Introduction: Principles of Comic Design

About: Hey, have you ever heard of a giraffe who loves to build!?!?!

In this instructable, I will be teaching you the basic principles of comic design! From preliminary sketches, to inking, to adding dialogue, I will be instructing you on how to create your own comic art. Whether you plan on designing a full on graphic novel or just a short comic strip is entirely up to you. Without further ado, let's hop right in!

Step 1: Storyline and Characters


The very first step to creating a comic or graphic novel is to develop a storyline. Once you have an awesome plot, use a "storyboard like" method to plot out your ideas. Roughly sketch on paper your comic page. This includes how many as well as the sizes of the panels, the angles of your pictures, etc. Depending on how thorough you like to be in your planning, you can even write out the dialogue before hand.


Create your characters...don't look at me...they're your characters. Sketch out orthographic views of your characters. Know how you want them to look and what you want them to wear before you start drawing your comics so you don't have to go back and change anything. Also keep in mind character development...this is one of the most important aspects in a story.

Step 2: Getting Used to the Interface

Always make sure you have a application or interface that you like. I use Autodesk SketchBook Pro for my projects. It has a great selection of brushes, pens, pencils, etc, and also has a lot of helpful tools. If you are just looking to mess around, I recommend getting this app on your iPad or mobile device (FREE). In fact, I developed this entire comic on my iPhone using this app. I find it easier to get a project done that way because I always have my sketches in my pocket (I know, crazy right?!).

Step 3: Preliminary Sketches

Start your rough sketches in a light blue pencil. This helps the lines stand out more (color wise) so you do not get confused, when you start to outline your sketches, with which lines are on which layer. As you can see, the skeleton of the comic is in red and on LAYER 1, while the rough sketches are on LAYER 2 in blue.

Step 4: Outlining Your Sketches

Create a new layer on top of your preliminary sketches and use a Felt Tip Pen or an Inking Pen to trace over in black. You can choose your tool based on preference; I use both (Felt for thick lines and Inking Pen for thinner lines). Make sure that you close your shapes, otherwise, you will not be able to use the "Fill" tool to color your comics. IMPORTANT NOTE: Once I am finished, I duplicate this layer so I have one layer to fill with colors, and one to act as the black outlining.

Step 5: Coloring

One of the best features on Autodesk Sketchbook is the "Fill" coloring tool. This tool enables you to color closed shapes and figures with one tap. Preselect, your color, then tap on what you want to fill. It's as easy as that. You can adjust the tolerance too make the fill tool be more or less precise to closed lines. Color your panels on the first outline layer (remember how we duplicated the "black outline layer" in the last step. The Outlining Layer 2 covers up any color that may have covered the black in Outlining Layer 1. You can also use a brush or marker to color if you prefer.

Step 6: Background Colors

Page Background Colors

If you want a color in the background, other than white, you can use bottom most layer (with the color circle) to select a background color. I sometimes change it to a light gray when I am working to contrast the colors and make it easier to work. (I change the background color to black at the end of this project)

Panel Background Colors

You can use the "Fill" tool to color in the background of panels. This gives off a cool contrast and can help speak to the mood of the scene. In the scene above, you can see that I also added white streaks to make my panel look more lively. Bright colors such as red can often represent action and anger while cooler colors like blue can represent serenity or sadness.

Step 7: Shading

One of my favorite tools to use when shading is the airbrush. Set the opacity to a low setting (20%-50%). Use a darker color for shadowing and lighter colors for highlights duh. I frequently use the selective tool to give myself a boundary when shading.


At this point, everything is up to you. Add your own artistic flair by using additional layers. As you can see, I have a scene in the bottom left hand corner of the page that is not inside a panel. I simply used an airbrush on a different layer to make the black background fade into a light grey background. Go HAM and make your comic look stunning!

Step 9: Time for Speech Bubbles!

I manually draw in my speech bubbles, however, you can also just use a comic software to insert them in. I just feel like drawing them manually gives you more control about how you want them to look. Sketchbook also has a predictive stroke tool that will make your strokes more proportional. This tool is especially useful when trying to make straight lines or perfect curves.

Side Note: Make sure you know what your characters will say so you know how big to space your speech bubbles.

Step 10: Add Dialogue

I just use Microsoft Publisher to insert my dialogue. I make a text box and use the font "Comic Sans MS". Nothing fancy...

Step 11: FINISHED!

Take a step back and admire your work! Although designing comics is a tedious task, the end product definitely makes all the work worth it.

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Until next time,


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