Digital Drawing Newbie? Have Some GIMP Tips

Making comics may seem easy until you tackle the art head-on. Sure, you can hand draw your comics, but to give a more clean-cut look you may want to go digital. If you’ve never done digital drawing, here are some simple tricks to get you on your way!

Note: Here, I will be using GIMP, which is a slightly challenging program. You do not need to know everything about the program to use it: you can make things using only a couple of the many tools and you will be fine! Though, a lot of learning the program is through trial and error (and Google).
I will also briefly cover another program at the end of this post.

Getting Started:

FIRST: Download GIMP (it’s free!)
The program runs on macOS, Windows, and GNU/Linux

SECOND: Create a new file

THIRD: Draw!


When using this program, creating images takes time. To speed things up, here are some
important keystrokes:

ctrl + z   =   undo last action
ctrl + y   =   redo last (undone) action
ctrl + c   =   copy
ctrl + v   =   paste
shift + left click  =  makes a straight line from the last point drawn (when in drawing tool)

Click here for more helpful keystrokes!


Let’s work with text.

You can type out words (the A in the toolbox) or you can draw them. Don’t be discouraged if you have bad handwriting or only use a computer mouse, you can still get nice results with just a little extra time.

The thing to keep in mind here is that layers (separate planes stacked on top of, but not affecting, each other) and the eraser tool are your best friends.

Here, I made two straight lines to guide my writing. I drew a single dot with my pencil tool, and then used [shift + left click] to make a straight line where I wanted. I wrote within the lines, created a layer above the text, and then traced over my word with a thicker line to make it look cleaner. Once you’re done, you can erase the bottom layer to make a smooth(er) finish.

You can also play around with layers and colors to make different effects. Here is a quick example I drew up:

Comic Panels**

I made the base color black and used the rectangle select tool to make the size panel I wanted. Then filled it in with a new color (here, white). Alternatively, you can make a top layer black, select your panels, and instead of coloring them you can delete them, so they show through to a different color layer beneath. This way, you can do your actual drawing for your comic within the confines of the panel (not going into the gutters) by drawing only on the bottom layer.

**See bottom of this post for an alternate program with easier comic paneling creation

Also, don’t forget: you don’t always have to constrain yourself to the panels/boxes. Stretching into the gutters causes different effects, namely creating a sense of depth. Below, you’ll see the speech bubble crossing into another panel makes it feel closer to the reader.



Words in Bubbles

You can put text in a bubble with the A tool and rotating it with the tool directly above.

I also played around with the calligraphy tool to attempt to make written text look cleaner. I then used the lasso select to select the words and the scale tool to shrink it down.


Alternative Program

This post by Lindsey M highlights another great program for comic-making: FireAlpaca (available on Mac and Windows). Though it is simplistic, it can really help with panel design. One feature that I discovered that I really like is the “snap” feature that guides your drawing to different forms (such as making a perfect circle, following a grid, or going to a vanishing point).

Here is a great tumblr post giving a basic tutorial of FireAlpaca.


The easiest way to get to know the program(s) is to experiment with them yourself. There is a lot that can be covered on GIMP (and FireAlpaca), but I hope this post has given you some helpful pushes to get you on your way!

2 thoughts on “Digital Drawing Newbie? Have Some GIMP Tips

  1. This is a great post, and I’m sure it will come in handy for plenty of people later on in this class, my self included.

    1. Thanks! I figured it would be at least somewhat helpful for webcomic making; I know I love finding this kind of help anywhere I can.

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