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How do I Become an Inker?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Peter Taylor, Joseph Bremson
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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The inker is the person who adds the blackwork to comics once the pencilwork has been done. Although inkers were historically treated as glorified tracers, the job is actually quite complicated and very demanding. Someone who wants to become an inker has several pathways which can be pursued to develop this career in the comic book and graphic novel industry. Would-be inkers should be aware that the field can be extremely competitive, and that it can require years of work to break through into the industry and start making a living.

It is not uncommon for an inker to be a trained comic artist. Many inkers got their jobs by practicing for years, sending out samples of their work to comic publishers, and eventually acquiring low-level jobs in the inking department. With practice and time to develop their skills, these employees gradually start being given more responsibilities, and can eventually work independently as inkers. This career path to become an inker can take a long time, and it helps to develop supplemental skills which can be used to earn a living.

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Some working inkers recommend practicing inking as early as possible once someone knows that this is a career he or she is interested in. Someone who wants to become an inker may be able to obtain photocopies of penciled artwork from comic publishers, other inkers, or comic artists. They can develop inking skills using these tools, and eventually develop a portfolio. Other inkers got their start by tracing published comics in pencil and then inking them, developing their skills with practice until they achieved a level of proficiency which would allow them to apply for jobs.

Another option for someone who wishes to become an inker is to attend art school. Some art schools and colleges offer programs specifically in comic design and creation. Others may offer more general training which can serve an inker well. Inkers need an excellent sense of space paired with an intimate knowledge of light and dark, shading, and mood. Because they work in black ink only, inkers don't have access to tools for more subtle effects, and they need to learn to tame the pen or ink brush to achieve the desired look and feel in their work.

Inking is not just about drawing black lines over someone else's pencil work. An inker's work can make or break a piece. Inkers are often given autonomy when it comes to shading and effects, and they can correct bad pencilwork or ruin good work. It is important for people who plan to become an inker to become familiar with the details of the job. Some comic artists prefer to do their own inking and sometimes their own coloring as well, illustrating the key role of the inker: If the job wasn't that important, surely comic artists could trust anyone to ink their work!

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