Do you want to draw better lines? Ever wonder how other artists’ characters look so dynamic, yet your own characters look a bit static?
Drawing line art isn’t as simple as simply laying down some lines. There are a few critical areas that you should keep in mind while drawing, which I will cover here. And since not everyone has a tablet, I’ve made this tutorial applicable to pencil & paper artists, and will show you how to properly scan your line art into the computer.
(note, all the images are clickable to view at 100% resolution)
The first, and absolutely most important thing to learn about drawing lines is line quality.
The line on the left is when you draw multiple little lines to form a single line. This is a typical and BAD habit that amateur artists make. This is mainly due to not having enough confidence in drawing lines in a single stroke. Ideally, you want your lines to look like the one on the right. This is accomplished by a single stroke.
As I said, it’s all about confidence. How do you build the confidence? Follow these tips:
- Practice! Simply draw arcing lines on a rough sheet of paper. Large ones that fill up the page. They don’t go anywhere in particular, but it really helps loosen your arm up so that you’re able to make those confident strokes. Just break out the sketchpad and have fun drawing lines everywhere!
- Draw lines slowly. This will improve your technique. You’ll get more “squiggly” lines when you first learn how to do this, but over time, you’ll get less and less squiggly.
- Draw lightly first. When drawing illustrations, drawing lightly will build confidence in your strokes (you can have a few line breaks when you’re sketching). Then go over the lines with a slower, more refined single stroke.
- Draw with your whole arm instead of just your wrist. You’ll get a much broader range of control and can draw much cleaner lines this way. It takes getting used to, but it’s the best way to draw.
The next important element to a line is line weight.
Lines have thicknesses. It’s especially important when doing line art, as it expresses weight, motion, and depth. With it, your line art comes to life. A thinner line indicates delicacy, while a thicker line indicates solidity. Likewise, thicker lines also feel heavier than thinner lines. They can also be used to express motion. Thin lines give a sense of movement, while thick lines do the opposite.
The images on the left have no weight, while the images on the right have weight. Relatively speaking, the images on the top are thicker than the images on the bottom.
You can see how the no weight lines look a bit dull in comparison to the weighted lines on the right. Even though the character is mostly static, the weight adds a bit of life to it. This is particularly important when expressing movement.
Once you have these two attributes of a line mastered, it’s time to put it to the test. There’s way too much to cover in terms of how to draw, so I’ll save that for next time.
It’s not really possible to draw a good illustration with confident lines without having a base. You wouldn’t be reading this tutorial if you were good at that. Always start with a lightly drawn base sketch using a hard pencil. How loose or tight you want to draw is up to you. But this is the stage where it’s okay to make mistakes, and simply erase them, or just draw right on top of them.
Once your sketching is complete, use those sketch lines as a guide for your solid lines. Use a softer pencil and start outlining the lines you want to make stand out. Don’t worry about erasing the sketchy pencil lines. If you’ve drawn it light enough, it won’t be noticed compared to the darker lines.
Once you’re done penciling, it’s time to scan your image. It’s important to scan as high a DPI as possible. DPI stands for dots per inch. The denser the dots per inch, the higher the resolution of your image. Some scanner software will try to auto-correct the image. Disable these. You want full control over this instead. Also scan in color. You can always convert it to grayscale within Photoshop instead. Basically, get the rawest true-to-original scan of the source as much as possible.
This is what the scan looks like. I converted it to grayscale. You can see that the edges are dark, the paper looks dirty, and there’s a crease on the bottom left side. All this can be removed. Here’s how to do it en-masse:
In Photoshop’s menu, click Image > Adjustments > Levels. You’ll be presented with a histogram with three little arrows under it. This histogram shows you all the pixels in your image, and where they lie on the graph. The pixels on the right side of the graph are all the white pixels, the pixels on the left are all the black pixels, and everything in between are grey. As you can see, there are A LOT of pixels in the light grey, with just a tiny amount in white. Practically none are black, but there’s a whole lot of grey.
Adjust the little black arrow. What this does is it caps the grey pixels, and narrows the range. You’ll see more of the grey pixels become darker, and some become black.
Adjust the little white arrow. This does the same thing, but to the pixels on the right. You’ll see more of the grey pixels become lighter, and some become white.
The little grey arrow is a median. It’s sort of like how many of those pixels do you want to be lighter grey, or darker grey.
The way I have it set now, I’ve turned a lot of grey pixels to white, essentially cleaning up most of the image, and I’ve turned a heck of a lot of grey pixels black, making the line-art more defined. I’ve also moved the grey arrow closer to the blacks to narrow the range further, and to allow more white pixels.
It’s still not 100% perfect. This is mainly due to how low-contrast the scan was to begin with.
The rest of the grime has to be cleaned manually. Just take a white airbrush, and paint away. There shouldn’t be too much grime left after the Levels adjustment.
One thing I noticed after scanning the image was the right left side was slightly blurry. This is because the spine ring of my sketchbook was on the left, and it raised the image off the scanning glass slightly. Make sure that when you scan, your drawing is as flat as possible, or don’t draw so close to the edges.
The resulting line art is much cleaner now. But as you can see, it still looks a tad messy. We’ll get back to that part later. Let’s continue.
Some people like to convert the background into a layer, and set the blend mode to Multiply. Then they start painting with layers underneath. This works and is fine for the most part. But if you want to color your lines, you won’t be able to do that. This next step will teach you how to separate just the black properly into a transparent layer.
Open the Channels window. Hold Ctrl (Windows) or Command (Mac) and click on the Blue channel. This will select everything that’s not black. Why blue? It has a stronger contrast against Black, so it’s more accurate than the other two channels (which are slightly grey).
Next hit Ctrl+Shift+I to inverse the selection.
Go back to your Layers window, and click the New Layer button. The selection should still be active. Now hit Alt+Backspace to fill the selection with black. You may not notice anything different. But deselect your selection (Ctrl+D) and hide your Background. You should see the checkerboard transparency, but your line-art is still there. Start a new layer and fill it with white, or whatever color you want to play with.
The main difference now is that you can paint over your line-art, and you don’t need to set it to multiply either, because the layer only contains the black pixels. To paint over your line art, simply click the little transparency lock button while that layer is selected. Now any color you apply to that will only go on the black pixels. The cool thing is you can color it however you want, or fill it back to black without causing any irreversible damage to your line art.
Another nice little test you can do is a ‘dirt check’.
With your line art layer selected, click the FX button. Next click Outer Glow. Set the Blend Mode to Normal and play around with the Spread and Size. What I’ve done is “thickened” all the non-transparent pixels in the image to create a sort of “indicator” of where there is still grime. The solid white parts are the areas that I manually cleaned. Normally, you wouldn’t notice this level of dirt in an image, but it MAY be noticable if you use a lot of solid colors, and you zoom in real close, or possibly even when you print it.
So if you’re anal, you might want to fix it. But how? You could leave this FX layer on, and start painting away, until you’re satisfied, and then delete the FX layer, or you can increase the contrast of your source. You can do that by inking.
For inking, you need a very fine inking pen. For me, I use the Sakura Micron 005. These pens are the best you can get for outlining line art.
Outlining uses the same process as when you darken with pencil, and follow the same principles of line weight etc.
The only difference of course, is that you can create thinner lines with a 005, and you can’t erase any mistakes. (but if you’re scanning, it can be repaired).
After you’ve finished inking, you have the option to erase your pencil lines after the ink has dried. This will give the best contrast, but you lose some of the organic pencil lines. It’s a style choice at this point.
I chose to keep the pencil lines.
I repeat the scanning process, and adjust the levels. This time, I didn’t do any manual clean-up. This is the result of the dirt check. As you can see, it’s still a little dirty, but not a whole lot. I had to really crank it up. The majority of the grime is close to the line art itself, so that’s good. It’s keeping the majority of the space clean, while still keeping the lines natural looking.
A comparison shot. The ink really helps in solidifying the drawing, and since I used thinner lines than the pencil art, it still retains the natural pencil look. The image on the right is pencil only, but because of the low contrast of the source, I wasn’t able to get as clean an image.
I could have gone further, and really lined the ink, and erased the pencil before scanning. If you want something that clean, then that’s great. Since I have a tablet, I can also do my inking digitally at this point too. By keeping the pencil lines, I can fall back to this if I want to, because once you erase those pencil lines, they’re gone for good.
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