One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How do you ink your pencils?”

My answer? “BLUELINES”

Back in the Ancient Days (before computers), animators, cartoonists, and architects used to use something called non-photo blue pencil. You sketched your underdrawing in blue and then you drew your final lines in black over the blue. Then, when you went to Ye Olden Xerox Machine and made a copy, the blue was a shade that didn’t reproduce, and you’d be left with copies of only the black. It was a bit like magic and sure beat erasing pages and pages of pencil lines!

Behold, the mighty non-photo blue lead, tool of the Ancients.

While there is no reason you can’t still draw in non-photo blue and ink over it the way the Ancients did, I prefer the modern digital version: Printing your scanned (or digital) pencils in cyan ink only, inking on top of the blue in black (or grey or some color NOT blue-ish), then scanning ’em in and editing out the blue lines in Photoshop so that all you’re left with are your finished lines.

It’s like magic!


To convert your pencils to blue, it’s pretty straightforward: Open your digital or scanned image in photoshop. Copy your image. Create a new file in CMYK mode. Open the Cyan channel. Paste. Go back to your primary CMYK channel, and voila! Your image is now 100% Cyan! Easy peasy!

PRINTING that cyan image, however, is another matter.


Most printers (basically all printers) are programmed to automatically adjust any image that comes through them. Printer programs operate under the assumption that most of their users are trying to print real-world photos, not garishly bright pure cyan blue images. If you send a 100% cyan image to your printer, it will think there’s been a mistake in lighting and will therefore adjust your pretty cyan lines to look more “realistic”. This adjustment results in bluelines that turn out greyish or even purple rather than blue, and THAT is a problem. A big one.

These two images may look very similar, but the image on the left has magenta automatically added to it by my printer’s default settings. The image on the right had it’s color adjustment manually set and is 100% cyan dots only.

Up close, the difference is far more noticeable. See the yellow and magenta dots scattered throughout the cyan on the left? On the right, it’s cyan print dots only.

In order for this blueline method to work, your bluelines need to print absolutely 100% CYAN. There cannot be even a speck of yellow or magenta or black amongst them, otherwise when you go to edit out your bluelines later, you end up with a “ghost” image under your inks like this:

On the left in a ghost image from the leftover magenta and yellow print dots. On the right is the pure-cyan image after edits (but no inks yet!). The image on the right completely disappears, but the one of the left…you’re stuck with it. It can’t be edited out later, not matter what you do!

The solution to printing 100% Cyan ink is, unfortunately (and annoyingly), not simple. There is no one-size-fits-all setting or some magic plugin or app that will make your printer print from only the Cyan ink head–not unless you’re willing to dish out hundreds or even a few thousand for professional RIP software!

For most people, getting 100% Cyan bluelines without ghosting requires testing your printer and playing with its settings until you find its goldilocks cyan print zone.

HOWEVER, if you have an Epson printer, today is your lucky day! Because I’ve already done the work here (hours and hours and hours) and can get you started with some of my own default settings.


I use an Epson Workforce 7710, but I have used other Epson printers, and the dialog boxes are virtually all the same.

First, open your blueline image in photoshop, and change it’s opacity to somewhere between 5-20% (your personal preference will vary). This will lighten your lines so that they are easier to ink over and easier to edit out later. 100% cyan is really quite dark! Also, this reduces the printer’s propensity to add magenta and yellow.

Now go to print. Select your printer and make sure under color management, that Color Handling is set to “Printer Manages Colors” and that Rendering Intent is set to Perceptual. Now go to Printer Setup and select “Print Settings…”

Under print settings, go to “More Options”, change Color Correction to Custom and select “Advanced…”

Select “Color Controls”, Color Mode should be “Epson Vivid”, and under “Slide Bar” adjust your inks as follows:

Cyan: 13
Magenta: -25
Yellow: -25

Select OK, make sure any other color correction settings are turned off under “Image Options” (there’s often smoothing/sharpening applied by default), select your paper size and type, print quality, and whatever else you prefer, select OK and print!

(tip: you can save these settings as a profile in your printer settings to make sure you don’t have to redo this every single time you print.)


If you have a different printer or want to find your own optimal settings, the first thing you’re going to need is a printer’s (also called a jeweler’s) loupe. You can’t see print dots with the naked eye, but with a loupe, you can!

A loupe, commonly used by printers to check the quality of prints. Also, possessed by at-home print nerds like myself. Get yourself a cheap one for $10 if you don’t have one already.

The second thing you’re going to need…is PATIENCE. Sometimes, you hit the right settings right off the bat, and you’re good to go! But more likely, you’re going to have try, try, try again. Label each print with the settings you used (tedious, I know, but you’ll forget what you have and haven’t adjusted yet if you don’t!). Print small so you aren’t wasting ink. Reuse your test paper and move your test image to different areas each time so you aren’t wasting paper.

I also recommend lightening your blueline image in photoshop by reducing it’s layer opacity somewhere between 5%-20%. The darker your image gets, the more other-color noise it will add to balance out the cyan. It also makes it easier to ink over. Solid cyan ink is DARK.

When you finally start your test prints, begin by turning off your all printer’s auto-adjustment settings that have to do with image control. Switching your printer settings to manual color control is a good start towards getting a clean cyan print. If your printer has controls to adjust each ink color separately, reduce your magenta and yellow inks down as far as they go. However, you don’t necessarily always have to increase the cyan too (it can make it darker and start bringing in black!). And make sure anything like “edge sharpening” or “fix redeye” or whatnot are all OFF.

Getting the print results you need for good clean bluelines takes determination. I have literally tested every setting on my printer, every print setting in Photoshop (where photoshop manages colors instead of the printer), as well as played with specific color and printer profiles. Printers have a mind of their own though, no matter how you adjust your colors on Photoshop’s end, so ultimately, I recommend you start out trying to make your adjustments on your printer’s end before tackling print adjustments through Photoshop’s printer profiles and settings. They get complicated, and most of them will over-adjust your image even more than your printer will!

Eventually, however, with enough play, you’ll look through your loupe and see nothing but cyan. Then, rejoice! Save your settings and don’t lose them! You don’t want to have to do this AGAIN. EVER.

Getting a clean cyan print is the biggest headache in the digital bluelines method, but it’s worth it because once you have your setup and settings all programmed in, it’s QUICK!


Once you’ve printed out your bluelines, you can ink and draw over them however you want. But once you’re done, then what? Unlike a Xerox machine, your scanner is not going to automatically drop out your bluelines. You will have to do so manually in photoshop.

First things first: I could write a whole dang book on best scanning practices. I am not going to do so here. Instead, I recommend using VueScan which is, bar none, some of the best scanning software on the market because you can turn off all the crummy auto-adjust settings that tend to come bundled with practically every prepackaged scanning software out there.

Next, go and hunt down a copy of the VueScan Bible by Sascha Steinhoff (if you can find it), OR live by these rules: save your photo editing for Photoshop. A good scan usually means turning any color adjustments in the scanning software OFF. You can always edit out things like paper tone in photoshop later, but you can’t take back pixels you edited out in the original scanned file! Forcing the scanner to do the image editing work typically results in subpar final lineart. SAVE THE EDITING FOR PHOTOSHOP.

A couple more scanning tips: scan as a lossless TIFF (NOT jpeg!!!!!!!!!!), scan 24 bit sRGB (you do NOT need a huge gamut for this kind of scan), and scan MINIMUM 600 dpi. You can always downsize your image later to whatever your final print settings will be, but a higher quality scan will be easier to clean up and edit. If you are scanning lineart for a book that will be toned, however, I recommend 1200 dpi, if your computer can handle it. It will be beautiful, trust me!

I scanned this image at 1600 dpi because that is my scanner’s native resolution. Smudges, hairs, dust, smears and paper tint can be handled in photoshop. Don’t let your scanner do it for you. Good scans are often dark and dirty!

Once I’ve scanned my image, the first thing I usually do, before anything, is edit out PAPER TONE. Theoretically, you could do this adjustment in your scanner software, but Photoshop does it better.

To edit out paper tone, got to “Image” –> “Adjustments” –> “Curves”. In Curves, select the white dropper tool then click on a clear area of the image. This sets your white point to the color of your paper and adjusts your entire image accordingly.

Once you have edited out paper tone, double-check that your image is in RGB mode, then go to Channels, select your Blue channel, and….MAGIC! As long as you succeeded at printing your bluelines in pure cyan, your bluelines will DISAPPEAR.

Now select your whole image (while still in the Blue channel), copy, and paste into a new greyscale document or as a layer over your original image.

Undoubtedly, you may need to edit and adjust your image to your final preference, but otherwise…you’re done!

Next up on Let’s Make Magic!: ISOLATING LINE ART

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