Diary of a MAD Job Revisited: Part 5!

September 5th, 2014 | Posted in MAD Magazine

Now that the inks are all done, erased and cleaned up, it’s computer time! First the pages need to be scanned in sections, then placed together to make a complete page. This is roughly as much fun as getting poked in the eye by a sharp instrument, but it is what it is.

I invested in a very large scanner to simplify my life and cut down on popping veins in my forehead. I use a Microtek ScanMaker 9800XL (Epson Expression GT 20000), which is a flatbed with a 12?x17? scanning area. I use their ScanWizard Pro software and scan directly into Photoshop.¬¨‚Ć Even so, a two page spread of original art is 21.5 inches x 33 Inches. I have to scan that in quarters and then place the sections into a master template, make adjustments, flatten and then prepare for color. This is very difficult to do, and not just because it’s time consuming. For some reason, these big scanners have a little trouble with their consistancy, and I often cannot line up the sections so they match. Part of the problem is that the center edge of a section, meaning the place where the scanner stops in the horizontal middle of a single page gets distorted because it is being lifted off the glass slightly by the raised edge of the scanner. I scan a full 12 x 17 but lop off an inch from that 12 inch height at that middle edge to eliminate the distortion. That still gives me a 1/2 inch overlap. I place the top section of the first page into the template and then the bottom section layered on top of it. Then I reduce the opacity of the bottom image so I can see through it, and line up the linework easily. I find the best way to do this is to line up one corner of the bottom artwork with one corner of the top, then switch to Edit-Transform-Rotate. This gives you a center + that is the point at which you rotate your layer around. I grab this and drag it to the aligned corner. Then I go to the corner on the opposite side and rotate the layer to align there. Then I accept the transformation by hitting “enter”. Unfortunately, what often happen is that while the image lines up well on the outside corners, the center will be off somewhat. No amount of rotating will fix this. So, I often have to do some repair work and digital “fixing’ in that center area. I think it has to do with the speed of the scanning lamp, which might slow down or speed up in the center for unknown reasons. This has been a problem with every large format scanner I’ve had. Frustrating. Single pages are much easier because I scan them in threes, one row per scan, and the rows are only 7 inches or so high.

I scan the art in at 300 dpi at 100% in grayscale mode. Why grayscale for linework, you say? My inks aren’t really just black and white. I use the density of the ink at times to create some depth effects. I have a bottle of ink diluted to 50% strength for such effects, and using markers will give you grayer lines as well, which you can use to advantage. Finally, the finer, tapered lines look better in grayscale than they do as a bitmap. You have to make sure you use settings that will not change with each overview (pre) scan, or you will have different black levels for each scan. Most scanning software defaults to an automatic levels setting, where it uses the pre-scan to adjust the levels setting for what it thinks is best for that piece of art. This will be different for each scan. I change to density settings of 1.40 (white) and .05 (black) for most scanning and keep it constant for all scans. BTW, don’t let the MAC OSX look to this screenshot fool you, I’m using my PC here. I just have a Mac theme on it as I love the look and elegance of the Mac OSX visuals (gave up on PCs after a Blue Screen of Death incident and have been all Mac for years)




Scan, scan scan. Hoo boy, that’s fun. Once all the inks are scanned in and placed together into full pages or spreads, I go though them quickly and fix whatever boo boos or issues I notice. Then I prepare it for color. Here’s where I use a powerful feature of PhotoShop: the Actions Palette. I have several saved actions there, and one is called “Mad Color Prep”. I recorded all the steps needed to take a grayscale scan at original art size and turn it into one ready to color at print size. Here are the steps:

  • Image-size-50%
  • Image-size-300 dpi
  • Layer-Duplicate Layer- name “Inks”
  • Layer Palette-Mode= Multiply
  • Image-Mode-CMYK
  • Switch to background layer
  • Edit-Select All
  • Delete

My method for separating lines onto it’s own layer is different now:

It’s called the “Channel” line art trick, and it works just as well and almost as easily, but results in a layer of line art where the white is literally not there and yet the black and gray lines are merely transparent as opposed to being in multiply mode, which results in a lesser ink density.

Here’s the process:

  1. Scan line art as grayscale image
  2. Create a new blank layer, rename it “Inks”
  3. Go to the “Channels” palette, there is only one channel called “Gray”
  4. At the bottom of the channels palette, click the “dashed circle” icon entitled “Load Channel as Selection”
  5. In “Select” drop down menu, select “Inverse”
  6. Go to your “Inks” layer
  7. Press “D” on your keyboard to reset swathes so full black in active color
  8. Press “Option” + “”Delete” to fill selection with black
  9. On background layer, press “Command” + “A” to select and then “Delete” to delete line art on that layer
  10. Convert to RGB or CMYK

Using this technique, your line art layer will contain all your lines but the white will be gone, rather than just inert due to the multiply mode. So instead of this:

??á©2008 Tom Richmond

You get this:

??á©2008 Tom Richmond

The great thing is that the channels trick also preserves the subtle gray lines and any washes or values you had in the original inks, as the selection of the channel is smart enough to not just select the absolutes but also the transparencies of the image. You can use this trick to create as many layers of line and colored objects as you want and merge them at will to create layered images. best of all, the transparent black reacts differently to merging than the “multiplied” black, resulting in lower ink densities.

The one caveat here is that you should scan your lines in at a higher resolution for this technique to make sure you do not lose any linework. I do most of my inks at 200% of print size, so that is plenty large if I scan at 300 dpi. If I was inking at 150% or closer to print size, I’d bump up the resolution of my scan to twice print resolution, or say 600 dpi as opposed to 300 dpi.

The end result here is that I have all the black linework on a layer above a blank background, in CMYK color mode, at 300 DPI and print size, ready to paint. Setting the ink layer to “Multiply” makes all the white areas transparent, essentially making the inks into an old fashioned “film-pos” like the old school comic book colorists used to use. The gray lines become transparent to a degree relating to their density, while black lines are solid. We are now ready to paint!

Whew, this scanning garbage made for a long entry. We’ll move on to the last stage, color, tomorrow.


  1. Danny says:

    Thank you Tom. Good advise. I’ve been using a very similar technique for a while now. It works great. I tired your version and the result is the same. It makes colouring in Photoshop a lot easier. I often put another coloured background in afterwards. It makes it easier to see the inking against the chessboard background.

  2. Erik Johnson says:

    Hi, Tom. I had the privilege of watching you ink (Spider Man?) during a demonstration at an NCC convention and I’ve often wondered how you got that large piece of art into digital format for coloring. Too bad they don’t make scanners bigger. Thanks for a very entertaining and informative tutorial.

  3. Kyle says:

    I’ve done this before following tutorials but I always end up forgetting how the next time I need to do it. I’ll have to bookmark this.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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