A miscellany of weekly ramblings on comics, art and film by Ted Mathot, storyboard artist and writer/artist/self-publisher of graphic novels and comics

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Battling technology :: process

At the beginning of this year, I decided it was time to have a dedicated space and new, updated equipment to work on the new book, so I rented studio space, bought a brand new Mac Pro and Wacom Cintiq, and upgraded to Photoshop CS3. When everything arrived, I set it all up in the new studio space only to discover that the Photoshop brushes looked like absolute crap. Unusable. What was the reason for this? I still have not figured it out after hours and hours of settings manipulation, systems admin testing, posts on various message boards and forums and phone conversations with tech advisors at Adobe and Wacom (too see more of what I'm talking about you can look at this thread on the Adobe forums).

It may be the new higher quality Cintiq is showing how bad Photoshop is as a drawing program....or maybe it's Apple's Leopard OS (which is the ONLY OS that can be installed on new macs, BTW - not backwards compatible with older OSes. Incredibly frustrating)...or maybe it's a bug in CS3...or a combination of any of the two or three, etc etc.

But I soldier on. All the new equipment is back in its respective box, and I am back on old equipment until a solution is found.

So that said, I'm working to find new ways to make Cora's linework look better than R&I without spending a gajillion hours feathering every line at 200% actual size. The standard hard round brush wasn't working for me anymore, and what I've found is the opacity jitter setting in the brush dynamics menu. The images below show that brush (top image) vs. the hard brush (bottom image).

opacity jitter on, set to 1% jitter and affected by pen pressure

standard hard round brush

The opacity brush is more like a pencil and the closest thing I can get to a pressure sensitive line in Photoshop. It's been really great cleaning up hair and facial expressions with the brush. It allows for a looser style yet still looks relatively clean.

Here are some process shots:

layout (first phase), done at 200dpi, with a standard hard round brush (this is done very fast to keep things moving)

rough (second phase), done at 400 dpi, 25-50% of actual size and hard round brush, to help me get closer to actual poses and facial expressions (except in this panel, I lost a bit on Cora's pose in the background, which was better in the layout)

final line (third phase) done at 400dpi, 50-100% of actual size and hard round brush with the opacity brush described above.


Jeremy Rowland said...

Have you tried Autodesk (Alias) Sketchbook Pro? It lacks some of the customization of Photoshop brushes in terms of texture and pattern, but for linework and laying down basic color it's unmatched for drawing directly on screen, the difference has to be experienced first hand. I use a Tablet PC (not quite a Cintiq) and I've been disappointed with trying to draw and paint in Photoshop (and Painter for that matter). Sketchbook Pro is my favorite for early stages of drawing, I only move into something more advanced later if I want to use textured brushes. Some artists such as Bobby Chiu (http://www.imaginismstudios.com/) use it almost exclusively.

Aaron Hammersley said...

I do storyboards at Nickelodeon, and many artists on our crew use autodesk sketchbook pro including me. while the software is limited, it provides for a very satisfying drawing experience. it's simplicity serves as an advantage over photoshop (at least with regards to drawing), because you aren't swimming (or drowning) in an ocean of tools and controls. it's quick and easy to use, and gives beautiful line work!

I swear I'm not a spokesperson for autodesk!

TikiAnimator73 said...

Have you tried to use Leopard 10.5 and the cintiq with photoshop cs2?

Ted M said...

Thanks for the suggestions -- a lot of people have been telling me about Sketchbook Pro as well as Mirage. I was worried about switching programs in the middle of making the Cora book so I will try it out when i finish the first book. Thanks!

tikianimator73 - I tried CS2 and CS3 with Leopard and the hard brushes look awful in both. It's running on a new 8-core Intel mac, so that might have something to do with it...?

OV! said...


i tried using cs3 on my cintiq at work and HAD to go back to cs2.
i dont know what it is about cs3, but for some reason cs2 just works better and flows better and doesnt glitch like cs3 does.
sketchbook pro is cool, but i dont use it because the lack of features. i HATE going to and fro on programs. i like to have all my tools there in front of me.

i think the opacity feature is looking good. kinda feels like when indian ink goes between really think black and wash.

i think it looks fine and im not sure what you mean when you talk about the 200% effect...?


MrSuspenders said...

If you are looking for a good pencil brush in Photoshop, I like the one Paul Lasaine came up with on his blog. http://paullasaine.blogspot.com/2008/02/photoshop-pencil-brush.html

Lee-Roy said...

I recently made a similar upgrade. MacBook Pro, Cintiq 12WX, CS3. I haven't noticed anything awful about the brushes (yet), but maybe I'm not demanding as much out of them. I've only just begun experimenting and haven't tried tweaking the brush much at all, except to turn down the flow to about 40-some percent. Not sure if that's made much of a difference, though. Also, I haven't installed the Wacom Brushes yet. Do you think that would help?

I've also heard good things about Autodesk (previously Alias) Sketchbook Pro, but I think we've got to wait for a Leopard version sometime this year. :(

Colin McGreal said...

I feel your pain. I used to draw boards manually, scan, then paint in Photoshop. But I bought a Cintiq 12" earlier this year which I've been taking on freelance jobs, forcing myself to get used to it. It's taken some time to unlock the best combo of brush settings, resolutions, etc to get as close as I can to a real sketch look. ( I use CS2 on a PC )but never is quite there. I'm still in an experimentation stage, unbeknowst to some of my clients, who just think the black tablet looks cool.

But this isn't such a problem when drawing boards for an advertising client. The instant editing and effects features I can apply for a creative director who has a sudden change ("Can you make it bigger/smaller/taller/to the right/flip it/,etc?") far outweighs any need for authentic ink or graphite look.

Still, for my personal standards, your blog is helpful as I've been trolling the internet for just such articles. Usually I draw at 300 dpi to add reasonable brush stroke detail.

The other issue I have with the Cintiq is that the monitor is sooo well calibrated for color that I often have to drag the document onto my laptop to see how much it dulls down on a normal screen. It's like watching the difference between something made on a a Digital monitor that then has to conform to NTSC. It always looks better in the original.

Lee-Roy said...


I just took another look at Autodesk's web site and it looks like a version of Sketchbook Pro compatible with Mac 10.5 is now available. I'm probably going to try it out. Since my last comment, I have noticed some shaky lines while drawing in Photoshop if I'm not zoomed in to a certain level. It would be nice to avoid that and I hope Sketchbook Pro might be the answer. I'll let you know what I find!t

Lee-Roy said...

By the way, you can download a trial version of sketchbook pro here:


Lee-Roy said...

Oops! The url got chopped!

Here's that address again as a link!


Suhachi Chutchen said...

Ah, a comic fan! A nice transformation artistic skills. From the simpliest to the best. Reminds me the finest creation of animated GIF picture files. Keep up the work!

mare said...

i am such newbie
is it worth the money to buy wacom tablet ? its pricey and good excuses to tackles me to became more of creative artist ( if i could call my self an artist )

ziritt said...

I think Painter is way better that Photoshop for inking.