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Feature: Graphics & Multimedia

FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

By Chen Nan Yang on November 07, 2007 (9:00:00 AM)

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As more and more traditional publishers accept digital images, artists are turning to free and open source software (FOSS) tools to create cartoons and illustrations.

Draw lines

Both vector and bitmap drawing programs let you draw lines. Generally speaking, vector lines are more reusable and revisable, while bitmap lines are more artistic.

Before starting a drawing in any tool, plan how many layers your drawing will have. A simple bitmap drawing may have only three or four layers, such as a background, a character, and a car. A vector drawing may have more layers; even a single property in your drawing may have several layers. Using layers can make it easier for you to revise your drawing or reuse it in another drawing in the future.

When drawing lines with a bitmap program, you'll need a good pen tablet, such as one from Wacom. (Check out Nathan Willis's article on how to get started with Wacom tablets in Linux.) Open source applications such as the GIMP (for Windows, Linux, Unix, and Mac) and Paint.NET (for Windows only) offer line tools such as a pencil, a paintbrush, and an airbrush. You can adjust settings such as the brush width, fill style, antialiasing mode, and blending mode, and save your favorite brushes for future use.

One of the major benefits of vector lines is that you can revise them easily. FOSS tools for vector graphics include Inkscape (for Windows, Linux, and Mac), Xara Xtreme for Linux, and Skencil (for Linux or Unix).

If a vector drawing has too many layers, you can combine several finished layers into a group to make the scene simpler. In Inkscape, for example, you can group the layers by navigating to Object -> Group. If you want to edit the group again, simply double-click it or navigate to Object -> Ungroup.

You can also convert a bitmap image to a vector image by using Inkscape's trace bitmap tool (Shift-Alt-B). This technique is useful for artistic portraits. For example, you could create a caricature portrait by importing a photo and converting it to vector lines. You could then transform the vector lines by using the editing nodes tool (F2), then make the jaw bigger, the cheek bone higher, the lips thicker, and so on.

Color your drawings

Coloring vector and bitmap images is relatively simple. If you want to color a vector image in a bitmap program, first export the image as a bitmap. Paint.Net's Paint Bucket and GIMP's Bucket Fill tools offer dozens of patterns for bitmap coloring. You can also use the line tools to draw colored patterns.

In the GIMP, you can color images on the same or a different layer. Using a different layer may take more time, but it allows you to revise the colors or the lines separately in the future.

You can color bitmap images in vector programs (for example, drawing lines in Paint.Net but adding colors in Xara Xtreme for Linux) to create special effects, but the process is more complicated because you need to draw more vector shapes to contain the colors first.

Properties and background

Google SketchUp can help you draw properties and backgrounds quickly. With the line, rectangle, circle, and arc tools, you can draw objects and a background simply by dragging the cursor through three-dimensional coordinates. Google SketchUp offers more than 100 materials, including brick and cladding, wood, stone, tile, vegetation, carpets, and water. Sketchy Effects helps you create a hand-painted effect on your drawing. If you find that SketchUp's style is just what you need, you can export your work directly as a bitmap file and put it in a layer of your drawing program, or revise it in another drawing program.

Other FOSS tools can help you create properties as well. For example, you can use the emboss tool in Paint.Net to create an embossed artwork as a property in a scene. You can also simply create a rectangle and fill it with colors and patterns to make a background.

Improve, polish, and send out your drawing

Editors usually accept JPG files because of their relatively small size compared to other kinds of graphics files. Before exporting your drawing as a JPG file, see how your image looks in its compressed form. You may need to revise some of the layers. For example, if a background layer is too glaring, you can darken or blur it. You can also use Paint.Net or the GIMP to give your work an artistic effect. For example, you can make your work look like a pencil drawing by going to Effects -> Pencil in Paint.Net.

Set the compression of the exported JPG file to allow for good image quality and definition. Choose a JPG quality of 85 to 95%. The definition of the exported file should be at least 300 dots per inch for a magazine, meaning that a 4-by-3-inch illustration in a magazine needs a digital image that is at least 1,200-by-900 pixels.

Conclusion

The powerful functions offered by FOSS drawing programs can not only help you to present your digital artworks, but can also help you to improve your artistic skills and improve your visibility in the art world.

Chen Nan Yang is a Chinese freelance journalist and former IT director in the Chinese government.

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on FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

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FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.102.223.142] on November 07, 2007 02:12 PM
Good article, thanks. I work as an illustrator, and I also find the following tools helpful: 1) Scribus, for multi-page layouts with great PDF export; 2) FontForge, when you need to modify or create a font; 3) Blender 3D (or Art of Illusion), to create 3D imagery with proper perspective; 4) GColor2, for picking colors off the screen. I also recommend Basket Note Pads or Zim for jotting down ideas.

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Re: FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.155.100.206] on November 08, 2007 05:57 PM
Yeah, FontForge is absolutely fantastic, rivals any commercial font editing applications. Btw, Krita is nice, evolving slowly, but it's nice.
There's also Gogh : http://www.goghproject.com/screens.html
come along just fine, very nice. And there's one application that most people don't know, VIPS (with NIP2 frontend)
http://www.vips.ecs.soton.ac.uk/index.php?title=VIPS
Then there's SK1, that already opens coreldraw files
http://sk1project.org/
and if you need patterns, i use a lot Ghost Diagrams, and Arabeske,
http://logarithmic.net/pfh/ghost-diagrams
http://www.wozzeck.net/arabeske/index.html
there's also Passepartout, another DTP app
http://www.stacken.kth.se/project/pptout/
and MyPaint
http://people.ee.ethz.ch/~mrenold/mypaint/mypaint_sshot_v0.4.jpg
And you can also google for spot color pallettes for inkscape/gimp/scribus, they're available ;)

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FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 130.167.236.243] on November 07, 2007 02:41 PM
FYI: The development version of Inkscape supports a vector paint bucket tool, which greatly simplifies the coloring process for vector drawings.

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'ktoon' for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Kurt Pfeifle on November 07, 2007 03:10 PM

Chen Nan Yang,



you don't seem to be familiar with "ktoon". Check it out, you'll probably like it: <a href="http://ktoon.toonka.com/">http://ktoon.toonka.com/</a>.



See also these nice examples for ktoon's capabilities: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ktoon&search=Search">http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=ktoon&search=Search</a>.



Would be nice if you could evaluate ktoon, and then write a review of it for linux.com.



Cheers & thanks for your current article.



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Re: 'ktoon' for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.62.234.218] on November 08, 2007 06:14 AM

Re: 'ktoon' for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.208.36.82] on November 09, 2007 01:24 AM
And what about synfig?

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FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.50.78.154] on November 07, 2007 04:11 PM
Sadly still no Sketchup for Linux... Come on Google!

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FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.186.98.78] on November 08, 2007 04:56 PM
Ahem. Sketchup is _COMMERCIAL_ software. Sure, you can get it for free, but that doesnt make it Open Source.

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FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 189.27.215.102] on November 10, 2007 05:11 PM
Unfortunately, Xara Xtreme is apparently dead. Seems that they confused "open-source" with "getting developers to do their work for free".

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FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 170.215.110.118] on November 12, 2007 09:35 PM
I can get SketchUp to ALMOST run under Wine. The menus appear a bit wonky though... Yep, waiting for the Linux version of SketchUp. Have looked at Blender but I don't understand the GUI yet. Want a good architectural program for Linux...

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FOSS for cartoonists and illustrators

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 121.217.152.218] on November 13, 2007 01:21 AM
This is a terrible article. It is hard not to be insulting when confronted with so many inaccuracies, omissions and lack of experience by the author. The problems with the article are so bad that I doubt that the author has ever worked in any professional studio. I will have to take them on one by one.
1. Many Illustrators/illustration studios and animators have learned that you can work with one layer. This is not for everyone, but if you have experience with the process, it is possible to work with one layer and have an illustration coloured in five minutes. Not that these people are limited to one layer, just that they can be more productive on one layer for much of their work. 2. Every vector program handles objects a little differently. Some programs like Corel Draw are fast and most users can create full works of art on one layer. 3. If you know your software and have experience with many studio workflows, you can alter the colour of any part of an illustration at exactly the same speed, or faster than working with each colour on a separate layer. 4. There is nothing here to let beginners know that bitmap (sometimes called raster) programs are better for artistic expression, detailed colour work, are a lot faster, can be used with a scanner so the artist can work on paper to the point he/she wishes to switch to software, or that Vector is cleaner, can be scaled up to any size you want and retain its crisp lines, can be outputted to signwriters vinyl cutting machines, rubber stamp making equipment or as .dxf to huge plasma cutters to cut huge metal sculptures (or any other machinery that handles .dxf). There is no mention that some vector programs (looking at you Adobe Illustrator) sometimes stab you in the back by adding fills as a bitmap layer. This means that these files cannot be scaled up without a real degradation of quality. 5. No warning about antialiasing. Any illustrator worth his salt will know about the dangers of antialiasing too soon and too enthusiastically. If he includes animators in with cartoonists (some people do some people do not) then this makes it doubly funny. Animation studios learned in the early nineties that if you antialias every layer from the first process, you end up with an unwatchable mess on screen a month later when you put it to tape. 6. Overstating the abilities of vector tracing software. Studios will use tracing software in two places. If the resulting image is scaled down to thumbnail size for letterheads etc, or if time is very tight and an artist cannot spend the 20 minutes to three hours it takes to hand trace a logo or image. 7. Chen Nan Yang lies about colour being simple at any time. This is your biggest challenge as an illustrator. Unless you work in a dead end position outputting your graphics to the Xerox laser printer via a fiery that some tech set up for you, then you need to learn about every type of printing process, and how they handle colour. Bitmap programs can be used to create colour separations, but when you are working with one two or three colour processes as well, bitmap programs are always slower than vector. Many old school people will claim that CMYK is the best, and it is for offset printing, but it has a terrible time with blues and sometimes oranges (especially huge Xerox machines that fill an air conditioned room). Big office and printer size laser printers, as well as most bubblejets have spot on RGB to CMYK converters built in, so instead of having washed out sky in CMYK, you send an RGB to the printer and let it sort it out. There is a LOT to colour that I will not rant about here, but it is the one thing that gives more people more trouble long term. 8. Fill patterns are a tool for the amateur, or for very lazy or rushed illustrator. This is not being elitist, the end result nine times out of ten is pretty bad. There are always clients who think they are great, so you pull them out twice a year for those clients. I would advise for quality's sake, that clipart results in a better final product far more often than using pattern fills. 9. JPG is a great format. I would suffer if I did not have it in my arsenal. Unfortunately it is not the format most publishers like to see. Unless it is at 100% - 120% jpg artifacts. Even artifacts not visible to the naked eye can ruin a print run if you are unlucky. PDF for print and TIFF makes most printers happiest in my experience. 300 DPI is not always the case either. Many quality magazines print at 150 LPI (there is a difference between DPI and LPI) others print colour work at 300 DPI and black and white at 600 DPI. ALWAYS call ahead and find out the resolution the publisher or printer prefers to work at. 10. Back on the "Layers are the only way to be flexible" line.... Finally, the assumption that GIMP is up to the job is dishonest to the readers. Anything is possible, I have even created artwork on an 8bit word processor (like a computer with no tools except a word processing program in ROM) in my time, but if you are working commercially, speed is very important. You need more tools than GIMP has, and you need an interface that is not always hamstringing you. I could recommend alternatives, but few are FOSS, all but one is on Linux, and none are FOSS Linux. I would expect the inaccuracies that are in this article from someone who is inexperienced enough to believe GIMP is up to the job ... To the person who pointed out ktoon. Great link. They seem to be a quarter the way to an animation program an animator could take seriously. Unfortunately my quick review of the site and features shows that it has had no development for two years.

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