but for some reason doing the lines is taking me nearly twelve hours a page (an I have a LOT of pages left).

I tried drawing on paper with a super fine point pen (over a col-erase sketch), but it didn’t seem to make a noticeable difference. Any suggestions on how to improve the workflow? I read somewhere that nib pens might work better but it would probably take me even longer to become proficient in their use.



sketch it on paper > scan > flash > trace > export to image > import in photoshop > retouch > color > yada yada yada


Twelve hours per page is about par for the course with comics. Even the pros sometimes spend two or three days on a single page, depending on how complex it is (just penciling it, I mean — not even inking or coloring). In my opinion, you should be more concerned with getting the job done right. Speed will come with time. (Not to suggest you’re doing a bad job, of course. I thought your sample was very nice.)

The best tip I can offer for saving time is to streamline your workflow. Break everything up into stages, and don’t mix and match them. Start with thumbnails: do them small and quick, so you won’t lose a lot of time in making revisions. Thumbnail the entire comic and make sure it’s exactly as you want it before moving to the next stage. This may seem to take longer than it should, but if you take your time to do it right, it’ll speed the next stage up considerably. Next, blow up your thumbnails and use them as a guide for rough pencils. Don’t worry about line quality or refinement at this stage; just make sure your proportions are correct, get your facial expressions and poses down, work out the perspective, etc. Again, do this for the entire comic. (If you try to do each stage for every page separately, you’ll run into consistency issues.) Now you can go back and start inking. You’ve got everything else out of the way, so you can concentrate solely on line quality and refinement. Next come the colors, and you’re done.

This is how it’s done by most professionals. You’ll probably find that thumbnailing takes at least a few days for the entire comic, but it’s well worth it when you go to pencils. With good thumbnails, your pencils will fly by. In fact, if you do really good thumbnails, you can probably just skip straight to inking (although I prefer to do my thumbnails very quick and rough, to keep my momentum going for the whole thing). In my opinion, thumbnails are the most important part. Do NOT rush them, or your comic will suffer. Be 100% satisfied with them before you go on to do some “real” drawing. If you leave major changes to be made in the penciling or inking stages, it’ll slow you down bigtime. I hope this helped a little.


More like:
[li]Story writing
[/li][li]Paper drawing
[/li][li]Linework in Illustrator
[/li][li]Colouring in Illustrator or Photoshop
[/li][li]Assembly in Indesign
[/li][li]Various press stuff
No ?


Doing comic books is not easy. Professionals average about 1~2 pencils a day, and same for inks and coloring, with maybe 25% more output compared to pencils. If seasoned pros work at that speed, how can non-pros expect to work any faster? And even among pros, there are artists who are just naturally slower at the execution of artworks. Adam Hughes is notorious for being slow, and he’s one of the best comic book artists of his generation.

No tool will make you faster. Practice might, but even that is not a guarantee. If practice and experience and talent could make you faster, then guys like Adam Hughes should be lightening fast by now, but that is not how it works. I’ve been working professionally as an artist for 14 years now and spanning across multiple mediums, but it has not made me any faster. In fact, I demand more out of work now than I did when I was younger, so I take even longer.

When I inked for a living, I preferred using high quality watercolor brushes. Inkers like Mark Farmer and a bunch of the “organic line” guys all use brushes. If you are really good, you can get away with using a #5, but if you are not, you might need a #2. Winsor Newton series 7 watercolor brushes are some of the most respected brushes out there for detail work, but they are not cheap.

I also used nibs for specific type of line work, and I used anything from G nibs for manga work, to crowquill, to whatever suited the purpose. The technical pens like Rapidograph are good for architectural or mechanical stuff, but they are terrible for fluid, organic work. The felttip pens are often used too, and some people who can’t get organic lines with nibs or brushes (lack of control and skill) use the felttips and “fake” line weight by going back over the lines to add thickness in various spots.

I would not bother with analogue tools today. Now I’d just use Painter for everything. You can get some great inking in Painter if you know what you’re doing.


Lunatique: Do you have any tips on making a good inking brush in Painter? I’ve tried tweaking a few brushes from the Pens category, but I can’t get anything that gives a nice, crisp line like I can get from a Winsor & Newton or a Raphael. As it is now, I’m still inking on paper with a brush until I can perfect a good inking tool in Painter. (Of course, my inexperience with Painter is the most likely reason.)


I think it’s just a matter of getting used to the inking brushes in Painter. It won’t be as fluid or organic as real brushes or nibs that’s for sure, but the undo and effortless editing/correction evens out the odds. I suppose you could always ink with brushes, scan it in, and then do the correction digitally. I hated making corrections with white paint or white out, because it messes up the perfect flat surface for re-inking. I had a trick where I placed a sheet of acetate over the dried correction, then rubbed it down with something hard so that the corrected surface would be as flat as I could make it, then I’d re-ink on top.

I should probably post a few examples of my comic book stuff so that you guys have an idea of the style I worked in and how it relates to the tools/techniques I’ve talked about. Here are some of my past comic book stuff:

(These pages are from Enchanted, a series I created/wrote/illustrated for about 4 years)

These pages used anything from brushes to nibs to technical pens to felttips–depending on what I was inking.

I also used a lot of dry-brushing techniques like in these page:


Well, while I agree with what Lunatique and heythatreallyhurts have said there are times that all that work interferes with your creative flow and makes you not enjoy drawing a comic anymore. If that’s the case, here are some suggestions:

Simplify your style–
Animated characters have to be quite simple since they need to be redrawn so often. Same principle can be applied to comic characters. If you’re spending lots of time refine your line quality, don’t draw so many lines.

Fill more areas with black–
In the example you posted (and I agree–it’s nicely drawn and laid out) your panels are all line and white space. Add some black (the road, the desk) since the contrast will give more visual appeal. In addition, you won’t have to erase as many stray pencil lines if you’re just painting over them.

Write out your script on paper–
Not sure if this applies but it’s a mistake I often make. Don’t write as you draw. Write out a script and think visually as you do. Don’t go to the drawing board with a vague idea, start laying everything out, erase, redo the panel, then clean up the lines. And like heythatreallyhurts mentioned, do thumbnail sketches for all the panels before you start to do detail work. All this preparation will help you to avoid doing and redoing all the same panels.
I flipped through this at the local bookstore and thought it might be helpful:

BTW, is this something you’ll be posting here on CGTalk? Would be great if you did pages with all rough pencils and posted them in the WIP section. That way you could get crits before you’ve done all your finish work. :shrug:


Lovely work there Robert.

I’m in the middle of experimenting with techniques for drawing comics as fast & efficiently as possible right now, & here’s a few random things that are working for me:

  • get comfortable inking minimally (like the guy said above) & use a dead line, shadow & silhouette to full effect. Look at artists like Mike Mignola or Jock (

  • using rough 3d models instead of constructing perspectives/blocking out anatomy (my background is 3d so this is a time saver for me, but might not be if you’re new to a 3d app)

  • collage on top of pencils with photos of buildings, crowds, signs etc & you can ink right over them

  • ink with fibretip fineliners on a3 tracing paper. Really smooth & I find this goes faster for me than using the Wacom. You don’t fuss about constantly undo-ing, you can get straighter lines (due to the tactile quality of the pen & paper as well as being able to rotate the page freely), & you can correct mistakes after scanning as well as fill in large black regions with the paint bucket.

  • after scanning & tweaking levels, try a final raster to vector conversion step (illustrator cs2 has the best vector tracing tools i’ve used), & this can automatically clean up crappy penwork & make it look more brush-like.


Hey, I like this thread. I’ ve drawn comic for a year, I’m not sure I’m know a lot…but, this is my advice:

Doing everything on paper( sketch and linework).At first, you have your sketch , but don’t use pen to draw over it, copy the sketch to another paper and line it with pen and ink. Using a lightbox is a great idea!
After you finish your linework, complete the page with screentone(if you’re drawing Manga) or you can scan it to your computer and color it(if you’re drawing comic).
I don’t think using a wacom is a good idea. Don’t depend on your computer, use your hand if you can!
Some book can help: “Anatomy for fantasy artist” and “Drawing fantasy beast”. They have some useful techniques that can help you to do everything simply. If you’re drawing Manga(or learning to draw Manga^_^), you can read series" How to draw Manga", they’re really amazing.
and not so expensive for you to buy!


WHen just using lines you instantly face the problem of losing a lot of information on volume.
Because the lightnig is completely gone in most cases.
But… you can trick the eye into believing there’s volume in the image by ‘conjuring the evidence’.

  • (I’ll look up examples in a minute). You’ve drawn a face like in the above examples, they all seem rater flat though, in some cases that is. Now you have to find a way to bring lighting inforation back in, either for the colorist to know what to do or to give the image that likeability. Since you have only black you have either the option to vary line thickness or to add more lines to suggest strong curvature and shadow lines(sort of form shadows). A lot of text here but I’ll find some examples or make some ;).

  • Say you have a scene with a lot of stuff going on, you went all dramatic on the perspective and feel of the scene. But, you know find the point of focused went along with your efforts and out the window.
    Well, you ca use above mentioned to acxhieve the same effect you had in mind but by cheating the eye into looking at the right thing. And, by using the oppposite of above mentioned, the removal of some lines, or thinning them.
    Now what you could do is consider about which parts(objects or persons or effects) are important here. Once you have those you can startaccentuating those parts by making the contrast more apparent in them. To know what happens ni our everyday environmant comes in very handy here, for instance as the distance to an object increases the haze in the air makes things less contrasted and less saturated. Thes things could be mere skimmy lines and very thinly defoined, while the objects in front could have harsher contrast.

Well, good hunting. There are a million and one ways to get there. But I found these very useful.

The process of making lines thicker or thinner can be easily achieved by roughing them and then zooming in and thinning them with the eraser tool set to a small size and pressure sensitivity. Or you can use a variable sized brush, but still in case of misstakes you can move back in wit the eraser. (and work rough, I love that).

Ok to start with all these images are copyrighted and made by F Frazetta. I was recently pointed to his work for the first time and was quite amazed at the quality of his paintings, something to check out no doubt.

the first examples shows how great the impact can be by leaving out certain lines, it seems lit almost.

Here’s a good example of both put to use…

And here are some more images, if you look closely you’ll find entire parts of the outlines are missing but they add to an effect or just the shading. -WARNING! THESE IMAGES CONTAIN MILD NUDITY-


I find Painter 8/9 ot be a great deal easier to do line work in for both penciling and inking. I to am working on a comic now completely in Painter and 12 hours is about right for penciling a page. The sample I am showing was done in Painter. Seems digitally you have the burden of detail, jsut because you can. Your page virtually at 300dpi is about the size of a refrigerator.Zoom out often and don’t get caught up in lines that are too small to print. Good luck!


i saw ur page it is overall very clean,and i must say in my opinion too classic, no i dont mean thet it is not up to date with style, i mean…there is the feeling of been there done that…now to explain it seems that u have the skills, but r deluding urself if u think thet is enough, u see today there are too much of the same formula comics, pencil ink digital fill and highligts…if u really have aspirations, aim higher, u see it is obvious that digital art enables a nice style development, so instead of following a formula, be original and try treating ,the program as a main tool and not just as a step u might acchieve grat stuff, cause i definitely see the potential. cheers:D


Well I think this is a sweet thread.

I;'m gald to hear that a comic is about 12 hours a page. I’m a newb, but as an artist i have a dream of doing comics one day.

I speak as a comic collector and not as a artist :slight_smile:

Neb has a good point of the formula of comics now, they all seem to be created the same. A couple that have really stood out for me is Clayton Crain Venom Carnage mini series, his upcoming ghost rider and alex rosses JUSTICE these comics are painted and are absolutley stunning. I think this is going to be the future of comics, I think they will eventually be all digitally painted.

Just my opinion



oh and i must also add that in time if u r really persistant ull be able to do 2 sometimes three pages a day…so work till u drop mate it will be worth it



When I first got to art school, I decided I’d major in sequential art because I thought comics were cool, and my drawing style was already developed toward that end. Biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I HATE drawing comics now. The thought of having to do it for a living makes me want to stick my hands in a wood chipper. I don’t know if you actually draw comics already or if you just have an art style that’s been influenced by them and you’re a big comics fan — but if you haven’t tried drawing them, pick up a few books on storytelling, perspective, and anatomy, and be ready to test your composition skills. Every page I’ve ever had to do has been a nightmare, not even the least bit fun. I wish I had actually tried it out before deciding to major in it. I wanted to change it so badly, but I foolishly stuck with it too long until it was too late.


hehe i guess it is like everything else, u gotta love it in order to do it:D


You know what killed my passion for comics? After 8 years of working fulltime in comic books, I absolutely HATED having to draw stuff that I have no interest in. For example, a scene could take place in downtown NYC, and you’d have to draw all these buildings, cars, pedestrians, street signs, storesfronts…etc until you want to puke your guts out. If you don’t do it, your scene won’t have the right atmosphere, but if you do it, you’ll be doing so much extra work. I just wanted to tell stories, not sit there and drawing hundreds of windows with a ruler. That is the one single thing I hate about doing comics.


hahaha, amen to that:thumbsup:


Lol, I imagine that’s what killed the capes on the heroes back then :).