Inking — Part 2 of 3

Monday, December 9, 2013

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors — An Illustration Collective

Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Part 1, Part 3

In the last post on inking, I covered the thought process behind inking, but not much of the technical aspects. This post (and the next) will cover my primary tools and why I use them. At the end, you'll find a time lapse inking video for my Weird Science cover, the process for which I detailed in October.


I use Holbein's Special Black ink, which is waterproof, meaning that once it dries, it's impervious to water. That allows me to go over it with watercolor if need be. I used to use Pelikan Drawing Ink A, but I stopped after I tried the Holbein. (I also use their products for my paints. You can often catch them at comic convention like San Diego and New York where they offer great discounts — that's almost exclusively where I do all my shopping.)

I always pour my ink out into a palette cup with an airtight lid. Having a decent-sized opening to dip into will keep your brush clean (and your fingers too). I also like to let it sit for a bit before diving in — fresh ink has a very low viscosity, which means less covering power. I keep a water spritzer close by in case it gets too thick, or I want a wash effect.

Ink and watercolor on bristol board, 11 × 17.25″.

White Out:

I use Holbein Titanium White Acryla Gouache, which is an acrylic paint that dries to a matte finish. This is not its intended purpose, but it works really well, especially if you have to go back over it with ink. I use it mostly for special effects and "negative" shapes where it's easier to paint in white than ink around — stars, wires, leaves, etc.

2009. Ink on bristol board, 11 × 17″.


I ink (and draw and paint) on Strathmore 500 Series bristol board, 2-ply with a semi-smooth finish. It's pre-cut to 11 × 17″ which is standard size for comic art. The 500 Series is ideal because it's cotton-based, which means it's more archival and can hold up well to water. I watercolor on this all the time, and sometimes even do more involved gouache techniques.


I use a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #6 brush for most of my inking work. Most people tell me that's bigger than they prefer, but I wouldn't have it any other way. A large brush holds more ink and, as a result, can supply consistent marks for an extended period of time. It can cover large areas quickly, or provide as fine of detail as its smallest counterpart. Because the individual hairs are longer, they have more "time" to escape from the ferrule and reconvene at the point. The shorter the hairs get, the greater the chance that a small kink at the base can culminate in a splayed tip.

The whole reason we use brushes is their flexibility. A large brush acts a shock absorber for your hand, smoothing out any stray movements into a flowing line. With a tiny brush, every minuscule tremor, especially at slow speeds, is directly translated (and hence recorded) to the paper.

2008. Ink on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

All that being said, I do own smaller brushers. I usually keep a #2 or #3 around just in case — this is mostly for lettering, special effects, and lines with little variation in width (I'm looking at you, Spider-Man). I have a #2 brush that I purposefully take piss-poor care of — the ends have splayed out in such a way that I can form a small "rake" that creates 4 tiny, parallel lines — perfect for scruffy beards (now at you, Punisher).

2009. Ink on bristol board, 11 × 17″.


When I go to comic conventions, much of the day is spent drawing and inking commissions. While I prefer the traditional brush and ink setup, you can't beat the convenience of a nylon brush with a self-contained ink reservoir. The warm-up sketches below were all done with Pentel's brush pens. I like them quite a bit, although I have to say that their "gray" is much, much darker than their black. Maybe I just have a defective batch? There are 3 colored brushes in the set (black, gray, and sepia), and an empty one intended for water. I just fill that with Holbein ink and it works just as well as the others. You never have to wash the brush; just put the cap back on.

WARM-UP SKETCHES (after Jordi Bernet, Alex Raymond, and Moebius).
2013. Ink on paper, 10.5 × 8.25″.

Brush Washer:

Last, but not least, I find the brush washer to be more important than most people give it credit for. Half of inking well is just loading the brush appropriately. I've found that many who shy away from inking with a brush (preferring instead a pen nib) are dipping the brush much too far into the ink well. When I ink, I keep the ink far away from the ferrule which, aside from making the flow easier to control, gives the brush a longer lifespan. My loaded brush is actually on the drier side — I want just enough ink to keep the hairs together, but not so much that it drips. When I touch the brush to the paper, I only want ink to flow when I move.

I have a standard brush washer, but I attached a steel wire that helps me squeeze out all the excess water. I keep a paper towel clipped to it as well. I'm not just drying off my brush; I'm modulating the water content according to the effect I desire. I also keep scrap paper on the drawing board to help shape and test the brush. Above all, you inking demands predictable results, so always test things out until you're comfortable and confident.

Ink on bristol board with digital color, 13 × 19″.


  1. I went and bought myself a #6 brush after reading this, and it's great! My hand feels steadier and my lines do look smoother. Thanks for the tip!

    1. That is awesome news to hear. So glad it's working for you!

  2. That Magneto cover is brilliant…fantastic concept and execution.

    1. Thanks! It was one of those covers where I had one idea and they told me to roll with it.

  3. I enjoyed this series of posts. You mention 11x17 paper. Can you talk about the dimensions you work in within that space? I've seen different dimensions for the "safe" are and the bleed area. Therer are a few blue line pads out there and they differ slightly, but they're approx. 9x13.5 in the safe area. Ever since How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way I assumed 10x15 was the standard, but that book doesn't deal with the bleed. Thank you for your help and thanks for a keeping up this great blog!

    1. Perhaps I should devote a whole post to that. I'll give you the Photoshop basics, though: 4125 x 6262 pixels is what you want. That's an 11x17 piece of art scanned at 400ppi. Now that I've worked for more than just Marvel, I can safely say that's the industry standard (plus or minus a pixel).

    2. Thanks, Paolo. I'm familiar with the use of 11x17 paper, but what about the dimensions you work in? What's your take on these two links? and I appreciate your insight.

    3. Those look pretty good to me, though I can't speak to the exact dimensions. I just measured my Marvel board and the bleed was 10-1/4 x 15-5/8"... but those boards are actually 17.25" tall and the printing varies. That's one reason I crop in a particular way which you can see here:

      The only thing that's really important is the final pixel dimension that I listed above. But what I actually deliver to Marvel is 2750 x 4175 px. If you want to email me, I'll send you the actual template I use. But it won't be of much use unless you can print it out on 11 x 17 paper. Like I said, this subject definitely deserves its own post.

    4. This was a big help, Paolo! Very much appreciated. Many would probably benefit from a post about it in the future. Thanks again!

  4. I have intention tremor, a side effect of medication for a pain condition, and I got so frustrated inking that I basically despaired of ever managing it. Intention tremor gets worse the more you try to be careful, so I figured I was stuck with digital drawing, since I can zoom and be a bit messy, make new layers, retrace, etc. Otherwise I just made a mess of my drawings.

    But the point about the larger brush was one I hadn't thought of. It's a lot more helpful than other sources of advice I've gotten. "One drawing at a time" doesn't mean a lot when you can't draw a straight line anymore.

    So I'm gonna buy a size 6 brush and try it. Even if it doesn't work, there's a lot of really useful advice here that's not in any of the sources I've encountered. It's really appreciated.

    1. Wow. I really hope it works out for you. You may even want to try a "script" or "liner" brush — they're especially long and thin and I sometimes use them for Spidey's webbing. My Dad's other job is custom motorcycles and the pinstriping brushes they use are even longer. Basically, the smoother the desired line, the longer the brush you need. Let me know if it pans out. Best of luck! Here's a line that isn't terribly expensive, but work well enough (even for acrylics).

    2. Oh, I hadn't thought of that either! I'm ordering some liners now to experiment. They look cool -- I'm excited.

      Thank you for the advice!

  5. Not sure if this went through before, but I've been experimenting with some rigger and liner brushes I ordered from DickBlick and the results are so much better than I was expecting. The extra length makes a huge difference -- I don't have to be so ginger that I tremble, so I can exercise control without sweating it or worrying about twitches.

    I plan to draw and ink something (as opposed to the freehand noodling I did) and I hope to get hold of a scanner, maybe do a comparison. Not sure. I like the idea of executing my project by hand, at least the pencils/inks stage.

    Thank you for the advice, it really helped lift my spirits.


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