Webcomics: Technical Help to Get Started
December 16, 2010 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Webcomic: the technical instructions?

Sooo...I have a Wacom tablet, Photoshop Elements, some free time, and a story idea. (Plus passable drawings skills on Photoshop.)

Does anybody have a breakdown of the settings I need to make a simple black and white webcomic, with some shading? I am a newb at this, or close to newb.

I have 3 specific questions

1) how big each panel should be (say, four vertical panels per strip) in inches or pixels
2) the best paintbrush (or pencil) to use, to reduce pixelation
3) what the resolution and size should be, before posting up to a website

It seems like there are so many settings, I'm overwhelmed.

I've seen online webcomic tools, but I'm hoping just to use Elements so I can create my own (somewhat lifelike) characters.

I don't have a scanner, and probably won't until next year. For now, I'm hoping to cobble something together in photoshop.

Thank you!
posted by The ____ of Justice to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is a nice tutorial on how one artist goes about producing his webcomic. It might be of help. He does rely heavily on a scanner, though, as do many (most?) webcomic artists. But, it should give you a rough idea of how large his working art is compared to the final online version.

Actual size of the art varies greatly. I guess it depends on how your website is laid-out and how detailed your art is. If you were scanning line-art for treatment, I'd suggest you initially work at a fairly high resolution. The artist I linked to scans at 300dpi. If you're starting in the digital realm (via your tablet) you could probably get away with working at a lower resolution. Maybe 150? Again, it really depends on the style of drawing you're doing. You mention the word "lifelike". In that case, I'd suggest working at a high resolution. "Lifelike" tends to demand a certain level of detail and/or modeling that works best at high resolution. Obviously, you'd bump the art down to screen rez for posting online.

If you want to avoid pixelization in your brushes, "anti-alias" is your friend.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not sure what kind of shading you're going for, but this tutorial on faux-halftoning in Photoshop helped me get some nice results.
posted by Rykey at 12:36 PM on December 16, 2010

Best answer: There are a lot of good tutorials out there. Here is one.

Basically one of the most important tricks is to work larger than your final art will be on the website. At this point the resolution doesn't really matter, it just has to be a size that you are comfortable working at. Once you get it all done shrink it down to screen resolution (72dpi) and to whatever size you want it to be on the website. Panel and image sizes are really up to you, whatever fits and looks good. One guideline though, if you want to make a strip that always appears on a screen with out scrolling it should be less than 990 pixels wide. Perhaps even smaller if it has to fit in a website that is designed with columns.

As for actually drawing and painting: make sure that whatever brush you use is capturing the pressure sensitivity of your tablet, tweak it's settings if it doesn't. Always use the brush tool, never the pencil tool. In photoshop pencil isn't a tool that simulates a pencil, it is just a brush with completely hard pixelated edges. Go for the hard edged default round brushes, it is hard to go wrong with them. They are perfect if you are going for something more cartoony or more painterly. If you are going for something more realistic or more like comic book art try out the softer round brushes. If you want super clean lines try the pen tool. The pen tool is a vector based tool, so its use isn't always intuitive at first, but it can give you some super clean contours.

Oh yeah, one trick that helped me out tons: whatever brush you are using try turning its opacity down. Like way down. Like to 10% or so. With a tool set like this you can sort of sketch because each stroke will add only 10% of the color so it takes multiple strokes to get a solid line in. A soft brush with low opacity is great for shading things in because it naturally smooths itself out over a few strokes.
posted by cirrostratus at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2010

There are also a bunch of other brushes built into photoshop that are sort of intended to replicate a paint brush. These are mostly only good for adding texture and should be used sparingly. The default round brushes are the bread and butter.
posted by cirrostratus at 12:55 PM on December 16, 2010

Best answer: look on twitter for @jephjacques

He draws his comic online, via screencasting, and you can watch. It's really interesting to see his techniques. http://questionablecontent.net/
posted by ChefJoAnna at 6:29 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) The size of the panel should be whatever will comfortably fit on a screen (1024 by 768 is a safe monitor size to aim for I think) and will accommodate your artwork comfortably without too much scrolling (smaller for a sparse drawing style, larger for more interesting backgrounds or a more detailed style). There's no hard and fast rule for panel sizes, just fiddle around with it, try uploading your strips to a comicspress blog or website and see how the look and feel is.

As mentioned, you want to work much larger than your finished size, and then shrink down. Somewhere around 200% is a good place to start. If you draw large, you might want even larger.

2) The best paintbrush depends on how you want it to look. For a straight up inking style, use a default round hard brush that has a decent thickness when shrunk to the final size. Some people like the look of really fat ink lines, or a hairline thin style, or somewhere in between. Experiment.

Since you have a tablet I recommend trying to use the brush options (under size options I think), and setting the size toggle to 'pen pressure', then you get some nice variation in your lines, similar to actual hair brushes. It can take some time to get used to though.

3) Actually hitting your third question I realize that maybe you meant something different in your first question since I hit on that in question 1. I just want to add though that the default web res is 72 dpi and that it should save like that by default in PS through the save for web or jpg/png export options. (I don't have elements so I'm not sure if it's the same) Regardless, resolution and pixel size are basically the same thing on a monitor, they only really matter if printed. (and for that, you'll want your larger working versions anyway)

As for the size of the panels relative to the others, the standard setup for a gag/joke strip is that the panels are usually all the same size. If you want to do something else, then the panel size should be related to the impact of the action (smaller for quick panels, maybe larger for the establishing shot/background first panels). Again some experimenting will help you figure this out.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 3:38 AM on December 17, 2010

Best answer: Typical digital workflow goes something like this

-Start out with a blank white background, then create an empty layer.

-Sketch loosely in your blank layer (including rough placement of any speech bubbles or sound effects). This stage can look like utter shit as long as you know what it's supposed to be. Use the eraser, not white paint to erase.

-Refine your drawing and outlines (the inks layer) on a separate layer above the sketch layer with the brush tool. Dim the opacity of the shitty sketch layer to like 40% while drawing your inking layer. Make sure you have the right layer when drawing.

-Your (b/w in this case) colors should be the last layer, usually on top of everything else. Also add any digital screen tone and texturing at this step. Try to paint roughly inside your lines (unless you like it slightly outside the lines, that's fine too) and go back in and erase the edges cleaner after the colors are how you like them.

-Finally either hand letter (on a new layer) your speech or use a comics font. You might have to alter the size of other things so things will fit right. This is where some good shitty sketching and planning becomes useful

-Shrink your image and export your jpg or png. DO NOT SAVE YOUR PSD FILE AFTER SHRINKING IT. I cannot stress this enough.

Here's some great examples of what the process looks like in action.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 4:01 AM on December 17, 2010

Sorry by sketching in your blank layer, I mean the empty one on top of the background white layer, not the white layer itself. That one stays white.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 4:24 AM on December 17, 2010

Best answer: I've done webcomics and illustrations for several years using exactly those: a Wacom tablet and Photoshop Elements 2.0.

1) how big each panel should be (say, four vertical panels per strip) in inches or pixels
As it's been suggested before, always draw bigger than your final art. I draw 400% of the final web size. I always post at 720x320 pixels, so I create my art at 2880x1280 pixels. Your lines stay sharp this way. Shaky lines aren't visible too. :)

2) the best paintbrush (or pencil) to use, to reduce pixelation
Follow everyday_naturalist's great advice. The pixelation problem is solved by drawing big.

3) what the resolution and size should be, before posting up to a website
720x320 is the size I use, but that's not a rule. Penny Arcade's strips are 800x397 pixels.
posted by jgwong at 9:17 AM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: These are such helpful answers so far. I can't say that enough.

You folks are awesome!!! The links are great as well as descriptions of specific settings. Thank you soooooo much. You've helped me take a big step towards something I love doing.

posted by The ____ of Justice at 10:02 AM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: Also jgwong--your comics and illustrations are fantastic.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:27 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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