Affinity Photo for iPad is clearly an unrivalled photo editor – and it’s hard to argue with its one-off price of £19.99 – but how does Serif’s app fare when it comes to creating illustrations from scratch? For this article I’ve put the app through its paces while drawing and colouring a full comic page.
Just to spice things up a little, I decided to create this page far away from my usual studio mess, using Affinity Photo on the new iPad Pro10.5-inch with the Apple Pencil. It felt great to be truly mobile and to work whenever inspiration struck: in the back of the car on the way to the supermarket, a hospital waiting room and (of course!) a couple of dive bars.
Here's how I went about it.
01. Set up your comic page
Let’s start with finding Undo (this threw me on first use as I assumed it was a two-finger tap gesture) – it can be found in the bottom right along with Redo and Tooltip Assistant. Using the Rectangle tool, draw one square and then duplicate it (Commands > Duplicate) to make a row of three. If you don’t know the names of tools, just press the Tooltip Assistant. Then duplicate that row vertically to create a 10-panel layout.
To change the stroke width, tap Pen and change the Width. You can drag the values up and down by pressing Width or tapping it and typing values with the number keys. Tap Use Fill to remove the colour inside the rectangles.
Then group all panels and lock them by tapping Layer the More (the circle with three dots) and hit Lock. You’ll find Layer Opacity and Layer Blend Modes here too – ideally for me these would be in the main Layers panel and not an additional tap away, because we’re going to be changing and locking layers a lot in this project.
02. Start sketching
Pick a random brush and start drawing the rough layout of the comic. This will enable you to make sure the story flows correctly and there is enough room for the speech bubbles. A common newbie mistake is not to leave enough space for the bubbles and a pro shortcut is to use them to save time... if you know a bubble will obscure a large part of the background, it means less drawing and a longer lunch!
Traditionally, comic artists draw with non-reproducing blue pencils, and this has carried over into the digital realm. Choosing blue has no real function, but it makes the sketch easier draw over.
The thinking behind my choice of page layout is a tutorial for another day, but the basic idea is to vary the 'camera angle'. If the two characters here were just pictured side by side in every panel it would feel boring.
03. Add the speech bubbles and text
At this point it's a good idea to add quick speech bubbles that include the full text for the comic strip. There is a huge range of fonts installed in Affinity Photo, but at the time of writing you cannot add your own fonts, so I will letter this design properly in Affinity Designer on desktop later.
A great way to rapidly create speech bubbles is to first type your text by pressing Text and then Frame Text. Then on a new layer draw a rough shape around the each text block – it doesn’t matter what colour. Open Layer FX Studio and apply Outline (black) and Colour Overlay (white fill). Now you can draw speech bubbles.
A bonus tip is to add ‘mockup text’ by selecting Inner Glow. This helps you see the layout better without the hassle of typing in text.
04. Play around with brushes
The Daub brushes that come installed by default are fantastic, but I prefer a much more basic brush for inking. Create your own brush category by tapping Brush Studio then the hamburger icon > Add Category, and name it. Hit the hamburger again and then select New Round Brush.
In the image above you can see the settings I used. Very basic stuff – a solid brush that tapers at the ends is all I need really. You can fine-tune brush settings to an amazing degree, adjusting tilt sensitivity, hardness by angle and so on.
I should mention at this stage that I’m using an Apple stylus. Do you really need an Apple Stylus to use Affinity Photo on the iPad? For photo editing I don’t think it is essential, but for illustration I would say yes. To create lines with variable width it’s all about pen pressure.
05. Draw smooth lines with the brush stabiliser
I was playing with the app for over a week before I noticed the tiny white arrow icon to the right of the sub-tool menu. And what lay hidden there really made my day. I thought the Brush Stabiliser tools were only currently available in the Beta of Affinity Designer 1.6. But here they are.
To use a worn-out phrase: this tool is a game-changer. It allows you to draw smooth curves and lines in a very satisfying way. I love playing with this. Armed with your custom brush and Rope Stabiliser, you can get to work inking the page.
One little issue worth noting: in the current version 1.6.3 there is no line tool. However, you can just whip out your credit card and use that as an old fashioned ruler directly on the iPad.
06. Group and merge layers
One drawback of digital freedom is that you can get lost with too many layers. I used to suffer from 'fear of commitment' and keep dozens of ink layers. But I’ve found the best way to structure your project is to limit yourself to three ink layers. I name them: *INK 1*, **INK 2** and ***INK 3***, so I have no problem identifying them.
To add these three layers to a master INK folder: Slide select or hit the checkbox on your layers and then tap the folder icon. To change the name from ‘Unnamed’, tap More (circle with three dots) to reveal more options. At this point, I was a little confused because my folder is called ‘Unnamed’, while the label says ‘Group’. Tap 'Group' and rename your folder. You can rename individual layers the same way.
To merge multiple layers or folders into one layer just select the ones you want and tap Commands > Rasterise.
07. Colour the page
Now you have the full page inked you're ready to colour it. Tap Layer > More > Multiply in order to colour ‘behind’ your line art. Draw rectangle shapes behind each comic panel – this will enable you to block out the colours and also use the rectangles as a ‘folder’ to clip all the sub layers into.
To add colours I create a new layer and use some of the Daub Dry Media brushes. Depending on how you prefer to work, you can set the tool to create a new pixel layer automatically every time you use a brush. Turn this on or off in Document > Assistant.
For big shapes such as the coffin and the Explorer character I create a vector shape with the Pen tool. This allows me to clip in sub-layers easily and dynamically change the overall colours and shadows with the Gradient tool.
08. Adjust lighting and texture
As a final touch, add a texture to the character and some lighting to the scene. For textures you can use any photo or image and you will always be surprised with the results. Import images to your file by tapping Commands > Place and then choose the location; either from your Photos or Cloud storage. I placed a gingerbread texture, resized it and clipped into place.
To add a powerful lighting effect, tap Filters Studio > Lighting and drag the control lines and experiment with the Ambient, Specular, Shininess and Diffuse settings. I could play with textures and lighting all day.
So that was my first of hopefully many comics created completely on an iPad. Right now Affinity Photo is only a couple of months old, so I can only imagine what future versions will bring.