Digital Inking
with Photoshop

For traditional pen and paper artists this digital inking tutorial simply demonstrates how to use different Photoshop tools to achieve the desired artistic results in Photoshop.

For the non-artists the tutorial demonstrates that anyone who can understand and follow some simple Photoshop instructions can, in fact, create some wonderfully inked drawings.

If you're an absolute beginner to Photoshop then you may find this tutorial a bit of a challenge but if you stick with it then you can create some wonderful artwork.

The digital inking techniques can be used with anything - such as an image or a piece of line art.

Tools and Techniques

These are the different tools and techniques you need to understand and use for success ...
  • Layers.
  • Changing and modifying brushes in the Brushes Palette.
  • Pen tool and its options.

If you've been working with Photoshop (or any quality digital editing program for any time whatsoever) then you are probably familiar with layers.  If layers are still somewhat of a mystery to you then perhaps it would be a good idea to work through the Layers Tutorial.

The ability to create and manipulate layers will make your digital inking much easier.  For instance, if you're working on a portrait, then each logical part of the portrait can be on its own layer.  For example, you can have one layer for ...
  • Face outline.
  • Hair.
  • Eyes.
  • Mouth.
  • Cheeks.
  • Chin.
  • Creases.

The Brushes Palette (F5) in Photoshop is really amazing especially when you use it with either a Bamboo or Intuos graphics tablet.

The options available in the Brushes Palette are truly amazing and some will be covered later in this tutorial.  Suffice to say that the options available in the Brushes Palette can be applied to a digital inking project.

Pen Tool

If there's one tool in Photoshop with the potential to drive you absolutely crazy then that tool is the Pen Tool.  When I first started working with Photoshop it appeared to me that my only friend was going to be the Pen Tool.

My logic was this - because it was called a "Pen Tool" then it would be as easy to use as any pen I'd ever used.  Couldn't have been more wrong - the darn thing seemed to have a mind of its own and it was completely unpredictable.

There is a bit of a learning curve with the Pen Tool and once you've got it mastered then you'll find all kinds of great places to use it.

Digital Inking Examples

Here are a few examples of digital inking.  I've no artistic skill whatsoever but the Pen Tool and the Brushes Palette does make it straightforward to create acceptable results ...

digital inking girl

Inked from a black and white picture.  This one has 8 layers in total.

I could never do that freehand and it would be difficult for me to trace as well.

digital inking max

My Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Max.  This one has 5 layers on a light gray background.

digital inking wolf

This was a drawing of a wolf with a lot of shading.  I did this one with 3 layers.

digital inking man and dog

This was originally a newspaper picture that was, and still is, very emotional.  It's a homeless guy and his dog both sound asleep on the street.

digital inking mack ornament

This was a shot of a hood ornament on the front of a big and impressive Mack Truck.  The original picture was not the greatest but the inking turned out fine.

Pen Tool Review

digital inking pen toolsWhen you click and hold the Pen Tool icon in the tool bar you will discover that there are five different functions for the Pen Tool.

It's likely you will only use two or maybe three of them for your digital inking project but it's useful to have a basic understanding of the function of each one.

  • Pen Tool - the primary Pen Tool used to draw bezier curves which is the primary tool in digital inking.
  • Freeform Pen Tool - to draw curves freehand if you've got the control to use it effectively.
  • Add Anchor Point Tool - The allows you to add an anchor point and change the curve.
  • Remove Anchor Point - this one will remove an anchor point that may be messing up your work.
  • Convert Point Tool - Clicking on an Anchor Point converts a curved line to a straight line.

Digital Inking Options

For this project, the set-up of the Pen Tool in the Option Bar is shown ...

Everything begins by drawing a curve with the Pen Tool - this is what a curve looks like ...

digital inking path

Taming The Pen Tool

The Brush Palette

There are two keys to a fabulous digital inking project.  Firstly the ability to create accurate paths with the Pen Tool and secondly the recognition of the power and versatility of the Brush Palette (F5).

The Pen Tool has been covered and with practise comes skill so let's move on and look at the Brush Palette in greater detail.

The Brush Palette has six dynamics that can be modified and adjusted when a path is stroked ...

  • Shape Dynamics (Size).
  • Scatter.
  • Texture.
  • Dual Brush.
  • Color Dynamics.
  • Transfer or Other Dynamics (Opacity).
Digital inking

These settings will give this stroke - starting large and becoming smaller with the minimum diameter being 20% of the maximum.

digital inking stroke

In addition the brush tip shape can also be modified as well.  The way the dynamics and brush tip shape are set and combine will determine the characteristics of the individual brush strokes along the path.

When the Brush Tip Shape is selected this is the screen that will appear.  You can choose any brush tip, change the

  • Change the Brush Tip Shape.
  • Change the Size.
  • Change the Tip roundness.
  • Change the tip angle.
  • Change the hardness.
  • Change the spacing.
Digital inking

This is the stroke of the dry brush, 12 pixels, angle of 34 degrees and roundness of 52%.

digital inking stroke

Here is the same brush tip with a texture applied to the stroke (by checking Texture in the first Brush Palette and selecting a texture) ...

digital inking texture stroke

As you can see, there are hundreds of different options in the Brush Palette - it really is just a case of trying all of the different options yourself.

Digital Inking

digital inking originalNow it's time to put your knowledge of the Pen Tool and the Brush Palette together to ink a photo.

Step One

The first thing to do is to select the picture you want to ink - this is the one I've chosen for this tutorial because it has nice curves ...

Right out of my camera this one was too dark so I did a Levels adjustment, mostly to lighten the mid-tones.

The Levels adjustment made it much easier to differentiate the dark parts of the duck from the  background.

Step Two

The second step is to decide how you want to set up the Brush Palette.

For this one I selected a simple round brush with a hard edge with no special brush dynamics.

In the brush tip shape, I set Roundness to 36%, Angle to 40 degrees and the Size to 10 pixels.

digital inking duck brush

Step Three

digital inking layers

The third step to setting up is to add two layers above the Background - one for the digital inking layer and another one filled with white making it easy to view the progress of the project.

Depending on the complexity of the project, more layers will probably be added.

Digital Inking Procedure

Now that everything is set-up it's time to start the actual inking.  Select the blank layer, zoom in on the starting point you've chosen, grab the Pen Tool, set the first anchor point, move to the next anchor point and drag out a curve.

If you're not happy with the initial curve then open the History Palette and go back to the starting point (It's a good idea to keep the History Palette someplace on screen).  

digital inking first durve
The first curve drawn and stroked followed by a second curve

digital inking right click

When you've got a curve drawn with the Path Tool, right click to bring up this dialogue.

There are lots of choices here and the one we want at this point is Stroke Path (highlighted in yellow) which will bring up the Stroke Dialogue  ...

digital inking stroke dialogue

digital inking stroke options

The default in the palette is to stroke with the Brush Tool and with the Simulate Pressure checked.

When you drop down the Tool dialogue you will find an amazing array of tools with which you can stroke the curve.

These options pretty much cover all of the tools in the Photoshop Tool bar and it would probably be entertaining to give them all a go.

For this tutorial we'll be using just the Brush Tool with the Brush set up in the Brush Palette.

Once the OK button is pressed this is how the stroke will look ...

digital inking frist stroke
The first curve stroked and the next curve drawn with the white background.

When the path is stroked right click again and select the Delete Path choice to remove the curve.

Save your work (as a .PSD file) on a regular basis and eventually you'll have the whole thing inked rather magnificently and be darned proud of yourself in the process!

After about 25 minutes this is what I had ...

digital inking duck end

Now I understand there are many people out there who can draw this quickly and easily and there are a whole lot more who are not particularly adept at drawing (just like me). 

It does provide a great deal of satisfaction for the non-artistic person to be able to follow some simple instructions and end up with a nicely inked drawing!

Shape Layers

One thing that hasn't been covered yet is how to use the Shape Layers option in the Option bar.  This particular option enables you to make just about any shape you want complete with nice curves and sharp edges - like this one ...

digital inking shape layer

There's nothing special about this shape, it's just something that happened after adding and playing with Shape Layers for awhile.

The relevance for a digital inking project is that some parts need more than a nicely curved line - in a portrait the shapes can be used for eyebrows and eyes, for instance.

Putting It All Together

Here is a project I had a lot of fun and learning with.

digital inking gourley

From a visual point of view, there are a lot of different types of strokes in this one.  The following explains how to achieve each of the different strokes with the Pen Tool and the Brushes Palette.

This is how I set the Brushes Palette for this digital inking project and my descriptions are designed to show you how many amazing and fun options are available with the Pen Tool works in conjunction with the Brushes Palette.


digital inking hairThere are two distinct strokes in the hair area.

The outline strokes of the hair changes thickness depending on the direction the stroke is taking.

The strokes in the hair are starting small, becoming as large as the brush thickness is set and then small once again.

Here's how to achiev both distinct strokes ...

Hair Outline

digital inking hair outline brush tipThis is the Brush Tip setup for the Hair Outline.

Rather than just use a hard edge round brush, two fo the adjustments in the Brush Tip have been modified.

A round brush was selected and then the roundness was changed to 40%.

The next step is to change the angle of the new brush tip.  This one will be think in one direction and then will become thinner as the direction changes.


digital inking pen pressure dynamicThe strokes that define the hair were created by setting the Shape Dynamics to Pen Pressure.

The Minimum Diameter was set to 19% (choose whatever your want - nothing special about 19%).  This prevents  the ends from being far too small.

Stroke Dialogue

In all cases this is how the Stroke Dialogue was set ...

digital inking stroke dialogue


digital inking face


The outline does not include the hair area in it's quite straightforward.  This was a round, hard edge brush with no Brush Dynamics set whatsoever.

Forehead, under the eyes and the chin area

The strokes on the forehead, under the eyes and in the chin area are the same as the ones in the hair, that is the Shape Dynamics set to Pen Pressure with a minimum diameter around 20%.

Eyebrows and pupils

These can be created using the Shape Layers Option in the Options Bar and they can also be made with the Path Tool and the Freeform Path Tool.

Shape Layers

Select the Shape Layers option in the options bar (outlined in red) and then ...

digital inking pen tool options

Draw the initial curve like this

digital inking shape 1

Now press and hold the ALT key down and click on the handle at the right end of the shape (outlined in red).  This will delete the adjustment handle to the right of the anchor point, making it much easier to do the next step.

Next make a new anchor point below and to the left of the one of the right and adjust the handles to get a nice smooth, round end - ALT click on the last anchor point remove the adjustment handle.

digital inking shape 2

The last step is to move the cursor over the initial anchor point and draw a nice curve to finish the shape.

digital inking shape 3


This is the point where you really need to take the Pen Tool in hand and start your own digital inking project.

You will be amazed at just how much fun you can have but also beware of the number of hours you can spend using these techniques on just about anything - pictures, simple shapes and line drawings.

Digital Inking
Page Links

Tools and Techniques
Pen Tool Review
The Brush Palette

Set Up

Digital Inking Procedure

Shape Layers

Putting It All Together


The Face

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