2D Comic Art in Poser Part 2: Digital Inking

April 23, 2007 12:14 am

Welcome back for the next chapter in my 2D Comic Art in Poser series. I think the last tutorial was a big hit because it focused on work in Poser, and the postwork was quick but effective. (You can read Part One here).

This time around, I'm going deep into postwork on the line art. Specifically, this tutorial is about digital inking in Adobe Illustrator.

In addition to some experience with vector drawing, you'll need the following:

  • A Photoshop line art image with one layer of black pixels only. If you completed my first tutorial, you finished with one of these.
  • A vector drawing program*. If you have the means to get it, I highly recommend Illustrator CS2, and this is what my examples will reference.
  • It's also good to keep some of your favorite comics handy to compare your work to the pros. It's humbling, but you'll learn a lot.

    * Note: If you have good drawing skills with a tablet, you will be able to apply the ideas in this tutorial in Photoshop or Painter.

(*Note: Click on the images throughout this tutorial for a larger view)

Why redraw and retouch?

At the end of the line art rendering tutorial, we had an image with an inked-looking quality. But it also had some problems-rough edges, spaces between lines, dark eyes… and if you compare it to a comic book, it's much less detailed.

If you're like me, you want your work to look as much like a real comic as possible. We can use that original line render as a starting point, modify, re-draw, and embellish. At the end of the process we have an image that combines Poser's strengths with our own creativity and knowledge of comics.

Okay, enough introduction. Let's get down to business.

Erase Unneeded Lines

First things first. There are going to be some lines that are clearly unnecessary. In this example image, I know I'm going to draw hair, so I don't need to show the head behind the hairband. Also, the skirt looks weird, so I'll be drawing in my own skirt.

If you have lines that are obviously not needed, take an eraser (pencil or block) in Photoshop, and erase them.

Then save the image, and open your vector program.

Starting Your Vector File

Make a new document with the same pixel dimensions and/or resolution as your photoshop file. Then place the image as a linked file.

Smoothing the Lines

This is the part where I sing my praise of Illustrator CS2. Remember how the edges of the lines are jaggy and have spaces when you zoom in closely? If you have Illustrator CS2 you can fix this right off the bat and start the redrawing process with a much cleaner image. If you have CS2, read on. Otherwise skip to the redrawing section.

Select your image. In the top toolbar, underneath the menu, you'll see a series of three buttons-"Embed", "Edit Original", and "Live Trace." To the right of "Live Trace" is a downward arrow. Click it, and choose "Inked Drawing."

Illustrator will huff and puff for a couple minutes, and then--Bam! Your image is smoothed out. In the upper toolbar, click the "Expand" button to make the vectors editable. Split them apart by clicking on Object > Ungroup.


The first part of this inking style involves redrawing. In redrawing, you'll use the existing lines as guides, and redraw them with more style and grace than Poser is capable of.

To keep things straight, it helps to lock the original layer. Then make a layer that covers the original with a semi-transparent (70%) white box, and lock it. Then create a third layer for the redrawing.

Sometimes I go bananas and redraw everything, but usually this isn't necessary. I recommend reading through the next few pages on redrawing, then looking at your image, and applying the techniques to the most important elements, or the ones that Poser did not render well. Really, the amount of redrawing is up to you.

Redrawing for Form, Style and Shape

This is probably the biggest reason to redraw. Considering that Poser is a 3D app, it needs its figures to look good from all angles. However, when working in 2D, we're only concerned with one angle.

This means that there's flexibility to exaggerate the forms and make them look better. For figures, male or female, you can reshape the figure to tweak the shape. If your figures are clothed, you can make improve clothing folds and angles.

In this image, we can give our heroine better curves. In the sample image, I've changed the shape of the leg and torso to make them more feminine. I also drew the skirt back in, making some decisions about how it should be shaped.

Redrawing for Smoothness

If you don't have Illustrator CS2, you'll need to do more work here. In the key lines of the scene, you'll want to redraw to even out some of the roughness of the Poser render.

But even if you did use CS2's Live Trace, sometimes Poser's shadows and surfaces just turn out uneven. This makes the eye think that the surface is lumpy, and in most cases the surface should actually be smooth.

So while you're redrawing, you can change the shape of any lumpy lines or shadows to follow the surface of the anatomy more evenly. In the sample, there's a good example of this on the heroine's left thigh.

Redrawing for Line Width

Line width is one of the big disadvantages of rendered lines from Poser. Professional inkers vary line widths throughout an image and even within individual lines, but Poser renders all lines the same. We need to correct this.

As a general rule, objects in the foreground should have thicker lines, and objects in the background should have thinner lines.

Instead of just using stroke widths to define line widths, you'll get better results by drawing closed paths instead of just strokes. You can draw a shape like a brush stroke to get a painted feel, and you have complete control over the width of the stroke at all points.

When drawing brush strokes, it's best to use as few Bezier points as possible. The less points you use, the smoother your curves will be. I usually use brush stroke closed paths for the major elements on the page, and lines with stroke widths for detail work.

This concludes my discussion of redrawing. Next we'll look at other details you can add to enhance the drawing even more.

Drawing & Embellishing

The next few pages discuss some enhancements you might want to add from scratch. As with the redrawing, do as much or as little as you want, and check your comic book collection to see how your work stacks up.

Drawing Eyes

I put this first, because almost everyone will need to work on the eyes. And I put it under "Drawing" because I usually disregard the Poser-rendered eyes and draw my own.

In the simplest scenario, you'll need to draw in a pupil and reflections in your character's eyes. In other cases, you'll also want to redraw the lashes and brow.

In more extreme cases, you can do what I do. Just use the rendered eyes for positioning, and draw your own stylized eyes for the character. Once you've drawn a few, you can save a library of eye drawings, and then you can re-use them in future art.

Drawing Nose and Mouth

It's not always needed, but you might want to give the nose and mouth a similar treatment. In the sample image, I made the nose more pointed to bring out the Japanese-animation look. I also removed some weight from the heroine's jaw.

Drawing Surface Details

This brings back some bad memories, but I once had a very good (and unpleasant) life drawing teacher who constantly emphasized drawing inside of the form, not outlines around it.

It was a difficult lesson, but the importance is clearer now. To make your drawing as detailed as professionally inked comics, try to add some surface lines to show other parts of anatomy that aren't visible in a silhouette.

The abdomen is a good target for surface details for both males and females. Lots of other muscles and bones can be visible on the surface, too, so experiment to see what looks good.

In the sample image, I've added surface details in the abdomen and buttocks, and some small indications of muscles on one of the arms.

Drawing Hair

In the first tutorial, I saved a copy of my render with hair, and I've been working with a no-hair version ever since. If you're in the same boat, here's how to add it back in.

First, place the hair render and position it within your image. I usually put it in a bottommost layer.

Next, create a Hair layer. By keeping the hair lines separate, you'll give yourself more options when it comes time to color.

Now trace the major shapes of the hair. Use brush stroke-style filled shapes, and get the general feel and direction of the hair defined.

Next, add detail lines. For this part, it's okay to use some stroked paths. Draw enough detail so that the shapes really look like masses of hair. Sometimes hair lines flow in and around each other, so create clipping masks when needed. When you're finished, delete or hide your hair guide.

It's worth noting that even if you rendered your hair lines from Poser, you can still add detail lines like this.

If it's appropriate, you can also add some hair embellishments. These are the wild strands that flow boldly across the characters face or body.

Hatching & Cross-Hatching

This is tedious but essential for the professionally-inked look. It you look at most comics, you'll see that the inker indicates areas between white and black by using a series of lines, sometimes criss-crossed lines. A little bit of this technique (called hatching) will go a long way in your drawing. And it's easier than you might think.

First, think about where you want to use it. Think about the shape of the form and how the shading would flow.

Draw one small line (or brush-stroke-style filled path) where the hatching would begin. Make it curve or angle to follow the contours of the object that it's shading. Next draw another line where the hatching would end. Again, make it follow the contours.

Now select Illustrator's blend tool. Click on a point in the starting line, and then click on a corresponding point in the ending line. Illustrator creates a series of lines in between.

You can adjust the number of lines by double-clicking the blend tool, choosing "Specified Steps" under the blend options, and changing the number.

You can make the blend follow a curve by adjusting the Bezier points of the path that the tool created between the start and end object.

If the lines in between are deformed, just undo and try again. Try blending between different points, because some work better than others. If your hatching is spilling outside of its intended area, draw a clipping mask and apply it to the blend.

Now add hatching at appropriate points throughout the image, adding just enough to give it a real inked feeling.


When you're finished with all the drawing and re-drawing, you need to combine the redrawing with the original drawing.

If you're using Illustrator CS2, you can cut and delete points out of the paths of the original drawing and create a composite image inside of Illustrator. Then you can export the layers to a Photoshop document. Remember, keep the hair separate if possible.

If you're not using Illustrator CS2, only export your new lines, not the original image. Then, in Photoshop, move the new lines onto the original drawing, and use the eraser tool to remove unneeded lines. Again, if it's possible, keep the hair lines separate.

In the end, you can merge all the lines to a single "lines" layer in your Photoshop file, except for hair, which may have its own layer.


Well, this has been a long tutorial, so thanks for sticking with me. I wish you luck in applying these techniques.

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 his renewed tutorials for the Front Page News. 
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April 23, 2007
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Article Comments

OldHermit ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 24 April 2007

Thanks for these, Joe. I dig your work and it really helps me to a get a glimpse of how you go about it.

Shimuzu ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 26 April 2007

I always find Illustrator vector artwork a little cumbersome - so this will definitely improve my workflow. Looking forward to trying out some of your handy tips. Many thanks for the tutorial. All the best, Matt.

regaltwo ( posted at 3:02AM Thu, 13 October 2011

Thank you so much. This is exactly what I need. You are cool!

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