In a few weeks, my 20th anniversary Dilbert book comes out, titled Dilbert 2.0. I'll tell you more about that later. As part of the promotion for the book, I made a video of how I draw Dilbert on my computer and posted it on Amazon.com. Check it out.


The rest of this post is for art nerds who care about this sort of thing. I'll see the rest of you tomorrow.

The equipment you see me using is a Wacom Cintiq 21ux. Here's a page that describes it


It's attached to a plain Windows PC running XP. The software is Photoshop. I created my own font for the lettering, using a commercial font creation packages. I forget which one.

Obviously I started my career drawing on paper, with the first draft in pencil, and then inking over the pencil lines. The dot pattern used for shading was a sort of decal you could buy at high end art stores. You placed the decal on your art and then used an X-Acto knife to cut it to fit.

It was a tedious process, and took about twice as long as my current method. When finished, I would take a photocopy and mail the original to United Media in New York. The flaw in this process is that once the local Post Office figures out who you are, the original art starts disappearing. So the next step involved scanning the originals and e-mailing them, which took forever with the computers of the day.

The next phase in the tool evolution involved drawing the basic art on paper, then scanning it into the computer to finish. Once scanned, I used Photoshop just to clean up stray lines, add the shading with a "fill" command, and do the lettering. I created my own dot pattern for the fills, through trial and error.

During those years I used a Macintosh for the art, and a PC for everything else, partly to be compatible with licensees. Every Mac I owned was a lemon, crashing ten times a day on average. My Windows machines were all relatively sturdy, so I moved everything to Windows and things have been great since. (You don't need to tell me your Mac never crashes. I know.)

About four years ago I moved to a fully paperless process, using the Cintiq 21ux. It took me about three months to get the hang of drawing on screen. It's an entirely different feel, scale, and process.

I still draw a first draft, as you will see in the video. It's hard to tell, but the lines of the rough art are jaggy because of the scale I use to draw it. The rough art is in its own "layer," which is Photoshop lingo. When I'm happy with the rough art, I click on the layer and change the opacity of the lines to about 25%. That makes the rough look like a light gray line. I do that so that when I do the final art in another layer, the black lines of the final are easy to distinguish from the lighter lines of the rough draft below it. I zoom to 200% for the final art, and use the paintbrush tool at size 6, with 25% hardness, giving the lines a smooth look.

The starting file is 600 dpi, grayscale. The comic size is about 2" x 7" with some extra white space around the perimeter. You can draw in any size that is proportional to the finished product. It took some trial and error to figure out what works best for me.

The daily strips are colored by an outside firm. I color the Sunday strips myself, in Photoshop. It takes about ten minutes, mostly just using the paint bucket took and clicking a color into each area. Before I add the color, I convert from grayscale to bitmap then back to grayscale and up to CMYK. The detour to bitmap makes the color fills cleaner, going all the way to the black lines without leaving a little border.

Most syndicated cartoonists still draw on paper, then scan the art and e-mail it to their syndication company. They're going to be pissed when they see this video and realize how much extra work they have been doing.

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Oct 13, 2008
I liked how you use Photoshop. Many years ago I found out how it's much easier to make smooth lines using Illustrator, so I've stuck to that. But there are advantages to Photoshop too, so I think I'll fool around with that.

You wrote: "Before I add the color, I convert from grayscale to bitmap then back to grayscale and up to CMYK. The detour to bitmap makes the color fills cleaner, going all the way to the black lines without leaving a little border."

You can skip the detour if you set the Tolerance of the paint bucket tool to a higher number. 99 seems to work for me.
Oct 12, 2008
I just read the above 4 lines of this post. Could you also post me secretly the ebook for your new work? That would be great.. coz.. as you've already enjoyed the cubicle world, you know how much we have left at the end of the month !!! (or even at the start of the month, doesnt matter actually :) )

Shhh!! I'll never ever distribute the ebook to anyone.

Others who want this copy, please email me (after the book release) !!!
Oct 11, 2008
Scott - Thanks for the insight into your system. I use a Wacom pen / tablet (a few levels down from the one you use) as well and picked up some good pointers from your video / entry that I hadn't thought of...like the rough draft to finished draft layer idea. I'm also glad to see that you are using Photoshop. I'm doing the same but was wondering internally if I should be using Illustrator...I admit, I really don't know the difference between the two. By the looks of things, I can continue using Photoshop like you! Thanks again. - Kent

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Oct 10, 2008
Scott, have you ever heard of ERGONOMICS?
Drawing like that on a vertical screen with your arms in the air for hours... ouch!

...and I always assumed you have a bunch of pre-drawn Dilberts, Dogberts, etc in a folder, and you just drag-and-drop in "Dilbert looking left variant 43" and "Boss looking right variant 27" into cartoon box 1, add some funny text, and then go on to box nr 2... seeing you doing it so ...1992-style... was a bit shocking actually. Using pre-drawn characters instead of drawing umpteenth time the same old Dilbert looking to the left does not lessen the fun in your comics!

"You still have a lot to improve in your effectiveness, Mr Scott. Our company-wide search for bottlenecks has finally found its victim, I see."

(Or are you just showing off for your readers here, and have carefully closed that window with all those pre-drawn Dilberts before the film team visited you? :-)

Oct 9, 2008
You know, a lot of web cartoonists -- and at this point I consider you one of them since Dilbert's base of operations really seems to be this web site (compared to most newspaper syndicated comics which are mainly paper-based) -- use a similar setup to what you have. But if you want really easy comics, you should totally check out http://www.qwantz.com (Dinosaur Comics). Apparently the author of that has syndication in parts of Canada.
Oct 9, 2008
The name of the book I referred to was "Dilbert Un Cut" but the naughty word editor changed it because obviously "un cut" as one word is naughty...
Oct 9, 2008
Can't wait to read the new book! That'll be great. So... are ALL the comics included, or just select ones?

Also, I haven't looked it up, yet, but is the comic on the video of a published or unpublished sort?

Plus, I would still love to see a "Dilbert !$%*!$ version containing ALL alternate versions of strips throughout the year plus online exclusive strips.
Oct 9, 2008
I would like to have one of those, but I think you did a wise thing, being your style so clean, the cintiq goes perfect for you.
Anyway i couldn't avoid noticing something interesting. You use the pencil with the right hand, but the mouse with left? at the same time? I'm curious about that..:D
Oct 9, 2008
I've had a cintiq for about 4 months, and love it - I 've been using it for my blog (www.theeverythingproject.com), sketches, and videoediting - it's significantly easier for me to use than a mouse or touchpad (I skipped the tablet step and went straight to the cintiq).

It can be laid nearly flat if you wish (some animators even mount it flush with their drafting boards: http://dangoldman.net/2007/09/16/my-turntablet-a-modified-install/) - but I prefer to use it upright - if you're used to a drafting board, it's a more comfortable position than flat on a desk.

Thanks for the video, Scott - it's always great to see how someone works!
Oct 9, 2008
Thanks for sharing this video, it's great to see how different people work. It's good to know even old pros use transform to resize. I keep my characters heads and bodies in different layers to make it easy to adjust proportions as well, but all these processes do evolve with practice, I hope to use fewer layers as I get more confident in my lines.

I'm jealous of your cintiq for sure, and your font. I'm using letters as brush presets for now, it's a little tedious but forces me to be concise, which I like. Your process does seem very streamlined but you could perhaps save more time if you used keyboard shortcuts with one hand while drawing with the other, takes some time to master but saves time in the long run. Thanks again, great stuff for Photoshop cartoonist geeks, a small crowd I'm sure.

Oct 9, 2008
Dear Scott,
Really great and thank you once again for all the good things you do. Reader "Golander" has taken the words out of my mouth and I followed his example. The new book is ordered and to make the overseas shipping a bit more cost efficient I have added two 2009 calendars and that book where you add value.
Oct 9, 2008
First I want to say that I enjoyed watching you work; I had no idea that sort of technology was available for cartoonists although I know tablet PCs have been around for a while.

But mainly I wanted to say THANK YOU for giving me a reason to poke my MAC-obsessed husband in the ribs. You're the first artist I've heard of who has had complaints about his MAC platform. I'm a freelance writer and I've been a PC user for, well, EVER, and my husband is pushing me to switch. Thanks for giving me a little extra incentive to hold out a while longer.

Cheers from an American writer in Paris!
The Bold Soul
Oct 9, 2008
The better comic artists do use computer assistance, but the fans have this romantic idea of a comic artist and his or her trusty dip pen, doing it the way comics were done fifty years ago. Ironically the better comics of the turn of the century were readable, because the creator would use the most advanced technology of the day. The others I can barely read because the artist made the words so tiny you have to guess what the characters are saying.

Still, since Charles Shultz personally wrote every single letter, lovingly, on the page, that is still the standard until you are so popular you can write your own rules. Not that I mean any disrespect to this great artist. I am only underscoring how obsessed the fans are with keeping comics the same as thirty years ago.
Oct 8, 2008
You're saying you can't trust U.S. Post Office employees? Heaven help us. Maybe I shouldn't be believing what Obama is telling us, either.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 8, 2008
Scott > the only thing that disappointed me in the video was that there was no appearance by your cat! I am one of the art nerds that read the entire post - thanks for a peek at how you do it.
Oct 8, 2008
wow, Im impressed

ive just started to use a pen tablet to do some animations, but they take me some time... and im not that precise ^_^*..... its hard the transition from pen to "magical pen" (hehe)

anyway, I was just simply amazed about how you drawed the first draft (which I though was the original comic strip).... when you grayscaled it to draw over it I was like, "it looks great, what tweaks does it need?"

keep the good work, it is appreciated
Oct 8, 2008
First, thank you for sharing your thoughts; I do believe that by reading your blog over the last year or two. I am a bit smarter and have been absolutely entertained and in true web 2.0 fashion I have linked to and sent out many of your witty and thought provoking items of information. Today though I found myself in an interesting position. As I just wrote I find value in your blog, so much value that I clicked on the link to watch the video you kindly made available on Amazon.. but what struck me prior to the click was... humm..odd amazon, hosting videos I wasn't aware they hosted videos, then I clicked and wow great integration of content and commerce, I realize what a smart marketer you are, I really appreciated how you gave me something of value before presenting me with an opportunity to buy your new book. Thank you for being considerate of my time. I have wondered how I could support your efforts to sustain this blog, as I said it is valuable to me, I thought and am occasionally guilty of randomly clicking on ads. Also, I have wandered by your "stuff" at the book store and thought, I should support Mr. Adams I appreciate his content. Yet, it wasn't the right time and I was afraid you wouldn't be able to "track" the event that made me a happy customer. Today, I am going back to the link above and will buy the book. Thank you for your blog, and for Dilbert. I hope the book is good
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 8, 2008
Wow. Way cool. As a graphic desinger though I am amazed that you are comfortable drawing like that. I suppose it's similar to using an easel in the olden days but I'm much more comfortable with my old Wacom and drawing on the flat and looking at the screen.

BTW, where's that cat that hangs out with you? I'm surprized he wasn't warming up the keyboard.
Oct 8, 2008
Thanks for sharing Scott. Oh how I would love a tablet monitor. I looked into the Modbook, a notebook with a Wacom screen, but I don't have the budget for one. :-( So I still draw my comics by hand on paper with a dip pen and scan them in to PS to touch up and color them. One plus to paper is I do get to sell my originals to anyone who wants to buy them. Once again thanks for showing us how you draw Dilbert.

---Vince, http://www.ohnocomics.com
Oct 8, 2008
Very interesting. I've used a WACOM tablet for years. To me, the shift to drawing directly on the computer was a lot like going from manual typing to a word porcessor. Once I realized how much easier it was, I wondered why why someone didn't tell me sooner. (The Undo feature is just as freeing in both applications).

Of course, art (like writing) is individual. There is no single "best" method for everyone.
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