Comic Book Art Tutorial: To the Master Goes the Knife

by Friday, 12 July 2013

Comic book art has come a long way since the first comic book was introduced in 1933. Now a widely respected art form, comic book art has made it’s way out of the framed storyboard and into mainstream media and art. Just like any artform, every comic artist has their own style. Therefore, I can’t tell you that this is THE WAY of creating comic book art. This is just the way I’ve decided to go about it. If other techniques or ideas come to mind then i recommend you give it a go!

 comic book art in Photoshop


Step 1: Sketching

Now I can’t teach you how to sketch. Sketching takes a lot of practice, especially when you’re trying to develop your own style. There are so many ways you can go about it and all I can recommend is to practice a lot. If you look at an illustrator’s sketchbook, they have pages filled with hundreds of hands in different positions. Just like anything it’s all about repetition.

I use a pencil to get my initial ideas down on paper and then use pen or ink for my finished product. It's best to be loose about your sketching.


Step 2: Scanning and preparing your sketch

Once you’re done sketching, scan your sketch into your computer. I recommend scanning at a fairly large resolution. This way, if you need to make larger versions of your piece, maybe for a poster, the image will not lose quality.

Open your sketch in Photoshop. In order to get rid of the paper color, select “Black & White” from the fill/adjustment layer icon below the layers panel (see F1). Now using the fill/adjustment layer icon again, select “Brightness/Contrast”. I usually bump my contrast all the way up to 100 and adjust the brightness slightly until the paper is a solid white color (see F2). Merge these layers.

preparing your sketch


Now go up to “Select => Color Range”. Either use the eyedropper in order to select the white background or just select “Highlights” from the “Select” dropdown (displayed below). Once the white background is selected, delete it from your image using the “delete” button.

delete your background


Your image should now contain the sketched lines with a transparent background.

transparent example


Step 3: Adding Color to Comic Book Art

Now we are going to add layers underneath the layer we just created. We will add colors to these layers so that the sketched lines remain above the colors.

I usually use the “Paintbrush Tool” with a softer bush. I work from light to dark (displayed below). Remember it’s not a coloring book so be artful about it, there’s no wrong or right way of doing this.

adding color to comic book art

Now I’m going to select a slightly darker shade and go over the spots that will be shaded such as the area around the eyes, sides of the forehead, and underneath the chin and cheeks. Finally I grab an even darker shade and go over the areas where the darkness will be even more accentuated.

If you need to add highlights, use a very light color (almost white) and go over these spots. These can be on the tip of the nose, points on the cheeks, and above the eyebrows.

Add colors wherever necessary, maybe to the eyes, lips, cheeks, or hair.


Step 4: Stylizing Comic Book Art

Now I downloaded some free paint splatter and watercolor brushes online and I’m going to add these in order to give a stylized look to the design. But first things first, let’s get some blood splatter on my character’s face. I'll do this using the paint splatter brush I downloaded. You can use the "Eraser Tool" in order to erase some of the splatters on the eyes and nose so that it looks more natural.

adding blood to comic book art


Now I’m going to add some light colored watercolor marks behind my character using the watercolor brushes I downloaded. Experiment with placing marks both in front of and behind your character's body.

stylizing comic book art


I also added some geometric forms I created in Illustrator. Remember, sky’s the limit so do something unique and unexpected.


Step 5: Typography

I want to add a Spanish saying “Al maestro cuchillada” meaning “to the master goes the knife”. I’d like the phrase to be presented in handwritten paint-like typography. Therefore I’m going to use some paint stroke brushes I downloaded. I created the lettering by simply rearranging the direction of the paint strokes. You can always use these stylized paintbrushes with the “Eraser Tool” as well in order to create different effects. Also keep in mind that handwritten typography is attractive due to its imperfections. Therefore, play with variations in size and obscure alignment.

 adding handwritten typography to comic book art



There you have it! Now you can create some cool comic book art. Remember, half the fun is coming up with your own style of work. Practice your technique and develop your style.

comic book art final

Max Olson

Max is a designer and front end developer out of Seattle. 

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