Pencil to Tablet Transition

I’m buckling to the overwhelming common sense of using a graphics tablet instead of scanning pencil animation. I have found it immediately rewarding for my rough animation, but my first foray into clean up has been pretty clumsy and far from the standard I can do with the traditional pencil on paper.

At the moment I’m borrowing a tablet at night from the studio that employs me to get the hang of it before I plunge into a purchase and project.

I’m just wondering what people’s experience within this forum is with the transition from pencil to wacom was like, especially with ToonBoom. How did you go about making yourself comfortable with the drawing tablet and how long till the standard of your work reflected what you are capable of on paper?



My drawing ability is nowhere near what you’ve got going on there at your blog. When i got a 4x6 Graphire 4-5 years ago I thought it would make up for my artistic shortcomings, and it drove me to paper and traditional forms before being able to even think properly about the tablet.

That said, I’ve learned that my clean up can get cleanups on its cleanups by reworking my brush strokes with the eraser or brush tools. I bought a tutorial on doing this in Flash from Cartoon Solutions that helped an awful lot, then applied what I learned there to TBS.

It really helps me that Toon Boom has the rotating drawing disk, and reworks my brush strokes less than Flash does. It’s important for me to remember, however, that each paint stroke, even overlapping, is a separate vector object. This really helps when I’m re-using parts of a drawing through a sequence, because I can re-work or delete specific strokes very easily.

I’m sort of walking around the question a little here, but I’m basically saying that for frame by frame or cutout work, your brush tool works well for cleanup if you want thick-n-thin lines.

After a bit of focused work this year with it, I’ve improved a lot with my Wacom to where I don’t really use paper any more and hardly even touch a normal mouse anymore. While I’ve got a long way to go, I think you’ll do just fine with your level of expertise. For me, I just need to run a whole project a certain way to get used to it.

So I basically have to roll my sleeves up and get some practice in hmm? Yet another learning curve…

Yeah, the virtual rotating disc is pretty useful- I liked that. I’m mainly having problems with putting the pen down in the right place to continue my lines. It’s just frustrating to learn how to look in an entirely differnet place (ie the screen) to where I’m placing the pen. It just feels weird after years of focusing so hard on the tip of a pencil and building clean lines up with flicks of the hand. I have to figure out a whole new technique as I aquaint myself with the tablet.

I’m still getting the feel for what I should have the pen smoothing set to as well… I’ll get there though- thanks for the advice! I’ll keep working at it.



i’ve got comfortable with a wacom (6x8) pretty fast, although in my paper drawings i prefer washed ink. but clear lines are also ok, and a part of my work.

i use a tablet for lines and for today i can’t imagine to reproduce any of the ‘washed’ drawings directly on the computer. so i strictly divide my work in the following way:
paper → either lines or washed ink
tablet/computer → clear lines.
it works pretty well with me.


p.s. if anybody cares, some of my works are on my home page all over the place, mostly under comics/illustrations/bits and pieces:

Of course we care, Rob. Thanks for sharing. -JK

Great stuff Rob and Rob!

Like here on the forum, the general concensus amongst my peers is that the tablet and pen is just a matter of getting used to it. I’ve been asking around the background department at work- they had to switch from their paintbrushes to wacom pens and Photoshop, which I imagine is a much harder transition to make.

Their advice was much the same as you good folks: “Keep going and don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”

The thing that started all this for me was an ex-colleague was showing his latest masterpiece to a few people before he posted it online (it’ll blow you away: but be patient, it’s 8mb or so and requires the latest flash player) and when I asked if he scans his artwork he explained that his process would slow down too significantly if he included the traditional pencil and paper.

When someone as good as that lays it out for you like that, you have to give his advice a go. Go see his work, it inspires the bejeezus out of me, giving me something to aim for!!

Thanks all. Time for me to get off the forum and get animating!


wow, thanx burton for the link.
the animation has an amazing pace and wonderful effects (smears/blurs). i can fully understand the possible amount of work during scanning of similar paper drawings.

did the guy do all the frames manually or did he use computer tweening? and what was the animation software?

Hi guy,

Really amazing work that is. I remember seeing other Flash movie featuring that caracter and I also remember all of them being totally insane.

I personnally think most of the animation has been made frame by frame but I could be mistaken. Anyway keep up the good work.


His name is Adam Phillips and apparently he used a 9x12 Wacom Tablet and drew everything from scratch within Flash. It’s 30 frames per second and it’s half singles and half twos. He cut back wherever he could, but as you can tell, that wasn’t much. So it’s mostly all hand animated with very little tweening. He has more detailed info on his site if you explore it a bit. He’s contributed to some texts on Flash and is a bit of a guru.

Just need to convert him to TBS and he’d be worthy of worship!


the guy is really outstanding. he’s got a style that clearly distinguishes him from other (flash) animators.
this ‘something special’ seems to be the atmosphere, the suspense, and the ability to masterly control the pace of the action: from a very slow to a rapid one. he’s thus unpredictable in his story-telling.

a great tip, thanx again.

Kind of late to the game, but I just wanted to mention that my preferred method is doing the rough animation in Painter and then importing and tracing over the pencil lines. It’s faster than scanning and the pencil tool in Painter feels a lot better than any vector tool.

I intend to switch to Plastic Animation Paper (which I first heard about in this forum) as soon as they come out with a Mac version.

I’ve also been meaning to try doing my cleanups in Painter as well and then using Toon Boom to vectorize the clean pencil lines. Painter has pretty terrible animation features, but you get a variety of drawing tools, a rotating work space like the rotating animation disk in Toon Boom, and of course you can also use it to paint bitmap background and other elements.

always, when i read such software commitments, i have a somewhat bad feeling.
the personal creativity cannot hinge on any software package, nor can be limited by one.

i have read about a german artist (wolfgang kiwus), who, still a few years ago, used a 286 pentium computer with 80mb hard disk and a matrix printer to produce his graphics…

should i comment on this?

I’m unfamiliar with Painter, Mark - do you have to save your drawings individually or does it allow you to do a batch of frames? Can it do playback or do you only do that in TBS after importing?



Painter uses a “frame stack” file format to do animation. This is extremely rudimentary. You can have up to 5 layers of onion skin/light table, which is an option you have to set while opening or creating a frame stack (if you want to change the number while working on your animation, you have to close it and reopen it.) The latest version has finally included an option to set the fps during playback. There is no keyframing or layers. You can have a background image in another document and select that as the “clone source”, which basically makes it appear in the background of whatever frame you are drawing when you turn on the onion skin/light table feature (so you can register your drawings to any background elements). The only way to navigate to a particular frame is to either use the forward/back buttons or select the frame number in the “go to frame…” dialogue. This can be a pain with a long movie. If you play your movie and then hit stop, it returns to whatever frame you were last working on.

The most annoying thing about it is, it automatically saves the frame stack every time you move from one frame to another. This means that, unless you create backup copies as you work, if you make a serious mistake you can’t undo or revert to last version saved.

There is a feature that allows you to rotoscope. You can create a new, blank movie with the size and length of an existing movie and set the existing movie as the “clone source”. The two movies will then be synced up and when you turn on the onion skin/light table you will see the corresponding frame from the “clone source” movie. So you can basically clean up your pencils or trace over video footage.

One nice feature, if you want to get artsy: Painter has paper textures and you can apply these to your frames. Not only that but you can set the position of the paper texture to be random, so that it doesn’t appear the same in every frame. That way it “flickers” and it looks like each drawing was done on a different piece of paper (or canvas or whatever).

Besides this, there are plenty of other texturing and special effects tricks you can create and apply to your animation. You can also record your brushstrokes as you draw and then export the resulting script into a frame stack sequence (so your drawing “builds” on screen).

You can output to all the usual file formats, including sequenced images to import into Toon Boom.

That’s pretty much the extent of Painter’s animation capabilities. Like I said, the pencil tool is nice and at least it beats sketching with vectors. If you have a Windows or Linux system you may want to check out That looks really good, from what I can tell. I still think Painter is a must-have program for its other features.