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Cartoonist Tools

Cartoonist Tools

    In a few weeks, my 20th anniversary Dilbert book comes out, titled Dilbert 2.0. I’ll tell you more about that later. As part of the promotion for the book, I made a video of how I draw Dilbert on my computer and posted it on Amazon.com. Check it out.


    The rest of this post is for art nerds who care about this sort of thing. I’ll see the rest of you tomorrow.

    The equipment you see me using is a Wacom Cintiq 21ux. Here’s a page that describes it


    It’s attached to a plain Windows PC running XP. The software is Photoshop. I created my own font for the lettering, using a commercial font creation packages. I forget which one.

    Obviously I started my career drawing on paper, with the first draft in pencil, and then inking over the pencil lines. The dot pattern used for shading was a sort of decal you could buy at high end art stores. You placed the decal on your art and then used an X-Acto knife to cut it to fit.

    It was a tedious process, and took about twice as long as my current method. When finished, I would take a photocopy and mail the original to United Media in New York. The flaw in this process is that once the local Post Office figures out who you are, the original art starts disappearing. So the next step involved scanning the originals and e-mailing them, which took forever with the computers of the day.

    The next phase in the tool evolution involved drawing the basic art on paper, then scanning it into the computer to finish. Once scanned, I used Photoshop just to clean up stray lines, add the shading with a “fill” command, and do the lettering. I created my own dot pattern for the fills, through trial and error.

    During those years I used a Macintosh for the art, and a PC for everything else, partly to be compatible with licensees. Every Mac I owned was a lemon, crashing ten times a day on average. My Windows machines were all relatively sturdy, so I moved everything to Windows and things have been great since. (You don’t need to tell me your Mac never crashes. I know.)

    About four years ago I moved to a fully paperless process, using the Cintiq 21ux. It took me about three months to get the hang of drawing on screen. It’s an entirely different feel, scale, and process.

    I still draw a first draft, as you will see in the video. It’s hard to tell, but the lines of the rough art are jaggy because of the scale I use to draw it. The rough art is in its own “layer,” which is Photoshop lingo. When I’m happy with the rough art, I click on the layer and change the opacity of the lines to about 25%. That makes the rough look like a light gray line. I do that so that when I do the final art in another layer, the black lines of the final are easy to distinguish from the lighter lines of the rough draft below it. I zoom to 200% for the final art, and use the paintbrush tool at size 6, with 25% hardness, giving the lines a smooth look.

    The starting file is 600 dpi, grayscale. The comic size is about 2” x 7” with some extra white space around the perimeter. You can draw in any size that is proportional to the finished product. It took some trial and error to figure out what works best for me.

    The daily strips are colored by an outside firm. I color the Sunday strips myself, in Photoshop. It takes about ten minutes, mostly just using the paint bucket took and clicking a color into each area. Before I add the color, I convert from grayscale to bitmap then back to grayscale and up to CMYK. The detour to bitmap makes the color fills cleaner, going all the way to the black lines without leaving a little border.

    Most syndicated cartoonists still draw on paper, then scan the art and e-mail it to their syndication company. They’re going to be pissed when they see this video and realize how much extra work they have been doing.

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