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Learning to Draw Digitally

Jan 21, 2023 by Sabine Wilder
This is more of a personal post about learning to draw comics digitally on a pen display tablet. I'll take you through my process step by step, but I'm sure this will change as I get better with this new tool. I have put off this process for a while, so I'm sure technology has also advanced since I bought my pen display, but I think the basic principles will remain the same. Here's my process.


For my latest comic "Wolfsbane" I still drew out the initially storyboards and drawings by hand in pencil. Then I scanned the drawings and imported them into Photoshop, making a PSD file with the sketch as a layer (so I can copy and resize or move sections of it).

Panels and Text

I've heard that some people do text last, but for me I needed to see where my text was going and what I would need to fill around it first. I made panels using boxes or lines in Photoshop and set the stroke to 10. Then I added all the speech and captions text.

Line Work

I felt like I had a very shaky hand when I started, though putting the safety screen on the tablet helped with this (and it's already scratched and I have no idea how, so it's doing it's job). I also wasn't sure what brush presets to use. That seems like a whole other topic. But for the size I'm working at, I chose just a plain black brush 8px in width. I also turned down the sensitivity on my pen display as I found I wasn't used to the pressure yet. I have a feeling I might increase it later, but for now, not too much sensitivity is helping me learn. I set up my hotkeys with my most commonly used tools and went to work. The parallax on my pen display is worse at the edges, so I try to move whatever I'm drawing into the middle as often as possible. It takes a while to get used to where my pen is and where it is on the screen and I over shoot and undershoot a lot of lines at first. Good thing there's an eraser. But, by the end of 32 pages, I think I am starting to get the hang of this! I also make the speech bubbles at this point. I use the ellipses tool to make a bubble and then I draw in the bubble's tail by hand.

Shading/Grey Tones

I want the comic to be in black and white, but that means I can use shades of grey to colour things in. I decide on a 20/40/60/80 greyscale and use that (plus back and white) throughout the comic. Because my lines are sketchy and often don't close or are missing closures at important junctions, I decide to colour things in manually with the pencil and brush tools.

The pencil gives me a fixed width, which is handy because I can see exactly what it's covering. Unfortunately, it has a hard edge, which can be hidden under my line work, but not always. The brush has a soft edge, but the bigger the brush the more unruly it is and I'm not used to it yet. I find I make more mistakes and have to go over things more. So I fill in the big blocks with the pencil and fill bucket, and then do the shading/highlights and other details with the brush. I'm still working out the details, but so far it's working for me.

I also have a few gradients in the background, because sometimes it feels appropriate. I put these on a separate layer and fill in the major shapes and erase anywhere the gradient shouldn't be.

The Finished Product

Here's a finished page! I hope I learn new techniques as I develop this skill and get better at the process.

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