Krita is one of the best open source software around, and although mistaken by many as a PhotoShop alternative, it is more akin to applications like Painter. It specializes in sketching and drawing and offers tools tuned to those needs, while emphasizing creation over manipulation of graphics.
This tutorial will work as both an intro to sketching and on how to use Krita for this purpose. Follow along if you aspire to create your own digital sketches or, in the long run, web comics and graphic novels.
Note that although you can use your mouse for this, sketching is anatomically easier with a pen. For this tutorial, we used a cheap old Bamboo tablet by Wacom.
Krita is popular enough to be included as one of the default graphics editing tools in many Linux distributions.
If Krita is absent from the distribution you’re using, and it’s an Ubuntu-compatible one, bring it over with:
sudo apt install krita
Select “File -> New” to create a new blank file. Leave the selection at the default “Custom Document,” and change the dimensions to whatever you wish. In our case, we used the resolution of our screen (1920 x 1200 with a 16:10 aspect), to create a sketch for use as a personal wallpaper.
Note the “Brush Presets” panel on the bottom right of Krita’s interface (while using its default setup).
Find and add the brushes we’ll use to the Favorites list, for easier swapping between them. They are:
- b)_Basic-1 (Tags: Ink, Digital, Sketch, Krita_4_Default_Resources)
- c)_Pencil-1_Hard (Tags: Sketch, Krita_4_Default_Resources)
- c)_Pencil-3_Large_4B (Tags: Sketch, Krita_4_Default_Resources)
- t)_Shapes_Fill (Tags: Digital, Krita_4_Default_Resources)
Right-click on each of them and select “Assign to tag -> My Favorites” to add it to that list.
Linux is good nowadays at recognizing and configuring tablets, especially Wacom ones. If you need help making your Wacom pen tablet work on Ubuntu or a compatible distro, look here.
One thing you might have to do is disable, at least temporarily, your pen tablet’s touch functionality. If you leave it enabled, as you’re using your pen, whenever your hand touches the tablet, that will also be interpreted as “an input.”
Having multiple points of input can wreak havoc when sketching, so disable touch by first checking which devices are detected with:
xsetwacom –list devices
Notice the ID of the “type: TOUCH” device. To disable it temporarily, enter:
xsetwacom set ID touch off
“ID” is the ID number of the device. In our case, our tablet’s touch input had an ID of 16, so the command looked like this:
xsetwacom set 16 touch off
Draft and iterate
Select the paintbrush and one of the pencil presets you added to your Favorites list.
Start by sketching a rough draft. If you find your brush’s size is too large, reduce it by changing the value in the “Size” bar on the top center of the screen. You can either drag it to the left and right or right-click and enter a precise value with the keyboard.
When you have your sketch ready, prepare to dismiss it: this was only your first draft.
With the layer where you sketched now selected, drop its opacity – from the bar at the top of the Layers panel – to a value of around 20 percent. This will allow you to faintly see the existing sketch, to use it as a base for a second, improved version.
It’s convenient to have each draft of a sketch in a different layer. That way, if something doesn’t work, or you want to try it multiple times, you can delete or hide a layer and experiment on a new one.
Create a new layer for your second iteration by either clicking on the first button with the plus symbol, at the bottom left of the layers panel, or by pressing the “Insert” key on your keyboard.
After that, rinse and repeat. Lower your full layer’s opacity, create a new Paint layer, add details, re-iterate, improve.
Inking the final sketch
When working “the traditional way,” after using pencils for your drafts, go over everything using ink. Inking is like calligraphy in that the lines should no longer be jagged and fuzzy but rather clearly defined and easy to look at.
Select the Inking brush you added to your Favorites. If you, like us, find its preset size too large, decrease it from the Size bar at the top center of the screen. We used a “5,00” value.
Inking demands steady lines. Krita’s devs recognize not all of us have ultra-steady hands and offer help in the form of a stabilizer function. To avoid constantly seeking it in sub-menus, add it to Krita’s main toolbar.
Choose “Settings -> Configure Toolbars.” Type “smooth” in the search field on the top left of the “Available actions” list.
Add the “Brush Smoothing: Disabled” and “Brush Smoothing: Stabilizer” entries to the panel on the right by using the arrows between the two panels. Click OK to add them to Krita’s toolbar.
You can turn the stabilizer on with a click on the “S with three dots” icon and off with a click on the “S with an X” button. The two should now be on Krita’s toolbar. Create yet another paint layer, select it and start drawing over your existing sketch. If you feel like your input is too laggy, select the “Tool Options” panel on the bottom right of Krita’s interface – it’s “bound” to the “Brush Presets” one where you choose brushes.
The Distance value defines how long the pointer should travel before Krita responds to the input. The higher the value, the longer the delay, the higher the smoothing.
The Delay value sets an initial delay to allow the stabilizer to gather some initial input that it will act on. Unfortunately, this can feel very annoying, so use the minimum value you can that allows you to draw non-jaggy lines, without getting on your nerves. We used a 50 value for both initially, tweaking them along the way.
For the inking phase, quickly “re-trace” your existing draft with the ink tool in a new layer. You should be defining “outlines of each element of your sketch” without them overlapping – look at how the eyes of our character connect in our image to understand what we’re talking about.
For small errors, don’t undo everything you did: press E on the keyboard to switch to the eraser tool and run it over any “glitch” in your lines.
Note that the eraser tool always works like a reverse of the selected one, so it shares some properties. If your active tool has a low opacity, the eraser will, too, need more passes over something to fully erase it.
Krita allows the manual rotation of the canvas at any angle. This helps with our limited biology: our hands have a limited range of movement, and some moves feel more comfortable, more natural than others.
You can rotate the canvas by keeping Shift + Space pressed and dragging with the pen or mouse on the canvas. Similarly useful, by holding Ctrl + Space pressed and dragging the pen or mouse, you can freely zoom in or out.
Use everything we saw up to now to finish inking your sketch.
Coloring and shading
The “Shapes Fill” tool is great for coloring sketches. Select it from the Brush Presets panel.
Coloring doesn’t need the accuracy of inking since the existing ink lines will cover any small errors behind them – as long as the inking layer is at the top. Disable the Smoothing function before you start coloring with the Shapes Fill tool.
By default, Krita only shows the Advanced Color Selector panel, but when sketching, we want constant access to the same palette. Choose “Settings -> Dockers -> Palette” to bring the Palette panel to Krita’s main interface.
Create a new layer for coloring. If it’s not under the ink layer in the Layers list, move it there – click, drag and drop it in the desired position. Now is also a good time to give names to some of your layers: double click on their existing “Layer X” names and type things like “color,” “ink,” or “draft 3,” depending on their contents.
Select a color you’d like to use in a part of your sketch.
Use the Shapes Fill tool in small steps to fill your sketch with color instead of trying to define large parts of it accurately. Smaller steps also translate to a lower chance of errors.
Continue by coloring the different parts of your sketch with different colors. Experiment with colors and don’t be afraid to go back to the Advanced Color Selector if the Palette selections feel too restrictive. You can add any active color to the Palette with a click on the button with the “plus” symbol at the bottom left of the panel.
The last part of a sketch is shading and lighting, not necessarily in that order. By making some parts of our design darker or lighter, we can give the impression of volume in the 2D space our sketches occupy.
We’ll start by shading our character’s skin. Since we placed the skin color on an individual layer, it’s easy to select it now to shade it. To select a layer’s contents, right-click on it and choose “Select Opaque” (by default, last option in the pop-up menu).
Create a new layer for your shading. We used pure black for our shading, but this rarely leads to good results. You should select a darker version of the color you’d like to shade. For this, choose the color from the Palette and then move to the Advanced Color Selector. Use the three bars under the main selector to “darken” the selected color – how you’ll change them depends on the chosen color.
Shading needs a lot of trial and error until you get the hang of it. To pull it off, think of your two-dimensional sketch as a three-dimensional object and estimate how one or more light sources would affect it. Then, add shading to the opposite sides of each part of the sketch, and as we’ll see later, highlights where the light hits directly.
Final tweaks and fixes
After coloring everything, we noticed two problems: we had forgotten to paint the eyes a light grey, and there were some “halos” around our sketch, in places where we added highlights without restricting our selection inside the painted layers.
To fix the first problem, we created a new layer under all other layers but over the background layer. We used the Shape Fill tool to fill the eye area with a light grey color.
For the second problem, we switched the Shape Fill tool to “eraser mode” by pressing E on the keyboard, and then went over very “halo” around our character.
As a final step, we sketched an intentionally very rough, Manga-like “explosion” coming from the monitor in our image, using the Shape Fill tool, with white color, in a new layer. We made sure it was above every other layer except for the topmost one: the ink. We changed its effect on the image to “Soft Light (SVG)” from the pull-down menu above the layer’s Opacity bar, then duplicated that layer. We decreased the opacity of both versions, playing with values between 10 and 25 percent. Finally, we added a blur filter to the lower layer to now have an explosive glow over our character.
Although this was a standalone sketch, that’s how comics and graphic novels are created: with patience, constant iterations and experimentation. Panel after panel, who knows, maybe two years from now you’ll have become the next Frank Miller!
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