Hello earthlings and aliens!

It me, Althea, your art buddy. I’m here to talk to you about three different techniques that I like to use when inking my drawings. 

Ink was my first love as an artist.  I remember walking into a Blockbuster Video at around 9 years old and picking up a Shonen Jump magazine and saying to myself “yup, I’m gonna be a manga artist.” I started taking my art *seriously* and I begged my parents to bring me to the art store and buy me some of those super fancy Micron pens. I’ve been doomed to a life of cross-hatching and spilling ink ever since.Over the years my art style has changed many many times and my inking style has changed to match it.+

For this challenge, I went ahead and draw one image and then copied the pencils using a light table. This isn’t necessary, but if you’re a messy sketcher like me, it might help you make cleaner line art if you do this. Feel free to skip this step and make your under sketch any way you like such as using a non-photo blue sketch or drawing and then erasing your sketch, or not at all!

The Three Inking Techniques

There’s three main ways I like to ink:

  1. a scratch, hatchy style
  2. a clean inking style
  3. a brush pen style.

Of course there’s as many ways to ink as there are artists, but I think the general principles of these three are going to help us understand the pros and cons of the different styles.


Illustration done in a hatching inking style

The first style I want to show you is this scratchy, hatching style. You can use any fine tip pen, like a nib pen or a .05 felt tip pen, but I actually like to use a ballpoint pen, the Pilot Hi-Tec-C. I find that the ballpoint pen gives me a consistent line width, and doesn’t tear up the paper like a nib pen might and lasts longer than a felt-tip pen. The main issue that comes up when you’re using this kind of pen is that it’s not waterproof or colorfast, so if you want to color your inks traditionally, with say watercolor or markers, it might bleed.

There’s a few things to keep in mind when you’re inking in this style.

The first is, since this pen tip is so small, you might not be able to get smooth, perfect lines, since the skinny tip will pick up all your wobbling, and it’s hard to make quick, long strokes cuz you might slice the paper!

One of the things to watch out for with this inking style is clarity. Since there’s so many tiny lines, and the hatching will swallow up your outline, you might accidentally create an image that isn’t legible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but personally I like to go over any outlines multiple times in order to make them stand out more. You can also do this by using a thicker pen when you’re doing the outline and a thinner pen when you’re doing the hatching. 

After I have the outline, I erase my sketch and start to get into shading.

For the shading, I prefer the hatching style to crosshatching, which is when you make the lines intersect to shade. Crosshatching is a good way to make your images have a classic, etching look to them, so do what’s best for what you’re trying to convey. I find that hatching helps keep up the movement in the piece, since you can follow the contours of shapes to make the image flow. Have the lines follow the line of action, or go along the length of the shape to help guide the eye along your image. You can make areas darker by shortening your hatching lines, or crossing over them in a similar direction. 

And here’s my finished piece! I think hatching particularly shines when you’re going to leave the inking alone, without coloring it in. A hatching style like this is going to make coloring digitally more difficult, since the shapes might not be closed, and the hatching makes the fill and select tools useless. Hatching is great if you’re into detail work and want dynamic looking pictures with a gritty or old-school feel, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to make a comic or something, since it takes a really long time, and I find that doing it too long can cause a wrist injury if you don’t take a lot of breaks. 

Brush Pen

Illustration done in a brush pen inking style

Next up is inking with a brush pen. I love the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, since the brush is made with fibers instead of a felt tip in the shape of a brush. This gives you a lot of control over the width of your lines, and also means that it’s refillable! It’s a bit pricey, but so worth it, I’ve had the same brush pen since college, and I only bought another once so I could get it in the grey color. If you’re a heckin’ genius you can also use a regular watercolor brush and india ink, but I’m not comfortable enough to try to teach you how to do that!

The brush pen has a pretty high learning curve, since you have to be more careful about the amount of pressure you’re putting on. With some practice, you’ll be able to make both fine lines and black-spotting with the same pen. It’s a great tool if you’re on the go, since you’ll only need one pen to do everything. It also creates these beautiful, expressive lines that can either stand alone or get colored in. Did I mention that it’s really gorgeous if you do it well? It’s gorgeous.

You might notice for the brush pen I’ve tilted my paper, and that I’m drawing with my arm more, pivoting on the elbow or shoulder than the wrist.. That’s because it’s easier to make smooth, sweeping motions if you use your whole arm instead of just your wrists. This is very important for getting those smooth lines. I tend to ink out from my body, letting my arm guide me along.

It can be tricky to get in fine details, since you don’t really have a teensy point to draw with, but it’s very doable. My style is more simplified anyways, so it works pretty well in my case.

Like with hatching, clarity is key for brush pen. For this reason, I like to leave this “halo” of white between the edge of a shape and the shaded part, so there’s some whitespace left for clarity. I also like to go back and add in details using a felt tip or nib pen, or a white gel pen. 

Here’s the finished piece! Brush pen is best used for creating bold shapes and lines, but can be used to make pretty much anything look good. It’s versatile, works well for everything, but takes a lot of practice! When you’re getting started I’d recommend working big and then tightening it up as you learn how to be more precise.

Clean Line

Illustration done in a clean-line inking style

The last inking style I’m going to talk about is a clean inking style. For this, I just use Micron pens in a variety of widths. Tried and true, they’re the first art pens I ever tried. They’re not perfect — I don’t find them to be particularly durable — but I’ve tried a bunch of competitors and haven’t found anything better enough to bother getting exclusively.

Doing clean line art like this is extremely versatile. I’m doing a pretty simple drawing now, but you can imagine how a clean line style would be good for comics where you have to do backgrounds and objects and the like. I use a clean lineart style with some pretty hefty blackspotting whenever I’m making my comics. It’s easy to color and easy to read, and that plus being relatively quick to do is a huge plus for me.

This also has a learning curve, depending on how clean and precise you want your lines to be. The way that I manage is by taking it slow when I’m doing my inks, and taking the time to pause between lines, reposition the paper, and stretch. Fatigue is going to make your arm less smooth, as is drinking a lot of caffeine or being sleep deprived! I think a wobbly clean ink style can be charming though, so don’t sweat it if it’s not perfect!

Just like with the brush pen, I’m using my whole arm to make these clean lines. I actually pull towards myself when I’m doing inks like this. I can’t tell you why it’s different from the brush pen, but it works. Also, You’re able to be pretty granular about line widths and can wither switch to a thicker pen or go over your lines again to make bolder lines. 

Here’s the finished piece! This looks the most like what I usually draw now, as this inking style is the most compatible with my art style.


Those are my three main inking techniques! I think that all of them have the places where they shine, and honestly they work really well together, so it’s not like you have to pick one and never touch the others! The most important thing is to pick something that works for what you’re making and is fun

Have you tried any of these inking styles? Interested in a more in depth look at any of them? Let me know in the comments! 

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