-Thanks to Ali for the term Digital Line Enhancement. Good call.
-Added images with stroke and texture examples.

So you want to learn how to ink digitally eh? Before I begin to even tell you what materials you'll need, let's clarify a few things. When I first started inking digitally, I would call myself a digital inker. Afterall, everything was done on my computer, but it quickly became evident that there was a big difference between digital 'inking' as the world knew it, and the digital inking that I was doing. The major difference between the two was that I was actually inking the page by hand, and digital 'inking' merely requires cleaning up and editing the art in Photoshop so that it's printable. For the sake of keeping things organized, I'll continue to refer to my method as Digital Inking, and the other method as Digital Line Enhancement. What I am going to show you in this tutorial is how to set up your page and ink just like any other traditional inker would, only using a digital format. I am going to show you a page from start to finish (give or take). I will cover how I set the page up and get started to which brushes I use the most. This tutorial will not show you how to ink. Learning and understanding line weights and textures is something that you just sort of figure out on your own. Hell, I still have a lot to learn about that myself. So let's get started...

You will need:
- A computer
- Painter 6
- A tablet

You can use Painter 7, but the program is highly unstable and it tends to crash A LOT, at least on my system. And after a half hour of work without saving, you're going to be pretty mad when the program crashes. I have used Painter 8, but I haven't really had enough time to get into the program and get things set up the way I like. For the sake of the tutorial, I will continue to use Painter 6 which is the more stable and popular of the two.

Secondly, I recommend a decent computer. I was able to ink without too many problems on my old PIII 450 with only 512mb of SDRAM, but that was with a lower res image. If you're running anything less than that then you're going to experience a lot of lag, and more frequent crashes. Save times will also be a lot longer, and can slow you down.

My current system specs:
-P4 2.4 gHz
-ASUS P4P800 motherboard
-2gB pc2700 DDR RAM
-Windows XP Pro
-ATI Radeon 9000 Pro

And lastly, and this is the most important part, you are going to need a tablet. Using a mouse would be next to impossible for this tutorial. You will need the pressure sensitivity of your tablet so that when you're using the Pen brush, it actually acts like a pen. I am currently using a Wacom Intuos 2 4x5 tablet. I have tried using a 6x8 and I didn't like it. If you're comfortable with the current size of your tablet, go for the gusto.

Why should I use Painter over Photoshop?
The single greatest function of Painter is the ROTATE tool. (Hotkey: E) You can take that little sucker and freely rotate your canvas on the fly just like you could with a real piece of paper. This gives you the ultimate in control over your brush strokes allowing you to position the canvas in that perfect angle which feels most comfortable to you. To do something like this in Photoshop, you'd have to use the Free Transform tool, and with a 50mb file it can take ages to actually finish rendering the page in that angle you were looking for. Sometimes, the angle might not be exactly as you wanted it and you'd have to wait again for it to render. You also have more control over the brushes so that Fine Point Pen actually feels like a Crowquill.

Where can I get penciled images?
If you're looking for pencils from a particular artist, you can always look for their site. Some artists are cool about sending you high res scans of their work to either ink or colour, but they're doing you a favour so the least you can do is give credit where credit is due.

If the artist doesn't get back to you (don't blame them, they're very busy people) you can try contacting some professional inkers. There are some professional inkers that are getting the art e-mailed to them (like me), and then they print it out. It saves a lot of time and money in shipping costs, and they may be able to hook you up with something that has already been solicited.

And in a last attempt, but the most readily available, you can always check out the Inker's Vault. There is a collection there of high res pencils from a variety of penillers that you can download and ink.

Setting Up Your Page:
For this tutorial, I am going to use a page by Humberto Ramos. I don't know where I found this, but I've uploaded it here so you can download it off my server. (It's a 2mb file, so down't download it ten thousand times or else you'll kill my bandwidth.) First things first. Take your image into Photoshop and check the image size (Image>Image Size). The DPI should be set no lower than 300. 300, for the most part, is the standard printing resolution so you might as well ink with what it's going to be printed in. The next thing you need to look at is the print size. At 300DPI, I like to work with a full 11"x17" page. I have worked on stuff in the past that had already been downscaled to the 6.877"x10.437", but I find that everything seems 'too' digital when working. In cases like that, I prefer to have the DPI of the page set to 600. It'll probably be scaled down to 300 for printing purposes, but your only concern should be the quality of the inks.

Tne next step is to blue line the art. By blue lining, I mean turn the greyscaled pencils blue. There are a thousand different ways you can go about this and it doesn't really matter how you achieve it at all. If you don't know how to blue line, here's my method. I change the greyscaled image to RGB. In the layers window I create a new one, fill it with a blue, and then change the layer mode to 'screen'. Voila, blue pencils. If the blue is too bright you can turn down the opacity until it suits you. From there just merge the layers together, and save the file. To speed things up in photoshop, I just create a new action and bind it to F12. After I've opened the image, all I have to do is hit F12 and it automatically does everything for me. If you still want to keep the pencils around for use later, just add a 'b' to the end of the blue lined pencils when saving to keep them separate.

Launch painter and then open the bluelined pencils. Select all (ctrl+a), copy (ctrl +c), and then paste (ctrl+v) the image. Set the layer to multiply. Next select the entire canvas again, and go Edit>Clear and this will give you a blank canvas to work with. Although inking in this method does tend to use a lot more CPU power and RAM on my system, and may take a few extra minutes to set up, I prefer to work like this so that when the page is done I just delete the layer with the pencils, and you get nothing but the smooth inks. From there all you need to do is export the image as a .tif, and you're done. The image to the right shows you a basic setup of how I keep things organized in Painter. Note, these are just my preferences. You can set up your workspace however you want.
You're almost ready to start inking. Before you do though, you should save your file. When saving a Painter file, choose the .RIF format. You could save it as a .TIF but that'll create a 200mb file instead of a 50mb file and will greatly affect your save times. The .RIF would be the Photoshop equivilent of a .PSD file, so you're not going to get any degredation in image quality. (See example to the left.)

Start Inking

The great thing about Painter is that you have a wide variety of tools at hand at all times, and if you know how to use them properly you can add some really great textures and effects to your inks that doing traditionally would spell disaster most likely. The brush that I use for pretty much the entire page is the Fine Point Pen brush (see image right). This brush is the one that is going to mimic a brush or crowquill the best, and it's great for getting that nice line variation. I also use the Smooth Ink Pen quite a bit as well when I need to make a stroke with little to no variation in width. Occasionally I play aroung with a few of the other pens to get different texture effects. I'll switch it up to a course Airbrush if I need to add some grit to the image.

Okay, so now you're really ready to start inking. I like to create the borders of each panel first. To make nice clean and straight borders, use the Pen Tool. Start with one corner and then work your away around until the ends join. Then double click on the shape to open the Shape Attributes window. From there you can set the width of the border. Hit 'Ok', and then 'DROP' to put the border onto the canvas layer. I use the Pen Tool for more than just the borders. I use them a lot in backgrounds to get clean straight lines, and even on characters if there's a really long curve that I want to be smooth. After I've created the stroked line, I'll go back in with the Fine Point Pen and vary the line width.

Now that I've got my borders set up I start inking the page one panel at a time. I don't need to wait for ink to dry so working in this method seems to suit me best. It's easy to miss a small area so if I work one panel at a time I can ensure I don't miss anything... for the most part. I usually start by filling in any large black areas by creating an outline and then filling it in. There's one thing you'll notice when you fill something in though (see image at right for example). A small white outline will remain that will clearly show you the fill area from the outline (A). You can remedy this by hitting the fill tool in the area again (B). Save this step for last because if you repeat this after every outline you create, the image will start to get bitmapped and it won't look as smooth. You'll notice a few small white areas. They can easily be dispatched by filling them in quickly with your brush.

I usually like to work from the immediate foreground to the background. Backgrounds are rather dull and boring (don't try inking anything involving Transformers digitall because you'll bore yourself to tears). For the most part, I just create a lot of lines using the Pen Tool and then vary the weights accordingly to bring certain elements more forward than others. Dropping each stroke after you've created it can waste time. I prefer to just create 100 strokes, and then merge them all down at once. Hold 'Shift' to select multiple shapes, and then drop them all onto the canvas.

To the right are a few examples of strokes from Painter. The first one gives you an idea of what the Smooth Ink Pen and Fine Point Pen look like in action, and some of the widths their capable of. The second one is just a quick texture image I put together. There are a few in there that I use often, but others that I just discovered. There are over 50 brushes available at your disposal in Painter. If you don't experiment with them, you'll never know what they do.

This is the page I have just walked you through completed. After I completed the page, I deleted the layer containing the pencils, and then exported the inks. AS I said before, it uses up more RAM and CPU to work like that, but you get nothing but smooth, clean inks afterwards.

At this point there is little else I can teach you about digital inking. I've shown you how to set a page up and the basic tools to use, so now it's up to you to take that knowledge and really apply it to a page. If you have any questions about this tutorial, or if you find something needs clarification, please feel free to drop me a line.

Do's and Don'ts:
The single greatest feature and the single greatest flaw about digital inking is the Undo function. When you first start out it'll take forever and a day to get anything accomplished simply because if you don't like something, you can just undo it. You can get stuck in these loop holes where you make a line over and over and over again until it's perfect. It happened a lot when I first started, but since getting the hang of digital inking, I make a lot less mistakes. Of course, I still reach for the ctrl+z more often than I'd like to admit. It's nice that I can fix that huge crooked line, but it's bad because the habit crosses over into real life where there's no room for error. :/ It's a vicious cycle.

Don't worry if it seems to take a long time to get the hang of using a tablet. I use my tablet from anywhere from an hour to 16 hours in a day. I'd say we have a pretty damn good relationship at this point, so it's not a barrier anymore. It just takes a lot of practice.

Do buy a good monitor. You'll be staring at it all day, so you might as well be staring at something that won't make you blind, or at least not as quickly. I am currently using a 19" Samsung SyncMaster 955DF and I absolutly love it. If I had to buy another monitor, it would be a Samsung. But monitors are getting cheaper all the time, and if you really want to go for the gusto get one of those Mac Cinema Displays.
Don't zoom in too much. I try not to work at more than 200% if I can get away with it. If you work at 100%, your strokes will be very uneven and jagged. When I'm working on faces, I'll go into 300% just so that I can be extra accurate. Anything above 300% and you going to end up spending more time than you need to on that small rock in the corner.