Six ways to get a steady lines with a graphic tablet

Warp the line in Photoshop

I’m lucky enough to have a Wacom Cintiq now. I used to be a very slow painter, but the Cintiq has sped me up a lot. It is easier to create smooth lines using the Cintiq than a normal graphic tablet.

My previous graphic tablet (one of the Intuos versions) is perfectly fine for sketching and colouring. But when it comes to doing the outlines—the inking—I find it quite challenging.

Here are five tips on how you can get nice, smooth lines with a normal graphic tablet:

1. You have to work fast

When I took the perspective course with Poe Tan at CGMA I noticed how fast he would draw the lines. That way they became straight and fluid. Moving fast eliminates the risk of wobbly lines.

2. Undo is your friend

If you work fast, you will need to use undo a lot. Get used to the keyword combination Ctrl Z (or Cmd Z on the Mac). If the line didn’t come out right, undo it and give it a new try.

3. Move the line

If the line looks god, but is not in the exact right place, use the move tool and move it to the right place. Ctrl V (or Cmd V) gives you the move tool.

Move the line in Photoshop

4. Warp the line

Another thing Poe Tan did is to use the warp tool to change the shape of the line. He’d draw a line that was pretty much what he wanted, then he’d use the warp tool to bend it into shape. Ctrl . (or Cmd .) gives you the warp tool.

Warp the line in Photoshop

4B. (You could do a path)

Of course, you can always do a path instead . For me I find that it takes longer. But it has the advantage of creating a vector image if that’s something you want.

5. Flip the canvas

The same day as I wrote this, I got an email from illustrator Hanna Sandvig of Book Cover Bakery. I had asked her how she is able to make such nice line work so fast. This is what she answered:

There isn’t an easy answer to the lineart question, it honestly took a lot of practice and I still work with one hand on the undo key. I try and keep my strokes long and fast to be as smooth as possible. And it’s only in the past year that I’ve really truely loved the digital lineart stage, after a decade of working this way.

Another thing to consider, is if you simply can’t get a line right, try flipping the canvas. Everyone draws curves more comfortably in one direction than the other.

However, I’ve recently started working with an ipad pro and pencil using the procreate app, and it’s much more intuitive. It’s a pricey piece of tech, but it doubles as a laptop for us and I just love it.

Hanna’s tip about flipping the canvas reminds me of one last tip:

6. Rotate the screen

I have not tried flipping the canvas like Hanna Sandvig suggested. Instead I use the Rotate tool (Ctrl+R or Cmd+R).

Rotate the canvas in Photoshop

With the rotate tool you can put the canvas in the best way for your arm and hand to make a smooth movement.

There you go. With your new friends Ctrl Z, Ctrl R and Ctrl . (the warp tool), you should be able to produce nice, smooth lines with your tablet.

One last note

Just make sure your lines don’t become too nice and smooth. Looking back, I find that some of my illustrations look a bit too digital. A little bit of wobbliness makes it look more like pen and paper.

As you can see, both Hanna Sandvig and I sing the praises of the tools with which you can draw on a screen (like the Cintiq). But I’ve heard illustrators say they don’t notice much of a difference. That the trick is to become really used to drawing on the tablet.

When I go to the library and work I don’t bring my Cintiq but rather my small little Intuos that fits neatly into the bag. So do the best with what you have. And make sure you leave some imperfections.

Angel and devil illustration
This is how the illustration ended up looking in the end.

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