How to Do Line Art (Explained for Beginners)

Line art is a popular way to draw that is super easy and simple. It’s a type of drawing made with a pencil, pen, or marker. It can be used to illustrate stories, illustrations, comics, and anything else you can think of.

The main purpose of this art is to create an illustration and it only takes a few minutes (probably less than 5) to finish one.

You can practice completing templates online or make your own templates based on things you’ve seen in other illustrations. Anytime you see something that’s easy, simple, and quick – draw similar stuff!

Line art drawings are the perfect form for young kids too because they’re pretty but not so much that ‘whale ‘ size.

Line art is also great for beginners who want to get better at drawing quickly and easily because you’re simply tracing what you see on the screen so there’s no bulky paper or thick pencils involved in this kind of illustrations.

A History of Line Art

Line art has been around for more than 75,000 years. According to a South African rock flake, the earliest known drawing made by a human is 73,000 years old. There are numerous criss-crossed lines in the red ochre (a type of reddish-brown clay).

Pablo Picasso sketch

The art of line art has evolved significantly over the years, compared to that primitive example. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Leonardo da Vinci have used powerful line art in their work.

It’s common to think of the works as “studies” or “precursors” to the masterpieces they’d later paint. Many of Pablo Picasso’s earliest works can be found in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain, which houses a number of the artist’s preparatory sketches.

However, these line art drawings can also be prized works of art in their own right.

A similar method is used by fashion illustrators of today and the past to put their ideas on paper before bringing them to life with fabric.

Project Runway or your favorite designer’s Instagram feed will show you examples of line art from the perspective of the designers themselves.

It is not just a means to an end for some artists, but rather a primary means of expression. When Keith Haring was in New York City in the 1980s, he rose to prominence as one of the most renowned and revered line artists of our time.

New York City subways and public spaces were frequent locations for his brightly colored chalk drawings.

Line mural by Keith Haring

At a later time in his life, Haring created large-scale murals. His work is made more powerful by the juxtaposition of his simple creations and the provocative subject matter he addressed, such as AIDS and homosexuality.

One other prominent practitioner of line art is Shantell Martin, based in the United States. In a meditative style she calls “liveography,” she creates giant black-and-white drawings right in front of an audience.

Martin has been featured in numerous publications, as well as at Art Basel in Miami and in private retail collaborations with Tiffany & Co. and Vespa.

How to Do Line Art:

Here share some different methods to do good line art:

Method 1: How to do line art digitally

1.1 Keep your sketch clean

A good linework should always be a mindless, relaxing, and fun process. This means that every experiment regarding the shape, composition, and details in your artwork should be planned in advance, and not left to be decided upon during inking.

With a good sketch, you’re more likely to get better lines, as you’ll already have figured out most of the essential details in the art, which means the inking process is less likely to be prone to error.

clean sketch
clean sketch step tow

1.2. Prepare your sketch for inking

Your sketch will be cleaner and more coherent if you reduce the opacity of the lines and change their color. Simply do this:

1. Make your pixels transparent by locking their opacity

2. Use a larger brush of a different color to cover your entire sketch.

Pale blue seems to be a popular choice in that regard. The lines I draw are usually black, but I reduce the opacity so that they can only be seen as faint outlines, so I can concentrate solely on the final image.

prepare your sketch for inking

1.3. Choose the right pen tool

There are a variety of pen tools, but one thing they have in common is their ability to radically change the appearance of linework, which plays a role in the feeling of the art, so you’d better choose a pen tool carefully.

Typically, kawaii artists use smooth ink pens for their cute characters, whereas horror artists usually use textured pens to create damaged, unhinged characters.

In the beginning, you should always use a pen tool that is fully opaque and the color, if not black, should be very dark to enable you to see mistakes well and empty pixels easily.

Since digital art is flexible, you can easily change the colors of your lineart at any point in time.

Choose the right pen tool
Choose the right pen tool

1.4. Use the right canvas size and resolution

Canvas size and resolution of your artwork determine whether the lines in your artwork are fuzzy, blurry, or pixelated.

You should always draw your linework on a canvas bigger than 2000 pixels and with a resolution of 300 DPI to ensure a high quality result. As an example, here I am using a canvas with a size of 4000 by 6000 pixels and 300 DPI.

I would always advise against adjusting the resolution of your art once you start drawing, so make sure your resolution is correct before you start and everything should be fine.

You can always change the size of your canvas without affecting the art itself.

300DPI resolution on a 500×500 canvas

Use the right canvas size and resolution
Change image resolution

The canvas size is 6000×4000 and the resolution is 300 dpi

canva image resolution

1.5. Use stabilisation with your pen

Using the stabilisation feature along with the pen tool allows you to create more stable lines by smoothing out your wrist movements when you trace your lines and reducing any hiccups or mistakes that may occur. 

If you’re doing loose sketches, cross-hatching, and quick jaggy lines, you may want to avoid using it because of its delay when you need straight lines, beautiful curves, and precise details. 

My personal preference is to ink my art with a value around 50 because this value offers a good balance of smoothing and delaying that I quite enjoy.

Use stabilisation with your pen
Use stabilisation with pen
side without stabilisation

1.6. Loosen up!

The way you move your arms, the way you stand, and how you perform your strokes will also greatly influence your results.

To draw flawless lines, relax your body and release any tension in your wrists and shoulders when making a stroke. Do not grip your pen too tightly or stiffen your muscles when you make a stroke.

You can practice drawing straight lines, circles and spirals as shown here to help loosen your muscles before drawing and being conscious of how much strength is being used while stroking and moving your arm while holding your pen.

Loosen up

1.7. Create smooth curves

Once you know how to create them, smooth lines are not mythical creatures.

One tip I would give to anyone who wants to get smooth lines is to do each stroke slowly and steadily instead of using several hasty and short strokes to outline simple shapes and curves.

Also, keep your lines from being erased too much. You can simply repeat your stroke until it looks right in your eye if your first attempt was not successful.

With those lines, you will be able to play Doctor Frankenstein much better than you would with those poor lines.

In addition to being ten times more effective, it is also less tiring on your wrist and avoids you getting acquainted with our good old friend the carpal tunnel syndrome.

create smooth curves

1.8. Move your canvas around

For perfect lines, you can also enlarge the area you’re inking to fill your entire screen. 

Zooming in on your canvas will make it much more difficult for mistakes to sneak past you, whereas keeping it zoomed out will give you a jumpscare every time you zoom back in.

If you are having difficulty drawing lines at certain angles, don’t be afraid to rotate or flip your canvas. 

There is a big chance that dragging the canvas or rotating it will resolve the problem if the line you’re working on puts your wrist in an awkward position.

Move your canvas around
canvas modification panel

1.9. Keep your line width consistent

Beginners tend to overlook consistency in line width when inking, but it’s a key aspect to inking that everyone knows subconsciously. 

A cartoon character will typically have fewer details and thicker lines, while a manga character will have finer lines and more details.

It doesn’t matter what style of character you choose, you should always keep those lines consistent throughout your illustrations and comics so the viewer isn’t confused. 

A great deal of importance should be given to this tip when working on manga and comics since these types of projects require consistency.

Keep your line width consistent
line width consistent

1.10. Flip your artwork from time to time

Both professionals and beginners dread pressing that little icon up here, but it is often a very good habit to flip your canvas every now and again when inking.

You’ll also notice parts of your lineart that aren’t working as well as you first thought when you’ve been staring at your lines for too long. 

Before you begin coloring and shading an illustration, it’s a good habit to maintain.

Flip your artwork from time to time
artwork from time to time

1.11.  Create a multi-layered lineart

Creating a multilayered lineart is a useful habit you can learn when inking.

Make sure you keep your character’s eyes in their own layer when you are drawing their eyes, so when you are inking their hair, you can place the hair on their own layer. 

In addition to making it easy to make changes to the size or placement of different aspects of your character, this habit allows you to remove overlapping lines without affecting the other parts.

Create a multi-layered lineart
multi layered lineart

1.12. Add line weight to your lines

In order to make a lineart lively and dynamic, line weight is a key element.

You must analyze the art itself in order to gain an understanding of line weight, and you must try to identify where your lines connect, and how to enhance the connection so that your character feels connected.

In addition to simulating the literal weight of an object on the ground, line weight can also help an object feel more grounded in its environment.

In lineart, the most effective method of creating line weight is to apply a light pressure at first, then gradually increase pressure as you draw your lines, and release the pressure as you complete the line. 

A second option would be to draw the lines and then come back later to reinforce the points where they connect.

It can be challenging to learn this habit when creating lineart, but the difference it will make in your lines will be well worth your time and effort.

Add line weight to your lines
line weight to your lines
line weight to your lines
without line weight
with line weight
with line weight

1.13. Learn how to use line weight with perspective

Following your familiarization with line weight, you should learn how to use it in perspective.

In order to simulate proximity and clarity, the more details and thicker the lines on an object should be the closer it is to the viewer. 

As a result of the same logic, an object should appear thinner and less perceptible the further it is from the viewer.

Using the same line thickness and amount of detail and polish in every panel ensures that your viewers will not be confused and saves you a lot of work when creating manga and comics with backgrounds and scenery.

use line weight with perspective

1.14. Balance your amount of details

Besides being one of the hardest skills to learn when it comes to doing lineart, balancing details can also make or break your linework. 

Simply put, to nail this aspect of your artwork, you need to practice, have an experienced eye and a good command of your artistic brain.

It is common for beginners to miss essential points in their art when adding details because they simply do not know where they are yet, but more advanced artists can easily add too many details without knowing when to stop adding them.

To properly balance details, you need to learn how to imply shapes rather than outline them for the viewer, and you also need to learn how to leave empty spaces in your art while adding details.

Although you will master the balance with time and experience, you will be able to take steps in the right direction if you focus on these two factors when inking.

Balance your amount of details

Too much details.

Creases in the clothes are implied correctly

The implication of clothing stains is accurate.

Creases in the clothes are implied correctly

Between the more detailed sections, leave a good amount of space.

1.15. Color lineart

Add color to your lineart instead of leaving it black if you want to add softness and personality to your colored illustrations.

To save yourself some time, the best thing to do is, as I mentioned in the multi-layered lineart tip, make your lineart darker than your flat colors.

To break up your character into its different elements early on and create your lineart with multiple layers for each material used in that part of the character.

When you ink your characters, you should separate skin, eyes, hair, clothes, and accessories. 

You should also consider layer hierarchy for clothing as well, for example: the layer for the clothes lineart should go under the layer for the skin lineart.

However, I would still suggest you always do the lineart in black, and only after you have done the flat colors, go over the lines with a big brush of a darker color that fits with the flat color you just finished.

color lineart

Method 2: How to do line art on paper

Supplies You Need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Marker
  • Eraser

2.1. Sketching

Choose a subject and get sketching! The sketch can be planned on scrap paper if you wish, but I am usually lazy and draw on the final paper immediately.

The most important thing to remember when sketching is to not press hard with your pencil. When you are able to draw with light strokes, you can refine outlines and details.

It’s not necessary to use an eraser at this point if you keep your lines very light, as you can just go over them with a pencil.

You should only use an eraser if you have made a big mistake, since every time you erase, you run the risk of ripping your paper or leaving smudge marks.

In order not to smudge your drawing paper and lose your lines, place a piece of clean paper beneath your palm as you draw.

My sketch is below. Despite being a bit messy, it contains all the information I need to ink:

horse sketch in lineart
Source: A stock picture by BHP-Stock for a pose reference

References must always be credited to the stock providers.

2.2. Inking

Now that you have finished your sketch, it is time to start marking the line with a marker! Trace your sketch. You want to copy the lines on your final design.

marking the line with marker

Furthermore, you can also use different shades of inks. For instance, you can use grey marker to soften the objects that are further away or use the colors you’ll be using afterward to color the lineart.

I have used several different colors of markers in these pieces. There are colored lines in the first picture for flowers and leaves, and there are black lines for dragons and grey lines for the landscape in the second picture.

Your drawing dries a bit after you have traced the sketch. Depending on the type of ink used, this could take a while.

It’s time to erase the ink after it has dried! Use a soft eraser to gently remove the pencil sketch. Take care to prevent damaging the paper or smudging the ink. 

Keeping the drawing dry should prevent smudging.

Do not forget to clean your eraser!

You may end up with ugly marks on your paper if you skip this step.

clean eraser

By erasing, you almost have the perfect document! However, it’s not quite done yet since you can see from the sketch that it appears plain, flat, and boring:

horse grab your marker again

Still some work to do – let’s improve!

It’s time for the fun part. Start drawing the lines with your marker. Make your lines thicker where you want to highlight and add details where they seem to be needed.

Now is your chance to fix any mistakes you made during the first round of inking.

Draw the lines again with vary thickness

Variate the thickness of the line to make it look smoother. 

It’s okay if your lines aren’t perfect at this stage; you can hide little mistakes with coloring! When little enhancements are needed, you can use gel pens and acrylic paints.

Remember your goal throughout the inking process. What color plan have you got for your artwork?

During the inking process, you might want to add more details and perhaps even some shading if you plan on using only flat colors. 

Your lineart can be more simple if you plan to add details and shading in the coloring phase. 

It is important not to overlook or rush your lineart, even if it is to be used as a guide.

lineart ready to color

Now, It’s ready to be colored!

In the end, you don’t have to be the next Shantell Martin or Picasso to succeed. Creating something is what matters most, even if you don’t win the art lottery and earn world-wide fame.

Hope this blog post can help to improve our line art.

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