Using Flash to Ink your Web Comic
While Adobe Flash is traditionally considered an animation and web application tool, it’s also an excellent vector graphics tool, and is admirably suited to creating web comics. In this article, I’ll show you some of the techniques I use to ink, colour and letter a web comic. This article assumes you have access to a digital pen and tablet.
The first thing to keep in mind using Flash is that it’s a vector-based program, meaning that all your work can scale up or down. This is useful when you want to re-purpose artwork for new projects. For example, you could make an elaborate background for one comic, and then re-use different parts of that same background in new comics, with no quality loss.
As well, if you ever think you might do an animation or simple online game, your artwork will be ready to go, as Flash is pretty much the standard for those formats.
The first step is to bring in your scanned pencil drawings. It’s possible to draw directly in Flash, but I prefer to do my originals in pencil, and then import them in. There are some artists talented enough to go straight to inks without penciling, I’m not one of them. You can simply copy and paste your original drawing in from you scanning software, or import a saved image.
The next step is to lock the layer that contains your original artwork, and to add a layer above it. You will do all your inking and colouring on this new layer, and eventually remove the scanned artwork altogether.
Like in many graphics programs, you can add, lock, hide, delete and rename layers. It’s best to lock your ‘original’ layer so that you don’t accidentally move your original drawing, as this will really mess you up.
You’re now ready to begin inking. There are two tools you can use to ink your drawings in Flash; the Pencil tool and the Brush tool. I prefer to use the Brush tool, as it gives you the ability to adjust line weight by pressing harder on your digital pen, giving you a variable thickness of line. However, if you prefer a consistent line thickness, you might be better off using the pencil tool. For this example, I’ll be using the brush tool.
When you select the Brush tool, your options panel will change to reflect the tool you have chosen. The important thing to change at this stage is the ‘Use Pressure’ option, which will give you pressure sensitivity, ie, the harder you press, the thicker your line will be. I also tend to change my fill colour to something really bright, like lime green, to make it really clear what I’m inking as opposed to what my background image is. You can easily change this colour at any time, of course.
I also like to zoom into to a consistent level, usually 350%, which is just a personal preference. It is important, however, to stick your original zoom level, or else your line thickness will be all over the place.
You’re now ready to start inking. This process is very similar to traditional inking, you’re basically cleaning up the drawing and preparing it for colour. And again, using the pressure sensitivity option, you can create nice tapered lines, and emphasize certain areas with thicker lines, as the following images will show.
The Original Scanned Artwork
Inks converted to Black
This image shows the final outline inks, with the original artwork deleted. This image is now ready to colour.
This image shows the image with the base colours. Colouring at this stage is just a matter of using the Paint Bucket tool to fill in the areas with the colour of your choice. If you use recurring characters, you can also build a custom palette with your standard colours that you use all the time.
The next step is to add highlights and shadows. For this, we go back to the brush tool, and we’ll have to change one of the settings.
When inking the outline of the drawing, we wanted the lines to flow into each other, much like you would have with real ink. Now that we’ll be adding highlights and shadows, we don’t want to colour over the black outlines, so we’ll change the brush setting to ‘Paint Inside’. This will allow you to add your shadows without having to worry about wrecking your blacks, as the following image will show.
In the first image, the pen is set to ‘Paint Normally’, and it will draw wherever you want it to, as you would expect a regular paintbrush to do. The second image shows how the ‘Paint Inside’ option works. If you begin painting within an object (in this case, the blue square), the brush will stop painting at the edges. This allows you quickly and accurately add shadows and highlights in a single step.
Image with highlights and shadows added.
And here’s the finished drawing, before adding backgrounds, word balloons, frame and so on.