Create comic art with the iPad

Digital artist Kyle Lambert walks us through a potential workflow for creating comic artwork on the iPad.

Creating a Title

Since its launch, the iPad has played a key role in changing the way we consume books, newspapers, and magazines. In particular, comic books and graphic novels have seen broad adoption on the iPad, with dedicated interactive apps for downloading and viewing titles on the go.

But as many artists have proved, the iPad is not just about consuming media. Regardless of whether you are a professional comic book artist or a keen sketcher with a story to tell, there are plenty of iPad apps that can assist with the creation of your very own comics. Let's take a look at a potential workflow for creating comic artwork on the iPad.

[Kyle Lambert is a UK-based visual artist specializing in painting, illustration, and 3D animation.]

Idea and Initial Layout

It goes without saying that the first step when creating a comic book should be the idea. Who are the characters? What do they look like? What is going to happen in this particular story? After these elements have been considered, the next step toward creating your first comic page is to produce rough page layouts.

The initial layout is a vital stage in visual story telling where you are breaking down your narrative into key images that clearly describe the action across your page. The sketch doesn’t need to be detailed at this stage, but it is important to block the basic composition of each panel to ensure the action fits comfortably into frame.

To sketch my three-panel layout I used Adobe’s Ideas app with a brush set at 30 percent opacity. This gave the sketch lines a pencil-like quality.

Pencil in Details

Once you have settled on the page layout, the next step is to begin working on the details of each panel. Here you are essentially filling in the missing information in the layout sketch to establish the illustrated style of the comic.

To do this, reduce the opacity of the layer containing the layout sketch and create a new layer above it to continue working on. It is completely up to you how detailed the final pencil sketch becomes. In this example, I have added enough detail to describe the features of the character and the environment, but have only suggested how aspects like the windows might be completed.


With the final pencil sketch complete, the next step is to add clean borders around each panel. One way to do this is to export the pencil artwork to ArtStudio via the iPad’s photo album. Then, using the Rectangular Marquee tool, draw a box around the entire page. Next, use the subtract and add modes to cut out all of your panels. This should result in a dotted frame around each of your panels.

To complete the border, create a new layer and fill the dotted outline with your chosen color using the Paint Bucket tool.

Ink Outlines

Now that the panels have been defined, the next step is to begin inking the comic. Inking is basically the process of outlining your pencil sketch with a clean, true-black outline. On a new layer, use a sharp black brush to trace around the edges of your pencil sketch.

For this example, I continued using ArtStudio because its brush settings allow for variable width strokes. This means that the outlines have sharp pointed ends—similar to that achieved with a brush or an ink pen.

For best results, you may choose to vary the outline width to help differentiate between large objects and small details. Also, don’t forget to use the straight-line draw mode for outlining buildings and other edges that need to be perfect.

Ink Shadows

The second stage of inking is to add a three-dimensional quality to the artwork by introducing high-contrast shadows. For this stage it is important to think about the direction the light is coming from and the material each surface is made from. Depending on the style of your comic, this may be a key stage or a subtle addition to the inking process.

In this example, I added the high-contrast shadows to the metallic surface of the robot and defined some key shadows on the buildings. Because of the painting process I have in mind for this comic, I decided to reduce the opacity of the shadows at the end. This will allow me to add color to the shaded areas later.


The final stage of the artwork is to add color. For this example, I exported my finished ink sketch out of ArtStudio and imported it into ArtRage to experiment with painting styles.

Regardless of which app you choose to color your comic page, there is a simple layer technique that will help. All you have to do is change the blend mode of your inked page to Multiply and then place it above any layers you use to color on. This will ensure the outlines are never painted over accidentally.

You may also choose to experiment with other coloring techniques: For example on my page, I created a layer above my inked page to paint a fire effect over the black outlines.


The last stage for creating your iPad comic page is to add text for captions and speech bubbles. You may have decided to incorporate hand-written text into your comic design from the very beginning—but if not, apps like SketchBook Pro and ArtStudio have shape and text tools that you can use instead.

On a new layer, draw the shape you require for your text and fill the shape with color using the Paint Bucket tool. Next—using the Text tool—type out the dialog for your comic and drag to position it into the box. One limitation I discovered when using Sketchbook Pro is the ability to type only one line at a time, so if your comic is dialog-heavy, I would recommend using ArtStudio instead.

With the text added, your comic page should be complete and ready to export for assembly and printing.

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