Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

In the last post on inking, I covered the thought process behind inking, but not much of the technical aspects. This post (and the next) will cover my primary tools and why I use them. At the end, you’ll find a time lapse inking video for my Weird Science cover, the process for which I detailed in October.


I use Holbein’s Special Black ink, which is waterproof, meaning that once it dries, it’s impervious to water. That allows me to go over it with watercolor if need be. I used to use Pelikan Drawing Ink A, but I stopped after I tried the Holbein. (I also use their products for my paints. You can often catch them at comic convention like San Diego and New York where they offer great discounts — that’s almost exclusively where I do all my shopping.)

I always pour my ink out into a palette cup with an airtight lid. Having a decent-sized opening to dip into will keep your brush clean (and your fingers too). I also like to let it sit for a bit before diving in — fresh ink has a very low viscosity, which means less covering power. I keep a water spritzer close by in case it gets too thick, or I want a wash effect.

Ink and watercolor on bristol board, 11 × 17.25″.

White Out:

I use Holbein Titanium White Acryla Gouache, which is an acrylic paint that dries to a matte finish. This is not its intended purpose, but it works really well, especially if you have to go back over it with ink. I use it mostly for special effects and “negative” shapes where it’s easier to paint in white than ink around — stars, wires, leaves, etc.

2009. Ink on bristol board, 11 × 17″.


I ink (and draw and paint) on Strathmore 500 Series bristol board, 2-ply with a semi-smooth finish. It’s pre-cut to 11 × 17″ which is standard size for comic art. The 500 Series is ideal because it’s cotton-based, which means it’s more archival and can hold up well to water. I watercolor on this all the time, and sometimes even do more involved gouache techniques.


I use a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #6 brush for most of my inking work. Most people tell me that’s bigger than they prefer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. A large brush holds more ink and, as a result, can supply consistent marks for an extended period of time. It can cover large areas quickly, or provide as fine of detail as its smallest counterpart. Because the individual hairs are longer, they have more “time” to escape from the ferrule and reconvene at the point. The shorter the hairs get, the greater the chance that a small kink at the base can culminate in a splayed tip.

The whole reason we use brushes is their flexibility. A large brush acts a shock absorber for your hand, smoothing out any stray movements into a flowing line. With a tiny brush, every minuscule tremor, especially at slow speeds, is directly translated (and hence recorded) to the paper.

2008. Ink on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

All that being said, I do own smaller brushers. I usually keep a #2 or #3 around just in case — this is mostly for lettering, special effects, and lines with little variation in width (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man). I have a #2 brush that I purposefully take piss-poor care of — the ends have splayed out in such a way that I can form a small “rake” that creates 4 tiny, parallel lines — perfect for scruffy beards (now at you, Punisher).

2009. Ink on bristol board, 11 × 17″.


When I go to comic conventions, much of the day is spent drawing and inking commissions. While I prefer the traditional brush and ink setup, you can’t beat the convenience of a nylon brush with a self-contained ink reservoir. The warm-up sketches below were all done with Pentel’s brush pens. I like them quite a bit, although I have to say that their “gray” is much, much darker than their black. Maybe I just have a defective batch? There are 3 colored brushes in the set (black, gray, and sepia), and an empty one intended for water. I just fill that with Holbein ink and it works just as well as the others. You never have to wash the brush; just put the cap back on.

WARM-UP SKETCHES (after Jordi Bernet, Alex Raymond, and Moebius).
2013. Ink on paper, 10.5 × 8.25″.

Brush Washer:

Last, but not least, I find the brush washer to be more important than most people give it credit for. Half of inking well is just loading the brush appropriately. I’ve found that many who shy away from inking with a brush (preferring instead a pen nib) are dipping the brush much too far into the ink well. When I ink, I keep the ink far away from the ferrule which, aside from making the flow easier to control, gives the brush a longer lifespan. My loaded brush is actually on the drier side — I want just enough ink to keep the hairs together, but not so much that it drips. When I touch the brush to the paper, I only want ink to flow when I move.

I have a standard brush washer, but I attached a steel wire that helps me squeeze out all the excess water. I keep a paper towel clipped to it as well. I’m not just drying off my brush; I’m modulating the water content according to the effect I desire. I also keep scrap paper on the drawing board to help shape and test the brush. Above all, you inking demands predictable results, so always test things out until you’re comfortable and confident.

Ink on bristol board with digital color, 13 × 19″.