Digital Art Process

My trial-and-error process of making comics without paper.

first page of Dead by the Pool
Process example from "Dead by the Pool"

The basic idea is (a) draw the art with Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter or similar tools and (b) make an Adobe Illustrator file for each page, containting the art and lettering on separate layers. Gather those files in a layout program like Adobe InDesign, which in turn is used to create PDFs for print or e-Comics.

There are clear advantages to creating the finished art completely digitally. Scanning and hand-lettering are things of the past; you never run out of "Paint Bucket" at 3:00am. Overall, digital tools put all production accountability where it should be—on the artist. Even those who draw comics with ink and paper still have to master computers for production.

So, does making 100% digital comics sound like fun yet? You need a computer, some rather expensive software and a pressure-senstive Wacom drawing tablet. Once you've got your gagets in place—and your killer story, without which your digital tools will be meaningless—you're ready to begin:

The process, from Photoshop to Acrobat in 5 easy steps.

Adobe Photoshop: Pencilling
The selection, resizing, layers and "soft pencil" tools are the closest things to my traditional drawing methods (tracing paper, Xerox, scaled copies) I've found so far. Using paths to control perspective is an added bonus.
Work actual print size at 400ppi, save this pencil phase as a TIF that will be imported in the next step.
Corel Painter: Inking
The anti-aliasing is "tighter" than Photoshop's, making a much cleaner ink stroke. Painter X, the latest version, has terrific brush and texture controls. The page rotation tool's a life-saver! Inking happens quickly, brushing way outside the planned borders.
Import the pencil TIF from step one on a separate layer. Trace over it in "ink", Save As a TIF (with slightly different name to avoid overwriting your pencil TIF.)
Adobe Illustrator: Lettering + Bordering
This is where all the vector stuff happens. The first step is importing the final inked Painter TIF in Illustrator, then sticking it in a compound path of the panels. I then letter with Blambot fonts (Letter-o-matic) in custom word balloons. Once everything's set, each page is saved as an indlidual EPS.
Place your inky TIF in an Illustrator document. Make a Compound Path of panels, then use this path as a Mask for your inky TIF. Do your lettering and sound effects on a new Layer. When you're happy, make an EPS file of your page.
Adobe InDesign: Pagination
A collection of the final EPS files. Page numbering and common elements are controlled in the Master pages. This file is used to generate the PDF.
Collect your EPS files in a single InDesign document, using its Template and Type Style tools to your advantage. If you're working Grayscale, make a Production Black containing values for CMY and K. Long story, but your imported graphics and InDesign elements will have to be colored this way.
Adobe Acrobat: Final Art
Optimized for print, web and email.

I hope this page is helpful. Working completely digitally isn't the revolutionary technique it was when I wrote the first draft in 2005. A lot of you've gone a lot further with it than I have. If you've any tips or hints that I've missed and might save a young cartoonist a few hours of grief, so share! The karma gods will bless you.

David Marshall, retro-posting from Inman Square.