Best Tools for Manga and/or Comics Drawing that No One Ever Talks About

When searching for and purchasing cartooning products, most aspiring artists and students tend to look for the most obvious materials. Pencils, inks, pens, brushes and standard Bristol board or manuscript paper are the main topics of most discussion on materials. While this makes sense for most beginners (and for a number professionals looking for an friendly argument), very few people go deeper into the everyday tools that aren’t necessarily used with as much frequency - but which make the everyday work of producing sequential art much easier and more efficient. They might not be the first things one has in mind in making art, and some of them might be harder to find than others, but they are all worth looking into for regular use.

T-Squares, Triangles, and Other Guides

Straight-edges are a must for any professional cartooning work, if only for panel borders. Regardless of one’s style, every individual style of cartooning will require some sort of frame.

T-squares are the most fundamental straight-edge that one might expect to read about out of any pre-existing text on cartooning (outside of a standard 12” ruler). The perpendicular crossbar that sits on the side of the T-square’s edge allows for drawing perfect right angles when used in tandem with triangle rulers and the edge of a drawing board. They tend to be sold as primarily wooden tools or metal tools by a number of vendors with a number of lengths available.

T-square varieties

Alvin Aluminum 24” T-Square

Alvin Clear Edge T-Square (wood ruling surface)

Ludwig Brand 24” Aluminum T-Square

Triangle rulers are arguably the most important straight-edge to tool one can buy. If one buys a sizable triangle ruler (for example. Over a foot long on one side), it becomes one of the most versatile tools you can use. For example, if one is using Bristol board or manga manuscript paper with basic pre-printed guides, a triangle is all one needs to rule panels correctly, as a right angle is built into the tool itself; this allows for work outside the confines of a stand-alone art space (it’s not uncommon for some artists to socialize with other local artists in a public space while working on handheld drawing boards, especially as most comics and manga drawing is a relatively solitary practice). It also allows for doing work in spaces such as convention booths and hotel rooms. Most triangle rulers are sold as either fully plastic or fully aluminum products. Again, personal preference is key to choosing a triangle; it doesn’t hurt to have more than two (as materials can sometimes disappear outside of an art studio).

Triangle Varieties

Ludwig Brand 12” Aluminum Drafting Triangle

Alvin 14” 45-Degree Clear Plastic Triangle

Helix Two-Triangle Set

Circle templates and curve/oval templates Are also a need for perfect circle drawing and, most importantly, guides for word balloons. They tend to run more expensive than other guides, but they will last a lifetime, provided they are stored safely.

Circle/Oval Templates

Rockwell Galleries Circle and Oval Template Set

Boao Four-Piece Circle/Oval Template Set

Siquk 11-Piece Circle/Oval Template Set

French Curves Can also be helpful for odd angle curves; French curve rulers come in many shapes and sizes, and one should purchase a wide variety, as one never knows what exactly they will be needed for in future work.

French Curve Varieties

TecUnite Six Piece French Curve Set

Parth Impex 12-piece French Curve Set

Staedtler Mars 3-Piece French Curve Set

Pro Trick for Ruling Art Borders

While many types of Bristol board and manuscript paper are available with pre-ruled borders for final art work, most varieties do not have pre-ruled borders. This means that the artist will have to rule these borders themselves every time they start a new page. The standard, “correct” way of doing this is to use a T-square in tandem with a triangle and rule everything out first. This works...but it takes a little time.

If one knows the dimensions of the borders ahead of time, there is an easier option, and it involves buying one thing: a very thick piece of illustration board. It does not matter if it is hot or cold press, just that it is a thick, sturdy piece of illustration board. Buy a board that can be cut down to the size of your final art dimensions (most US comic pages, for example, are drawn in 10” x 15” borders on an 11” x 17” sheet of Bristol board). Once you have the piece of illustration board cut to size, you can simply place it on top of your drawing surface and mark the corners so that you know where to draw. It takes several minutes off of your process of each page, which can be advantageous, especially with a lot of art to produce.

Varieties of Illustration Board for Sale

Crescent 99 Cold Press Illustration Board (10-pack)

Crescent 20 Hot Press Illustration Board, Pack of 10

Correcting Ink/Paint

There are a number of options for “whiting out” inking mistakes; however, correction fluids like “White-Out” and “Liquid Paper” should not be used, due to issues of archivability and the need to be able to ink over the correction. The two best kinds of correction ink/paint to get are Daler Rowney’s Pro White and any quality brand of white gouache paint. It would also be wise to purchase a brush that is used solely to apply the correction ink/paint (and any reasonably priced watercolor brush should is only using it to slap white paint over ink).

Other Correcting Ink/Paint

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleedproof White

Windsor & Newton Designer Gouache - Permanent White

Ames Lettering Guide

All lettering guides are, more or less, Ames lettering guides. Different brands manufacture them, but they all work similarly, and were born out of the traditional drafting trade. Ames lettering guides are generally clear plastic tools, trapezoidal in shape, with a rotating plastic centerpiece, with several pin-sized holes in the center. When used in tandem with a T-Square, it allows the user to create ruling guides for placing lettering on the page (including leading, or the space between lines of text). Also, most manufacturers of Ames lettering guides include a handy instruction booklet with each guide. They usually are not too expensive, but it doesn’t hurt to buy more than one, as they are relatively small and can get lost easily.

Lettering Guides for Sale

Staedtler Ames Lettering Guide

Koch-I-Noor Ames Lettering Guide

Alvin Ames Lettering Guide


A number of well-known textbooks on cartooning will talk about the need for a good eraser, and a few will speak about using “art gum” erasers, which makes little sense as they tend to not be very effective in doing anything other than making a mess. There are two types of erasers that work best: kneaded rubber erasers and white plastic erasers. Kneaded rubber erasers are great for fine detail work, but white plastic erasers are the standard trade tool for everyday erasure.

Eraser Varieties

Staedtler Mars Plastic White Eraser, four-pack

Staedtler Stick Eraser (retractible pencil-shaped eraser)

Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Erasers, three-pack

Pro-Tips on Eraser Use

It is best to keep ones fingers away from the erasing surface, as oils from the skin can rub off on the eraser (making a clean erase a little harder). Additionally, unless one is simply sketching, it is best to avoid using erasers on the top of pencils, as they tend to be not as good a quality as the graphite in the pencil (i.e., they tend to not erase thoroughly). One positive exception to this rule are Pentel “Quicker Clicker” style mechanical pencils (and similarly equipped brands), as the reloadable eraser tips are a good quality white plastic eraser.


Whether working at a drawing table or a portable drawing board, it is important to be able to affix the art board/paper to the board, so that T-square use is consistent. There are a number of options, most involving some sort of masking tape (or masking tape-like material).

The “proper,” or standard, tools are referred to as drafting dots. They are small pieces of masking tape-like material, roughly 1” in diameter. They come packaged on a roll of waxy paper, and are designed to be used at the corners of art board/paper. Drafting dots can be expensive, but they last a while, they are neat and tidy, and they can usually be repositioned a few times before disposal.

On the other hand, low-tack masking tape will also do the same job, is much less expensive, though it will probably look more haphazard when applied. There is no right or wrong choice here, just one of personal preference.

Adhesives for Art Board/Paper

Alvin Drafting Dots

Koh-I-Noor Drafting Dots

Scotch Painter’s Tape

Pencil Sharpener

While a manual pencil sharpener is generally inexpensive (whether a small handheld sharper or a standard size sharpener mounted to a wall), it is imperative to use a automatic electric pencil sharpener while working in manga or comics, and it is all due to two needs: pencil edge quality for each line and time.

It should be noted that comics and manga artists are on a very, very tight schedule to complete work. Depending on he type of work being done, seconds of time saved count towards the daily goal. As the pencils are required for precise line work, the pencil tip must be as sharp as possible. Every time a pencil needs to be sharpened, one is taking time away from drawing the page. With an electric sharpener, all one has to do is extend a hand with a pencil towards an automatic sharpener and get back to work; anything that requires hand cranking takes two to three times as long. Ideally, one should be sharpening a pencil tip so many times that one could not estimate how often one sharpens a pencil on a single page.

There are a number of models by a number of companies; most require a plug, others are battery operated, but having one is imperative, unless a mechanical pencil is the only tool being used.

Electric Pencil Sharpener Models

X-ACTO School Pro Electric Sharpener

Bostitch Personal Electric Pencil Sharpener

Westcott iPoint Battery-Operated Electric Pencil Sharpener

Final Words on Materials

To some, especially digitally-creating pros (or pros using a hybrid of traditional and digital tools), a few of these items and methods of use seem almost antiquated (for example, very few pros letter by hand for large companies, as digital lettering is usually required by many publishers). However, every tool here is available without a computer, and has been the industry standard since both the American comic book market and the Japanese manga market began. Independent creators, especially those paving their own way with self-owned work, often prefer to work using as many traditional means as possible. It is this spirit of independence that flows through most artists, and is something new artists will discover on their own creative paths, as they take a leap of faith on their abilities and eventually master all of these materials.

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