Best Inking Materials for Manga and Comics Drawing

In the modern publishing world where digital work continues to become standard across the cartooning spectrum of work, the one component of the traditional workflow that is the most difficult to digitally adapt is the inking process. While you can ink digitally with a number of artmaking programs, there are a number of techniques and line characteristics that come with the use India ink and brush (or ink and nib) that cannot be easily duplicated with a digital inking stylus. In addition, the tactile sensation of putting a pen nib to a good quality sheet of board is very satisfying for a lot of artists – as well as provide needed intuitive and physical feedback on how to best use the pen. If you want to start working with India ink, it helps to have a general frame of reference with available materials.

Traditional India Ink

There are a number of brands of ink for sale at most art supply stores, all of which have differing qualities. Brands tend to change their formulas over time, sometimes for cost-cutting purposes, and other times due to a change in production materials that are available. Most small bottles of ink average between $5-$10 for a few ounces of ink and, ideally, you will want to try out a few different types to find the ink you like.

The most ubiquitous brand of ink available in most shops, from arts and craft shops to specialty art shops, is the Higgins brand. Higgins makes a wide variety of calligraphy ink, but the historical cartooning ink of choice from them is their Black Magic Ink variety. Historically, this ink has the highest carbon content of their inks, leading to a darker line. It tends to be more watery than many inks, leading to fluid lines in pen nibs. In his latter days, comics legend Will Eisner swore by Black Magic, according to the interview book Eisner/Miller.

The next most easily available brand in most stores is Speedball Super Black Ink, which tends to run much thicker than most Higgins drawing inks, which can be advantageous when paired with inking brushes. If you find you enjoy this type of ink, it can easily be purchased in bulk, either in pint or quart-sized plastic bottle if necessary – which can save you a significant amount of money over time (for example, the quart bottle of Speedball ink averages less than a dollar per ounce when bought in that size).

Deleter brand drawing ink and a number of varieties of sumi ink, both popular in manga creation, are also widely available in specialty shops and online stores.

There are a number of other specialty inks, some of which are thicker, like Winsor & Newton’s India Ink and others that tend to run thinner, like modern-day Pelikan Drawing Ink (which has had a reformulation in the last few years). Like many artist tools, what works best for you is that which you like the most – make it a point to test out every ink on a spare sheet of your favorite art board to find out what you like the most.

It should also be noted that you can change the viscosity of any ink you like for specific uses, either by adding water to a thick ink for easier use in a nib, or you can leave the cap off of a thin ink for a day or two to allow the water in a thin ink to evaporate for better use in brushes.

Drawing Nibs and Nib Holders

If you are looking for the most expressive lines you can make for the cheapest price, you can’t go wrong with drawing nibs and holders. With a lot of practice, you can make everything from a hair-width precision line to a surprisingly wide line, and everything in between – all in one stroke!

When it comes to manga-style inking with traditional tools, Tachikawa has the most convenient nib holder available, known as a Model 40 nib holder. This nib holder has both a comfort handle and a nib socket that will fit multiple types of standard Japanese nibs shapes. Additionally, Tachikawa sells a number of quality G nibs for overall line variations, maru nibs for more flexible lines, and bowl nibs for more uniform, stiff lines.

For American- and European-style traditional inking, there are a number of options. One of the most popular items is the Speedball/Hunt 102 nib and nib holder. This nib is known for its extreme flexibility, giving the user a wide variety of line possibilities. Another popular nib for beginners is the Speedball 512 bowl nib. This nib requires a different nib holder due to the shape of the nib, but it has a stiffer feel with a more uniform line and wider range of motion. Additionally, this nib holder will hold B-6 and C-6 calligraphy nibs, which are often used for handmade lettering.

Inking Brushes

Brushes are historically the hardest inking tool to master and, usually, the most expensive tool to purchase. However, a well-maintained brush can last an artist for a long time. Once you master a brush, you may never want to use another inking tool.

The traditional Western comics brush is the Winsor & Newton No.7 Series brush, usually the size the size 3 model. These brushes are traditionally made from Kolinsky sable hair, and can hold a significant amount of ink in the belly. Another variant of this type of brush that is also popular with a number of pros are the Raphael 8404 brushes. Manga-centered brushes from companies like Kuretake are usually made with horse and goat hair, and usually cost a third of the Winsor & Newton brushes.

Tech Pens

If the idea of working with ink in a bottle is either too daunting or expensive, the option of using tech pens is not only available, but also preferred by a number of pros. These pens rely on an internal reservoir of ink and are characterized by uniform pen-width lines. Tech pens come in a wide variety of line widths, and are usually available as a pack of different widths. One of the most popular brands around is the Pigma Micron line of pens, which range from under a quarter of a millimeter to over a millimeter in pen tips. One weakness of these pens, however, is that they are not refillable (at least, not refillable by design). If you want to reduce waste while using you r tools, consider buying a line of COPIC Multiliner SP pens. These pens have disposable and replaceable ink cartridges, as well as replaceable pen tips. Both of these brands of pens boast archival ink, meaning that they do not fade over time.

Brush Pens and Related Items

Both Sakura (the makers of the Pigma Micron) and COPIC, as well as other brands like Prismacolor, offer tech pens known as brush tips. These are flexible tips that offer more line weight options, though they can fray with overuse. A longer-lasting option is the Pentel Pocket Brush, which feature a tip made with actual brush bristles, made with synthetic fibers. This pen is also refillable with ink cartridges, and can be very useful in on-the-go creating and for those who would prefer not to use loose ink in a bottle.

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