Inktober: A Guide to Ink by Del Thorpe



Posted in:

Ink is a wonderful medium – no wonder there is a whole month dedicated to it! In celebration of Inktober, our very own Del Thorpe has shared some advice as he embarked on his very first Inktober challenge!

What is Inktober?

The Inktober initiative was started in 2009 by illustrator Jake Parker as a challenge to improve his ‘inking’ skills and develop positive drawing habits. Since then, it has snowballed into an annual endeavour that is taken on by thousands of artists worldwide.

There are 4 Rules:

  1. Make a drawing in ink
  2. Post it online
  3. Hashtag it with #inktober and #inktober[current year]
  4. Repeat every day of October

Each year Jake also provides an 'Official Prompt List’, a list of words that can be used to spark ideas. This year includes simple words such as ‘swift’, ‘gigantic’, ‘fierce’ and ‘climb’. Drawings don’t have to revolve around the word of the day, but it can be both fun and challenging to try to stick to them, and doing so could make your work more visible online. Though it can be annoyingly addictive, the use of hashtags and ‘likes’ on social media can actually work in your favor. You can find these hashtags on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

See the official prompt list for 2017 to the right

So what is “Inking” compared to simply “drawing with ink”?

In a memorable scene from the 1997 film Chasing Amy, Jason Lee’s character – a professional Inker – violently defends himself against accusations of ‘tracing’ from a boorish comic-book fan. The claim was unfair but technically correct: in the world of illustration the term 'inking' does usually refer to the application of ink over existing pencil work - just like tracing. In commercial comics the work is often divided between writer's, letterers, pencillers and inkers. In this world, inkers don't get much credit but their work can greatly influence the look of the piece and ultimately it is their lines that the reader sees.

Pencil and Ink

Inking is a skill that is quite unique from drawing with pencil. Skills learnt with pencil, might not necessarily transfer to ink, and vice versa. Drawing over something in ink is easy but giving those lines life and vitality is very hard – hence Jake Parker’s desire to practice. These show the subtle but definite differences an inker can make to the same set of pencil drawings. I use it to illustrate the point but this practice of dividing up jobs only really exists in big, mainstream comics, most artists will do both the pencils and the inks themselves.

Style and Technique

Like any medium, there are so many different styles and techniques that it can be difficult to know where to start. To explore the various techniques of inking, I’d recommend spending time on YouTube where there are many tutorials and examples by skilled professionals. 

Tools of the Trade

Artists use various tools to put ink on to paper. From pens to brushes, it is worth experimenting to see what works for you.

Brushes & Brush Pens

Brushes produce those smooth lines and variable line weights that are seen in so many classic superhero comics and much more besides. They can be difficult to master but produce beautiful results. Many artists will go for a natural watercolour brush for their ability to hold a good quantity of ink and to keep their point. However, there are high-quality synthetic alternatives for those who oppose the use of animal fur. Arguably the best of these is Casaneo by Da Vinci - they mimic the qualities of natural hair incredibly well. In fact, synthetics have the advantage of being cheaper. (You will find you may get through a few; some inks tend to ruin brushes quickly!)

Pentel Brush Pen (above)

Brush pens also work extremely well, the Pentel Brush Pen is popular amongst artists as are Pentel's Aquash Brush. These have durable nylon bristles that are flexible and very good at retaining their point.

Dip Pens

The dip-pen is the traditional illustrator’s pen of preference. There are many types of nib to choose from, each producing a slightly different quality of line so it’s a good idea to try a few out (it’s easy to be put off by scratchy, poor quality nibs). Look out for those that draw smoothly and have a certain amount of flexibility that allows variation in the weight of your line.

Of the nibs we sell, I recommend Copperplate 1, Copperplate 2, Drawing Nib 256 and Drawing Nib 700. 

They differ to one another in subtle ways (not just in size) and they’re inexpensive so it’s worth trying out all four to see which you prefer. Artists will often find their ‘perfect nib’ and stick with it. They do wear out so it’s worth stocking up when you find the perfect one.

Fibre-tipped Pens (Fineliners)

Fibre-tip fine line pens are also commonly used. Their obvious advantage is that they don’t need to be dipped into ink. They also have a very consistent line weight and waterproof ink. They are available in different sizes.

Their disadvantage is that the ink does not ‘flow’ like that from a dip pen or brush and the ink tends to have a slightly grey finish, as opposed to the jet-black of Indian Ink.

Each brand of fine liner is very similar to the next but subtle differences can lead you to your favorite. Our most popular is the Uni-pin range which comes as individual pens and as themed sets. There are also various pens with pointed, flexible fibre tips for a more brush-like quality, many of which are available in a wide range of colours.

Mechanical Pens

Mechanical or technical pens such as the Rotring Rapidograph give you a fine line but, in comparison to the fibre-tip pens, deliver a rich ink that flows more like that of a dip-pen. The ink is not entirely waterproof but is pretty good if you give it time to dry. Rotring pens have a reputation for clogging up but this only happens if you leave them unused for a long period of time. The Rapidograph .25 is the pen I use most often in my professional work.

Fountain pens can be used but the ink tends to be a bit thin and grey unless you go for something very expensive. However, Rotring (again) make the Artpen which is affordable and has an ink which is darker than regular fountain-pen ink (n.b. drawing inks will clog a fountain pen). 


The ink most commonly used ink for dip-pen and brush inking is Indian Ink. This is a rich, deep black, permanent ink that can be thinned with water if required. Remember to shake your bottle before use, otherwise you’ll use the thin ink from the top and end up with unusable gloop at the bottom. 

Of course, you don’t have to use black Indian ink, there are many different types and colours. Walnut ink, for example, is a traditional brown ink that was used by masters such as Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh. We sell Tom Norton’s Walnut Ink which is rich in colour, intensely pigmented, water soluble and creates beautiful warm browns. For a full range of colours you can try Winsor & Newton ink, Dr Martin’s ink, or FW Acrylic ink (these last two are waterproof and have superior lightfastness).


Going back to comics, the traditional drawing surface used is Bristol Board. This is a bright white, non-porous card that has a very smooth, almost shiny surface. The ink sits on top of it rather than being absorbed, therefore there’s no danger of the ink bleeding. Nor will the ink bleed on good quality cartridge or watercolour paper. These have an advantage over Bristol Board in that they take washes of watered down ink or watercolour more effectively. Generally, the thicker the paper the better for ink and water-based media, 300g is a good starting point. Correcting / highlighting Mistakes will be made or you will change your mind or you may just want to add white highlights over black ink. Products used for this include Dr Martin’s Bleed Proof White, Opaque white Gouache, Uni-Ball Signo pens. Even white pencils can be effective. There’s also a product relatively new to us that’s particularly good – QOR Watercolour Ground – an opaque paste that, when dry, brilliantly mimics the properties of watercolour paper. You can paint on top of it with ink or watercolour without losing any intensity of colour! 

You may have missed the start of Inktober but why not challenge yourself to make an ink drawing a day for the next 31 days? You never know what you might come up with… 

You can follow Del @Delsdrawings