Comic Book Illustration in Affinity Designer

Today we’re going to learn the advantages of digital inking. We’ll share some useful tricks to apply digital and resolution-independent ink to our pencil sketches. This tutorial is an excerpt of our Advanced Illustration 1 eBook, released a little while ago.

Let’s get started!

Chapter 1: Inking

Let’s play a role game

Imagine you’re working as a Lead Artist at a multimillion-dollar comic book publisher.

These guys are about to release their next sci-fi graphic novel hit and you’ve been assigned by the art director to finish the cover artwork for the novel. This final cover will be used as well, for promotional material, merchandising, etc.

So basically your artwork needs to be appealing enough to sell the graphic novel to your audience without having seen the story first. As you may guess, there is plenty of money at stake…

It’s getting serious isn’t it?

You’ve been provided with this final sketch from the penciler:

Click on this image to download

For this task, you can use your own drawings. You should be able to follow along without any problem. Just make sure you’re working on a big enough Artboard in order to translate accurately all the key details from sketch to line and color.

Our final artwork dimensions will be: 6600 x 5400 px

The original Advanced Illustration Pack includes a vector brush set. Don’t worry, for this tutorial, we’ve prepared a couple of free brushes to download, so you can follow along without any problem.


Some key advantages of vector inking:

Apart from the obvious, which is having a resolution-independent artwork, vectors offers more cool features:

1. Ability to edit your strokes

With traditional ink it’s virtually impossible to erase a stroke without doing a real mess using correction fluids or similar. There’s the pixel-based software inking alternative (the most popular for some reason). But despite of being able to undo and erase ink strokes, you can’t resize, manipulate or move your lines without losing quality and spending ages while doing it. Using vector ‘ink’ allows you to do all of these and more (like edit the pressure of your strokes later).

2. You can draw first and then choose the look of your stroke

If you’re not happy with how one particular line looks, you just have to choose another brush that does the job. You won’t need to redo anything. it’s a real time-saver.

3. You aren’t limited to use the Brush Tool only

With vector inking, you got options to make your life easier, such as the Pen and the Pencil tools. We’ll dig deeper into these fascinating tools in a minute.

Vector-based Inking techniques

I basically use 3 methods combined together to vector-ink my sketches in Affinity Designer. Depending on the style or what mood I’m going after, I use them in different proportions all over my sketch.

1. Drawing with the Brush Tool

This method is the most traditional and intuitive. Just select the Brush Tool and start drawing right away. If you were expecting some obscure secret here, I’m sorry to disappoint.

When using this tool, always check you’ve selected the Pressure option from the Controller menu at the top. This will allow you to use your tablet’s pressure to control specific settings of each brush, such as opacity and size dynamics.

The Brush Tool offers a wide variety of possibilities for more traditional artists. Depending on which brush you have selected, you’ll be capable of achieving different effects and textures by applying less or more pressure with your tablet.

Try yourself the different brushes included in this pack and get familiar with each one before getting started with the actual inking. This way you’ll feel more confident on which one to use for a specific task.

TIP Sometimes, you may notice that some strokes aren’t being drawn on the Artboard. When this happens, just select a smaller brush or decrease the size of your current brush.

2. Drawing with the Pen Tool :

This is the most precise method of the three. I use the Pen Tool when I get to a tricky part that I find particularly difficult to do by hand. It’s perfect for non-organic shapes or areas that require clean and perfect lines.

You may want to select your brush before starting to draw, in order to see how your stroke will look like in real-time.

Also, this is the tool-to-go if you don’t own a tablet. It is very feasible to ink all the artwork using the Pen Tool only. Perhaps It would take longer to get it done, but it does the job.

3. Drawing with the Pencil Tool :

This hidden gem will allow you to achieve very aggressive or distressed-looking strokes and textures super easily. It’s also great for filling in big areas in a more organic way, like in comic book art, where solid shadows play a big role.

Using this tool as a regular brush, requires a little bit of practice and tweaking a couple of settings before we get it to work properly:

First, we need to set the stroke to None [1], since we’re not using any stroke, we can set its width to 0pt [2], the Controller to None [3] and the most important setting is to mark the Use Fill checkbox [4], in order to preview what you’re doing in real-time.

Finally, we need to set our fill color to 100% black (in this case). And now, onto the fun part… With the Pencil Tool selected, trace the contour of the area you want to fill, your shape will fill-in automatically:

In the steps above you can see the trajectory of the stroke. When you start to use this method, it can get a little bit confusing at the beginning, because you need to plan your final shape ahead.

Once you’ve practiced different shapes a couple of times, you’ll feel more comfortable using this technique, which has become one of my favorites, feels like pouring ink on paper! Let’s check out a couple examples to see the potential of the wonderful Pencil Tool

Having the ability of drawing organic custom shapes, opens several possibilities for creating very unique line styles. You can simulate different type of real ink brushes, with a very natural feel. The best part is that you don’t have to even think about it. Here the happy accidents and imperfections turns into pure gold my friend! This process is also very quick to work with. You don’t have to be super careful or precise as with the Pen Tool. Once you get some practice, you’ll be using it naturally, as if it was a regular brush tool.

The Pencil Tool is also great for emulating cool special effects à la Jack Kirby. Try some different shapes, experiment and open your mind for new ways of incorporating this inking method into your work pipeline.

Inking the Heroine

Now we’ve seen most of the basic concepts, it’s (finally!) time to start the actual work. One last thing I can tell you my friend, is that you have a great adventure ahead!

Open the .afdesign file you’ve just downloaded. Create a new layer and rename it to “Heroine Inks” or something similar. If you’re using your own sketch, don’t forget to lock the sketch layer.

Select one of the free brushes you got a few minutes ago. It’s a good idea to disable the Snapping option, it’s kinda annoying when drawing with vector brushes. Go to View / Snapping Manager… and uncheck Enable Snapping.

Also, you can take advantage of Designer’s canvas rotation feature. It will give you a more precise and comfortable drawing experience when tackling difficult angles, as if you were doing it on a real sheet of paper.

I’ve assigned custom shortcut keys to Rotate Left (clockwise) and Rotate Right (counter-clockwise) options to speed up my workflow. To customize your keyboard shortcuts go to the Preferences… menu, there select Keyboard Shortcuts option.

In the Keyboard Shortcuts menu, go to Draw on the first selector and then View, there you’ll find Rotate Left and Rotate Right shortcuts editor. Now that you’ve acquired the Canvas Rotation super power, let’s keep drawing the contours of our heroine.

I recommend using broader and more distressed-looking brushes to shape the outside line work with larger strokes and save the thinner and simpler ones, like FT Basic Fine-Liner, for interior details. This will add a sensation of depth to your drawing.

In this stage I tend to rotate the canvas A LOT, because it allows me to have more control over every stroke I draw.

Drawing direction is very important. Brush strokes will behave differently depending on where it starts and where it ends.

Notice that I’m not too worried about drawing ultra clean lines. I’m going after a more spontaneous look for my inks. That’s why I told you a few pages ago, that depending on your inking style, the final product will vary dramatically from one person to another.

What I’m doing here, is to define the main shapes of the heroine using a sketchy brush, with more character, and then I’ll tone down the rough looking of this brush with a cleaner and thinner one for the interior details.

Once I have an area defined – in this case her face shape and part of her hair – I start working some details using different brushes to add variation. A smaller brush (10-15px) would work great for tackling tiny areas where broader brushes won’t reach. I also take some liberties here and don’t necessary follow the pencil sketch by the book.

By taking liberties, I mean that you need to see the inking stage more like an interpretation process rather than a literal tracing-over. Some areas that work in pencil, won’t necessarily work with inks.

I cannot stress enough the beauty of creating my lines using vectors. Here, for example, I wasn’t happy with how my stroke ends looked, so I opened the Stroke Panel and edited the Pressure profile until the stroke width looked exactly the way I wanted.

I’ve also fixed this little curve using the Node Tool. Having in mind that you’re in total control of your drawing, releases a lot of stress from you and makes the whole process 500 times more fun and relaxed.

Here comes the Pencil Tool

Our heroine’s eyes and eyebrows, can be a little tricky to ink if we use the regular brushes. Both elements features very unique and irregular shapes. To enhance and make these shapes stand out, we’ll be calling up our best custom shape-maker: the Pencil Tool.

I’m going to show you a step-by-step guide on how to approach her eyebrow shape using this fantastic tool.

The trick when using this Pencil Tool technique is to mentally, follow the final shape you want to draw. And I say ‘mentally’ because our shape will be filling itself in real-time.

and if you’re not used to this method, it can get a little confusing. In this case the pencil tries to fill every possible gap… until you change the direction and automatically changes the color fill in the correct way.

It’s until you’re about to finish your shape, that you’ll see how it will actually look. As you can see, it is not necessary to close the path. Actually, when you see it step-by-step, seems more complicated than it really is. Just try it yourself a couple of times and you’ll get used to the tool within a few minutes.

Using the Pencil Tool, I’ve also worked her eyes and nose. I wanted to go after a very unique traditional runny-ink look for this part, similar to the style achieved using a traditional bristle brush and china ink.

As I mentioned before, filling up areas that need to be solid black (or any other color), is a very practical use of this tool, rather than scribbling all around with a regular brush until the whole area is covered up. The pencil method makes it cleaner and precise.

If the shape you want to fill up has a more regular form, probably you’ll want to use the Pen Tool for that task.

Here you can see, how these techniques work together. I’ve added more details to her face, mixing the three methods explained before. Notice the dynamism of the whole, when you combine thin and thick lines, clean and rough brush strokes. The idea is to create a sensation of depth and light to our sketch.

Now the fundamentals are settled down, let’s move onto the next big area: her body. Don’t feel intimidated by the daunting work laying ahead. I’ll show how to tackle this beast in the easiest and time-effective way.

If you take care of the bigger areas first, you’ll be covering more ground in less time. Once you’ve defined the whole shape of the body using a large brush, you’ll have a closer idea on how the finished work would look like.

Now, we’ll find out how to approach the rest of the details.

TIP: Always remember to check that Pressure is activated from the Controller selector when using the Brush Tool.

It’s exactly the opposite we did when we drew the body contours using a thick brush. In this case I usually build the interior details from thinner to thick.

Advanced Illustration 1, includes some cool brushes to create hatching effects like in the image above. Don’t worry, you can still create these type of effects using a single brush. It will only take a little more time.

Now, our dull original lines have gained more depth.

Then I just follow the sketch lines, to keep building up the torso and the rest, using different brushes combined.

Notice how the strong shadows make some areas to stand out. Again, the subtlety or the lack of it when adding strong shadows depends on you. I’m not that aggressive with this resource, but if you take a look at the work of Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy), the use of bold shadows has become his personal trademark.

When you separate the main shapes (black) from the details (magenta), somehow, the work seems less intimidating. This is a very time-consuming stage and there are no big shortcuts to get it done, but there are tools that can make the process more fun and frustration-free.

Like in the case of the belt. Here I’ve used the regular Ellipse Tool to draw the buckle and the Pen Tool for the design lines.

Summarizing, there’s no golden rule when inking with vectors, you must build your own pipeline over time, using the tools you feel more comfortable with, depending on the task you need to accomplish.

Once you’re done with the heroine inking, it’s a good idea to turn off the sketch layer and see how beautiful the clean lines look after all that work.

In this stage I always take 15 to 30 minutes to add some finishing details, fix lines that aren’t looking ok, cleaning up, redo parts which I’m not happy with… the idea is to polish as much as possible our final drawing so it can be ready for coloring.

Here concludes this part of the tutorial, of course there’s still a lot of work ahead, but we hope you’ve picked up one or two new techniques for your skillset.

Want to learn more?

If you enjoyed this excerpt of Advanced Illustration 1 and feel brave enough to turn this cool black and white drawing into a powerful eye-catching illustration, you should definitely consider checking out the whole eBook.


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Enrique, Brenda and Sam, will be more than glad to answer anything you may want to ask!​


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