An inker, also known as an embellisher or finisher, is a vital part of the creation of comic books and graphic novels. Many inkers work in teams with a penciler, who draws the initial outlines of each image. Responsible for the finished outlines of a graphic image, an inker must possess considerable skill and speed as an artist, and may also be involved in creating the story that is visually represented on the page.
In a traditional comic book artist team, the penciler draws initial outlines of each image using artist's pencils. While this gives him or her considerable control over the basic design, an inker has the power to subtly enhance and define areas in ink that initial penciling can't accomplish. In hand-drawn comics, an inker is extremely important because most printing presses cannot pick up the lighter outlines done by pencil. Without an inker, much of the shading and outlining would be lost in the reproduction process.
Inkers typically have a background in art, and may even hold college-level degrees in an artistic medium. Although occasionally heckled as not being artistic, many comic book experts believe that the job of an inker requires every bit as much artistic skill and speed as a penciler. The stigma of inker as an unskilled job probably comes from the fact that it is sometimes a job given to an apprentice or assistant who is not yet ready to create his or her own designs. Nevertheless, even apprentices are usually skilled professionals with several years of training and artistic experience.
As the digital age has overtaken the world, some inking is now done on computers. Using comic book-specific programs, digital inkers perform the same job as hand-drawing inkers, but can do so with considerably more speed and consistency. Additionally, a computer inker has the advantage of being able to easily and swiftly erase mistakes, a problem that hand-drawing finishers often face.
Because many well-known comic book artists began as embellishers, some choose to continue to ink their own work, as opposed to handing it over to a second artist to complete. This can slow the process considerably, but allows the initial artist to retain much greater control over the finished image. Being able to draw and ink images is often reserved for the top performers in the field; it may be seen as a sign of status and superior skill.
Many comic book artists suggest that to begin a career in inking, it is vital to gain art skills. Many fine arts schools offer courses that could be beneficial to a comic book artist, including figure drawing and computer courses that train artists on the newest art software. Some comic book artists have no formal training, but instead have taught themselves through reading and practical experience.