Painter tutorial: Create a digital comic, from sketch to pencil drawing to inks

Recreate a roughed-up look for a graphic novel (or comic-inspired illustration) using digital pencils and inks.

Graphic novels provide a great source of inspiration to illustrators, and within the myriad styles used by comic artists there are many that offer intriguing creative possibilities. Here Douglas A Sirois shows you how to produce a page that mimics the pencil-drawn styles of artists such as Michael Zulli.

You’ll learn how to turn thumbnails into sketches, develop perspectives for each panel, evolve your characters and create a hand-drawn feel to your work.

Douglas then takes you step-by-step through how to turn out a piece with a pencil-drawn look. The techniques you’ll learn will get results whether you’ve drawn the original piece in Painter or Photoshop, or scanned in a page of your own comic art, hand-drawn with a 2B pencil.

Discover how to combine different line thicknesses to suggest depth, use cross-hatching to add texture and consolidate it with fine detailing to bring some finesse.   

Time to complete

2 hours


Corel Painter 11

Project Files

Please visit the desktop site to download the project files.


Develop two to three small thumbnails of each page to figure out composition and panel layout. These should be 3-4 inches tall, with minimal detail and drawn quickly just to get your initial ideas down. Remember that there is always more than one way to do anything.

Make each thumbnail an exploration of different points of view. For the thumbnail process, the Thick and Thin Pencil is very good at capturing quick sketches with variations of line weight.


Once you have a page design that you are happy with, enlarge it. To do this, make a selection around the page, then in the top menu select Edit > Free Transform. Grab one corner point, hold down Shift and stretch the points until the image enlarges to fill the canvas.

Create a new layer and roughly sketch your page panels. Here is a good opportunity to tweak objects and forms with each panel composition. You are not creating full detail here, but neatly translating your thumbnails into more cohesive layouts and plan where your darkest shadows will be. This will help move the viewer’s eye through the page more effectively.

For the rough sketch of the page, Painter 11’s new Real 2B Pencil tool does a great job at capturing the essence of a sketch. It is easy to shade in areas when you angle your stylus on your graphics tablet.

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Developing perspectives within each panel is important because here you get to play set designer as your characters need to exist somewhere in some setting.

Start to develop the correct perspectives seen in each panel – each panel should represent a different point of view to make your page more dynamic and help move the reader’s eyes easily through the page. The perspective lines are actually to be used to direct the eye to the next panel. To create these perspective lines, use the Fine Point pen number 10 sized to 1.5 and select the straight-line stroke mode (V). Create straight lines that can stretch across the page to help lay out the various perspectives.


Research the specific time period and architecture that existed during that time. I used personal photographs of old Western towns to enhance the realism of my setting. The more detail you start to put into the environments at this stage, the more believable and interesting your finished page will look.


Create a new layer for the sketches of your characters using the Real 2B Pencil tool. A strong sense of anatomy and anatomical proportions is needed. This is the stage where you work out all of your figures and place them in the correct perspective. This will help with the believability of your figures.

Roughly sketch the forms using spherical shapes and cylindrical parts to help in developing correct proportions for each figure. Development of the figure is most important, leaving off any costumes unless they are very much a part of the character. Focus on getting the anatomy of the character correct as if you’re seeing the figures without clothing.

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On a new layer, using the Real 2B Pencil again, start to tighten up your final drawing panel by panel. Do this by simplifying your image to make it easier to ink.

The Real 2B Pencil allows the artist to achieve various line weights to help with inking. Line weight helps push and pull the image to make the foreground pop with thicker lines. Use your references to add final details such as wood grain, fold lines on clothing and other details to the environments such as the suggestion of a dirty ground or the worn marks one might find on an old hat.


Lowering the opacity of the finished pencil layer to 25%. Create a new layer just for inking. A good place to start inking is by filling in all the solid black areas of your page. To do this, choose the Reed Pen variant under the Pen and Ink category. Fill in wherever you have solid black areas in your page.


Now choose the Scratchboard tool, which acts like a real-world inking brush and can achieve really nice thin lines and heavier lines too. When you start to ink on the layer above the finished line-work, use the pencils layer beneath as a guide. Use thin lines for face and hair and thicker lines for clothes and shadows.

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To ink all the straight lines, you can use the straight-line stroke mode (V) and the Thick n Thin brush variant. Create straight lines that are thin for forms that are in the distance and use thicker lines for forms that are closer to the viewer.

The more detail you start to put into the environments at this stage, the more believable and interesting your finished page will look.


Shading areas with cross-hatching can enhance the feel of a piece or object within it. Again, the Scratchboard tool comes in handy because of its easy, fluid ability to create thin-to-thick lines in one stroke. I wanted to embellish the horrific image of the skeleton cowboy, so applying shading in a loose, rigorous manner gave the image more energy.


Using the Scratchboard tool, shrink the size of the brush so you can add finer details such as cracks and facial hairs. Use your references to add final details such as wood grain, folds on clothing and other details to the environments such as the suggestion of a dirt road or the wear marks one might find on an old hat.

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