Ultimate Digital Ink and Color Tutorial for Adobe Illustrator CS5



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Learn My Secret to the Fastest, Simplest, Down and Dirty Comic Style Inking and Coloring Technique for Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator Digital Ink and Ciolor Tutorial

There are a lot of really good tutorials on the web for digital inking and coloring. The trouble is that most of them assume you have six to eight hours to finish a drawing that is budgeted for two. Back when I was young and unattached and I didn’t need a lot of money, I didn’t particularly care how long something took. But at age 45, and supporting a family in one of the least affordable places in the country, time has become very important.

This method is not the most sophisticated but it gets the job done quick and it looks great. I also discovered one of its key components by accident.

It’s great for poster art, cartoon characters, comic book art or any place you need a classic ink and color look.

I’m also providing two versions – a couple of videos for people who like those things, and a text one for people like me who don’t like video tutorials. Call me a Luddite, but I think it’s easier to learn from text and stills that a tiny video capture of someone’s computer.

Illustrator Inking and Coloring Video Tutorials

First the videos. Unlike those speed drawing tutorials that blow your mind but teach you nothing, this one is a true speed drawing tutorial as it’s in real time. No cuts and no sped up sections to hide the true time it takes. This first one is a brisk 8 minutes and it walk you through a drawing from beginning to end and clearly explains all the steps necessary

There are a lot of excellent ink and color tutorials on the web, so what is different about this tutorial?

1.  Real time. Unlike those speed drawing tutorials that blow your mind but teach you nothing, this one is a true speed drawing tutorial as it’s in real time. No cuts and no sped up sections to hide the true time it takes.

2. Learn a practical but unorthodox technique for speeding up your inking and coloring in Illustrator.

3. Vector. In the print industry vector rules the roost so those Photoshop inking tutorials aren’t very helpful for someone who’s primary concern is clean reproduction in all mediums including brochures, t-shirts, posters, tradeshow booths, video and packaging.

Illustrator Inking and Coloring Video Video #1 (Shorter Version)

This video is the 8 minute shorter version and just focuses on the basic principles as quickly as possible.

Download the Illustrator editable PDF that was used in the video so you can see for yourself how it was done or follow along. The brush I used is embedded in the file.

The brush I used is this Hair Brush by ChewedKandi. You’ll need a DeviantArt account to download it.

Illustrator Inking and Coloring Video #2 (Longer Version)

This next one is more detailed and is 15 minutes long. It doesn’t necessarily have more information, it’s just more detail oriented. While the first video is like a sprint, this one is more like a stroll.

Download the Illustrator editable PDF that was used in the video so you can see for yourself how it was done or follow along. The brush I used is embedded in the file.

The brush I used is this Hair Brush by ChewedKandi. You’ll need a DeviantArt account to download it.

Text and Stills Version

If you don’t like video or don’t want to keep pausing and playing, use this text and still version of my digital ink and color tutorial. This drawing was done for Grit Dog.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

First place your scanned sketch and call the layer "sketch". Add some transparency to the layer so you can just barely see it. Then lock the layer and create another on top called "finished art". Note: The names you pick for your layers is irrelevant as long as you know what it means.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Then either pick a brush from your presents or make your own. In this example I'm using the Shaz Hair Brush by Sharon Milne. It's a pretty sweet brush and comes close to mimicking how I ink in the real world.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Now, start inking with the brush tool. Go ahead and overshoot the lines (see red circles). We will easily delete those later and leave you with a nice clean drawing. Overshooting the lines not only looks better when it's done it, also frees you to be more expressive and dramatically increases you inking speed.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Now that we are done, select the entire drawing.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

And then group it.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

And then make a COPY and set it aside off the art board. This will be your raw, unexpanded, unconverted back up. If you should happen to mess up, change your mind, or you client changes theirs, you could easily edit your backup copy and save yourself a lot of time.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Now, go to Object > Expand Appearance and expand your brush stokes. This will make them uneditable as a native brushstroke. That's why we made a copy.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Then go to Object > Live Paint > Make. This will convert it to a Live Paint object. But wait. NEXT IS THE SECRET!

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

We are NOT going to paint yet. So choose Object > Live Paint > Expand. This essentially locks in your Live Paint effects and converts it back to a normal abject. But why convert and the un-convert?

So here's where the magic happens. By converting to Live Paint and then expanding, all of your overshot lines are now sliced up perfectly. So now you can zoom in and and start selecting them while holding down the shift key. Get as many as you want and then...

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Delete them! Presto. Instant cleaned up artwork.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

There, now we have a super clean finished digital ink piece. And it's in vector too, so it's resolution independent and easily editable.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

We can compare our raw back up and the expanded cleaned up version and easily see now what it's smart to have a raw backup.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Now we're going to convert it to Live Paint again, but this time we will actually paint in color.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

With the Live Paint Bucket Tool areas that can have color dropped in show a red trap line when you hover over. If you have large gaps in your ink lines and the paint spreads out into the surrounding area, either change you gap settings (Object > Live Paint > Gap Option) or just go with it and we can easily cut out or change the spill color later.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

There, that was easy. Don't worry if the color isn't perfect. This is all about filling in EVERY area with come kind of color. You can easily change it later. For the karate uniform, the eyes and the teeth I just painted it with white.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

All done! That took about five minutes.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Now we are going to expand our Live Paint effects. You can freely go back and forth between Live Paint and non-Live Paint mode as many times as you want. It won't hurt anything.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Now, this is the SECOND SECRET to the method. Using the Direct Selection Tool, select areas of color that you want to improve with shadows, highlight or gradients.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Then select the Knife Tool and slice it up.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

And then select the part you want to change. In this case we created a nice shadow by darkening the left slice by adjusting the color sliders.

Quick and Easy Digital Ink and Paint in Adobe Illustrator CS5 Tutorial

Repeat this where ever you want something more that just single blocks of color. You could also use gradients instead.

All done! This took about a half and hour from first ink to finished art and it still has a really clean professional comic book poster art look. And best of all, it's all vector, so you can easily change shapes and colors and effects or cut, combine, and scale, without any loss of quality.

File Under: How to Quickly Digitally Ink and Color a Drawing In Adobe Illustrator CS5 – The Fastest, Easiest Method for Inking and Adding Color in Adobe IllustratorFast Cartooning in Illustrator – Comic Inking – Comic Coloring

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120 comments


  • Pippa

    Thank you so much for this, Clay. I’ve had to trot out my very rusty cartooning skills lately for clients and I knew there had to be a better way that I was just not seeing. It’s brilliant! Working with Illustrator is fun again :-)

    August 23, 2013
  • Andrew

    Hey Clay,

    This was such an incredible tutorial. I am a complete beginner at Illustrator (and at visual art in general, I’m more of a music guy) and I was really struggling with shading the projects that I was working on.

    After only your 8 minute tutorial, I feel like I have a ton of confidence to move forward with illustrators amazing tools, as well as having some more info on how to shade things. The knife tool was especially amazing, and fills a need I really had (I couldn’t figure out how to separate areas at ALL).

    Thanks so much for such a great tutorial. I hope it gets passed around a lot, and it was a ton of fun too.

    October 7, 2013
    • Clay Butler

      You’re welcome.

      December 15, 2013
  • Jeremy

    Thank you! Straight to the point, I liked this a lot. Great advice for people struggling to improve their vector work.

    December 6, 2013
  • Steven

    For some reason, when I use the knife tool, I can only make rectangular shapes. Being able to move about freely and cut wherever I want to is impossible for me. What am I doing wrong?

    January 5, 2014
    • Clay Butler

      That’s because you are using the slice tool, and that’s for web design. Review the tutorial again.

      January 8, 2014
      • Steven

        Thanks.

        January 29, 2014
    • Clay Butler

      That’s because you’re using the slice tool (for web) and not the knife tool.

      February 21, 2014
  • swq1

    you are amazing! i have always wanted to draw cartoons but never managed to do anything until now. i have no talent whatsoever but your style made my cartoon look a lot more nice. your technique is fantastic! thank you very much!

    January 23, 2014
  • Taisa

    Your tutorials are amazing! I’m strugling with the Live Paint > Make though. It transforms, but doesn’t keep the brush I used, all the lines are modified to a regular basic one. Do you happen to know what can I do to keep the lines in the fancy brush?

    January 30, 2014
    • Clay Butler

      You forgot to use Object > Expand Appearance first. This will preserve your brush strokes.

      February 21, 2014
  • Leticia

    Great tutorials Clay! First time using Illustrator and I already feel like I’ve learned a lot, thanks! However, I seem to be having trouble with the Knife tool; I can’t get the shadows to show. I used Object>Live Paint>Expand and selected the Direct Selection tool (white arrow) and selected the object I wanted to highlight, the clicked the Knife tool, drew the area I wanted to highlight, but when I choose a color it changes the color of the whole object. I tried selecting the Direct Selection tool again after using the Knife tool but it keeps doing the same thing. I went back to the tutorial and watched the video again but I can’t find what step I’m missing but clearly I’m doing something wrong. Any suggestions? Thanks! :)

    April 1, 2014
  • Joe

    hi, clay
    Where can I download Shaz Hair Brush by Sharon Milne. Cant find it. tks!

    April 17, 2014
  • liz

    hi clay, i really loved your tutporial, did a complete character-figure that way, the method is quick and easy. but as i imported the illustrator file as a smart object in photoshop upon a dark backgroundlayer, all the edges of ALL the paths where visble and did not match togehther exactly. is this a bug? tried the same with your illustrator-pdf of the demon, same thing happens. is there a way to avoid that? if not, the method can only be used in illustrator.

    if you find the time, please respond!

    April 17, 2014
  • Jerry

    Tried to download the Hairbrush but the message says the file has moved. Any suggestions on how to get the brush or equivalent? Your tutorials are awesome!

    April 28, 2014
  • Adam

    Awesome, man. Very well done and extremely helpful!

    November 13, 2014
  • Jace

    okay great but i’ve looked at 5 tutuorials on this now and none of them teach you how to do this WITHOUT tablet

    November 20, 2014
    • Clay Butler

      Correct. Because you shouldn’t be using a mouse. Would you complain that a life drawing tutorial didn’t show you how to use crayons? You just can’t be in this business with a mouse only.

      December 18, 2014
  • roda

    thanks man helped a lot … *.*

    March 20, 2015
  • Ira

    Wow, your work and tutorials have helped me both speed up and improve my work. I love the simplicity of your tutorials! Thank you for all you share.

    March 26, 2015
  • What a timesaver! Love this workflow, really appreciated. Bless up yourself!

    May 15, 2015
  • Veronica

    Thank you so much, I was losing ao much time on my designs. My life will be easier from now, a very big thank you. Greetings from Spain :)

    June 22, 2015
  • Kat

    Brilliant ! Worked on my first try. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!!

    July 5, 2015
  • murugu

    Thank you. your work is usefull.

    July 7, 2015
  • Dave

    This is by far the best tutorial I have seen on inking & coloring in Illustrator! This helped me so much, thanx for the effort!

    September 29, 2015
  • Rae

    I’ve never done anything on illustrator or with the bamboo tablet before. I needed to take my artwork into the digital realm though.. This has been such an amazing and helpful tutorial. I doubt anyone would believe this was my first time with the amazing tricks I learned with this it looks fantastic! Thank you so much for taking the time to make this.

    November 7, 2015
  • McMucca

    Thankyou for sharing, great tips.

    December 2, 2015
  • Thank you for this tutorial, very effective, solve a lot of problem to me.

    Thanks again!

    December 3, 2015
  • aksh

    Hi clay,
    Great inspirational tutorial.
    Firstly,a many thanks for it!!!
    Am a beginner, and when i tried to trim the overcut lines..am not able to do it!
    Its in a group and the whole lines are getting selected,and its nt coming as u do.
    I donno why..i followed the exact steps

    February 3, 2016
    • Clay Butler

      That’s because you are using the selection tool (black arrow) and not the direct selection tool (white arrow).

      February 3, 2016
  • Ash Loo

    Hi,Mr Clay. How can i control Knife tool as good as yours with a mouse?

    February 5, 2016
    • Clay Butler

      You can’t. It’s time to by a pen tablet. A Wacom Bamboo will be fine.You don’t need the expensive one.

      February 5, 2016
      • Ash Loo

        OK ~ thanks and noted. :)

        February 6, 2016
  • Thanks for the great share. I like your tutorial

    February 16, 2016
  • excellent explanations..really I got what I want….superb…I got solutions one problem since 10 years..drawing in illustrator. Hats off you …Thanks to you ..your tutorials more useful to us ..Regards….Prasad.

    May 2, 2016
  • Scott

    Clay how do I get rid of white gaps when using the slice tool. I set the gaps to the lowest setting in live paint which is fine but when I save it as a PDF the gaps are back

    May 19, 2016
    • Scott

      I guess they don’t print….problem solved

      May 19, 2016
      • Clay Butler

        Yep. They are a screen rendering anomaly. Some see them, some don’t. But they don’t print. And if you zoom in you’ll see the line never gets bigger.

        May 31, 2016
  • Curtis

    Hi, thanks for the tutorial, however, every time I expand appearance I get these tiny white lines around my strokes and it is noticeable on my pdfs or jpegs. What am I doing wrong? Should I not shade with the brush tool or use the pen and brush together on the layout. I tried everything but these white outlines are everywhere after I expand appearance and make. Please help thanks.

    June 15, 2016
    • Clay Butler

      About Those “Lines” You See When You Use this Method:

      If you are referring to the microscopic lines where they intersect, or where you cut with the knife, that’s an illusion. Zoom in to 6400%. They never get bigger. They don’t print that way either. I’ve been using this technique for years and my stuff has always printed perfectly on posters, trade show pop ups, t-shirts, postcards – everything really – without issues. If they really bother you Try Export/Tiff. That gives a clean export. So will Save For Web/PNG or JPG. In the Web save box you can change the pixel dimensions to any size you want so you can save some pretty huge, print quality images. If that doesn’t help maybe a new version of Illustrator will solve it.

      June 16, 2016
  • faresvv

    you are the best Clay
    thank you

    July 14, 2016

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