2D Comic Art in Poser: Line Renders

April 15, 2007 12:22 pm

Sometimes people ask about my technique for making comic book art using Poser figures. I’ve given short answers in the past. If you want a more detailed explanation, this tutorial is for you.

This tutorial will take you from a Poser scene to medium-quality line art. In comic terms, the end product will be somewhere between penciled and inked art. My next tutorial will focus on postwork to clean up and embellish the line art, bringing it up to inked quality.

What you’ll need to complete this tutorial:

  • Poser 6 (I don’t think earlier versions have the same rendering options)
  • Photoshop
*Note: Click on the images throughout this tutorial for a larger view

Getting Started

The first step is to put together your scene in Poser. To keep things simple, it’s best to start out with a single character and some conforming or parented items.

Toon with Line Preview

Now that you have a scene set up the way you normally would, switch the "Document Display" preview to "Cartoon with Line" mode. It might not look so great at first, but you’ll get used to it.

Fixing Element Styles

You might have a few elements that don’t display in the toon style. In this image, I used Aery Soul’s Liltsure Hair, and it is still displaying with materials and transparency. When this happens, select the item and click on Display>Element Style and select "Use Figure Style."

This happens most often with hair, but I have seen it randomly on other models. Fix all objects until everything is in "Cartoon with Line" mode.

Turn off Ground Shadows

In many cases you will want to keep your character’s cast shadow separate from the character, or draw it yourself. To do this, click on the Display menu, and uncheck the "Ground Shadows" option.

Turn off the ground

The reason why we’re fussing so much with the preview window is because you’re actually going to be rendering from a preview. So it’s best to make this look as much like the final image as possible. Click on Display>Guides and uncheck the "Ground Plane" to hide the ground. The grid disappears, but the shadow remains.

Set a White Background

Click Display>Background Color and choose white from the palette.

Set Up Materials

Now we need to get the materials ready for a line render. The image above shows one way of setting up toon shaders, but for this purpose, you don’t need much detail.

For a simple line render, just make sure that:

  • Diffuse Color is set to pure white
  • Diffuse Value is set to 1

Do this for every material of every element in your scene. You can make a basic material and save it to your library for quicker application.

Grayscale Preview

Now your preview window should show an image similar to the one above. Chances are it’s either too light or too dark.

Light Setup

It’s time to plan the lighting for your image. It may not matter for this render, but I think it’s always easier to avoid colored lights. So set your lights to white or gray colors before positioning.

Now move them around the scene until you get a nice balance of light and shadow on your character. Think about your specific image. For example, it it’s a daytime outdoor image, you’ll want less shadow and a strong overhead light. If it’s an evil character or  a nighttime scene, you want lots of shadow, with some light areas to show where the character is.

Make sure your light images still incorporate some shadow and your dark images still incorporate some light. Try to imagine the light gray areas as white and the dark gray areas as black. As you play around, you’ll see that you can create some very dramatic effects.

This example image is a bright daytime scene. You can see how the main light is overhead and to the right, but there’s still some shadow to define the body.

Set Render Dimensions

For this technique to work well, we need to render at a large size. I usually use 4000x3000 pixels. If you have a powerful computer, you might experiment with even larger sizes.

Choose Render Settings

Now go into the Render Settings. Click on the "Preview" tab. This will let us render from the preview window.

Check the Antialias box, and enter 12 in the "Toon Edge Line" text field. Since our render is so large, we need to increase the thickness of the lines, too.

Now click on "Save Settings."


Back in the preview window, things are going to look like this image. Not to worry. This means that you set up the lines correctly.

Now click on "Render Settings" again. If your copy of Poser is like mine, it forgot that you wanted to use the Preview engine! So choose the preview tab again, and click "Render Now (Preview)."

You won’t see a progress bar like you do with a Firefly render. All you get is an hourglass. So be patient and wait.

When it’s finished, your render is too large to look at in Poser. So save a copy. I usually save in PNG format because it’s compressed and includes an alpha channel.

Examine Your Work

Let’s open the render in Photoshop and see what we made. It will probably look something like this image.

Here’s a possible red flag. Do you see how the lines are dense and the color is dark in the hair on my render? This is bad, because this whole area is just going to become a black blob.

I’ve seen this with the hair models that I use from Aery Soul. But the basic aiko and hiro hair models have many less shapes, and so their lines aren’t such a mess.

Removing Hair

If you get dense hair lines in your render, you’ll have to go back into Poser, hide the hair, and re-render. The bad news is that you’ll have to draw your hair back in during post. But keep your first render, because you can use it as a guide.

On the other hand, if your hair lines were clean, you can proceed without re-rendering.

Converting to Line Art

So far, our images have been grayscale. There were various light and dark sections throughout. Now it’s time to switch to pure black and white.

In Photoshop, click on Image>Adjust and choose "Threshold." Read the next step before clicking OK.

Threshold Settings

The best practice for this part is to move the slider as far to the right as you can. Stop when the shadows start intruding too far into your image, and move back to the left until they recede. The idea is to try to keep your lines relatively thick, while also making sure your shadows behave. Don’t worry about the jaggy look of the preview. Click “OK” when you’ve found the ideal setting.

After Threshold

Now photoshop will smooth out the preview, and you should have a nice inked-looking image like this. Zoom in very tight, though, and you’ll see that Photoshop actually converted all pixels to one of two colors—black or white.

This is the reason for the large size of our render. We can get away with jaggy edges when the image is this large.

Preparing for Postwork or Colors

Now we’re going to make the final step for this tutorial. Choose the magic wand tool, and de-select "Anti-aliasing" and "Contiguous."

Click on a white patch. The tool will select every white pixel in your image. Delete them.

You now have a single layer of pure black pixels.  And the quality isn’t too bad. If you’re just practicing, or if you’re happy with the lines, you can put flat colors underneath them, and even paint some shading.

The Need for Retouching

You will notice some strangeness if you zoom in on your lines. They’re kind of rough up close, and Poser puts spaces between them. Plus, you may need to draw your hair back in, or add some accessories to your scene. Or, you might want to distort your linework or fix the eyebrows and eyelashes, which don’t usually render well using this method.

That is why I think of this step as more of a pencil drawing than an inked drawing. But, it’s a good start and there’s not far to go to make this a full-fledged inked drawing.

All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the artist.

Special thanks to Joe Webster [jwebster45206] for providing Part One of his renewed tutorials for the Front Page News. 
We invite you to have a look at:
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April 16, 2007
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Article Comments

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 17 April 2007

Excellent tutorial. It was very easy to follow and worked great. I am looking forward to the next part. Have my figure saved and waiting.

Toribev ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 18 April 2007

Great tutorial. Well written and easy to follow.

Caelyn ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 18 April 2007

Fantastic! Very well-written and produces some really cool results. Waiting anxiously for the next part. Thanks so much!^^

infinity10 ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 19 April 2007

cool, thanks

TIMMYLYNN ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 19 April 2007

Cool Tut...can't wait for next part.....

destro75 ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 20 April 2007

Great to see the repost! I was wondering where the tuts had gone from your homepage. Hopefully you'll continue to add to the series after the second one. Thanks for taking the time to do this!

jakzun37 ( posted at 11:21AM Wed, 07 July 2010

i can't get past the eyelights/corneas i tried setting the view for the eyes to be textured-shaded - but, it didn't work the texture i have for the eyes doesn't fit the cornea - so, i can't just paste the eye texture directly on the cornea and, why are the colors so muted? i can't get bright white, only dingy white

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