Computer Lettering for Comic Books: A Primer by Sean Glumace

I wrote this tutorial about comic book lettering for a presentation I did for the Friends of Lulu LA back in 1996 and it is still floating around out on the web in various forms. Over the years I have lettered books for most of the major publishers and independents, and this process has not changed much.

While most of it is still up to date and relevant, I have republished it here and added and removed a few things. One of the major changes is that I use InDesign instead of QuarkXPress now. Contact me if you have any questions or need help!

This article is still live online in its original form at http://hans.presto.tripod.com/glumace_primer.html

Ok….I never do my major lettering in Photoshop. (Note: I still agree, don’t do your major lettering in Photoshop, but now with vector based objects and type in Photoshop you can do so much more than you could 15 years ago) I would suggest you use Adobe Illustrator to letter. I’ve been lettering for a number of years now and here’s a quick how to do it primer:

1) Take your final image (Note: Usually a 300dpi TIFF file that is flattened from the original Photoshop document that was used to color or enhance) from Photoshop and place it in an illustrator template that you make with your guides (usually 6.75 x 10.5 but that may vary) on a layer by itself. You may also want to streamline your artwork if it’s simple, this is when you take a bitmapped image and convert it to a vector based image. I prefer this because the final output of the page is in EPS format and it is only one “package” instead of two files when I put it together in quark.

2) Create another layer on top. This is where you will be placing the lettering. (Note: You may use multiple layers now) I also suggest that you use open type fonts. ComicCraft Fonts and other major font publishers make fonts in OpenType. You will be able to use these on both the Mac and PC.  I usually use 7-8 text with no stroke weight when lettering, but that may vary as well.

3) As you start to letter I like to have the script written out in a Microsoft Word or emailed to me. This protects me from doing creative “editing” when typing in a script from a hardcopy, plus it speeds things up because all I have to do is cut and paste.

4) Now to the word balloons…. First I lay down the script and by eye I try to shape it into an oval or round shape. This may take some practice to do, but you will get the hang of it. Then I take the oval tool in illustrator and draw the bubble around the text with a white fill, I do this fill because if you didn’t you would have the art work showing through. I try to give an ample amount of space around the text the outside line. I also use all 1 pt. stroke weights on the bubbles (but this may vary as well). Now you are ready to do the monkey tails (or balloon tails).

5) Monkey tails…. This is where it gets tricky the first few times out. Use the pen tool to create a point where you want the tail to start. Then create another point where you want the tail to end in a point, then hold down the option key and click on that point, this will redirect the vector handle and you will get a sharp point. Then create the last point back inside the bubble where you want the tail to end. You know have a custom Monkey Tail! But it looks ugly with it sticking up into the word bubble, not a problem, under filters in illustrator select pathfinder then unite and they will become one, also your text may “disappear at this point, but don’t worry just send the balloon to the back (apple key + minus key) and you’ll be in business.

5) As you letter in illustrator you will find that when you need special effects (like POW or BANG) the filters and commercial plug ins like will come in handy. Many font foundries make fonts that have all the special effects built in, so all you need to do is type and get that POW or BANG you need. Plus with Illustrator you can just make corrections by retyping or moving a bubble from place to place.

6) The last steps…first when you are done with the page delete the layer with the TIFF or image file in it… you now have just the text on a blank page. Save it as an EPS file… this is very important…if you don’t things may not work correctly! I also try to name files accordingly…. example page01.eps… this helps out later. Remember to save your TIFF or image files the same! EX: page01.tif.

7) Then it is on to InDesign for the final output. This is the simplest of the process to do. First create a page template to the size of your book. I usually use a 6.75 x 10.5 page with a 1/4 inch margin, some prefer 1/8 inch, but as I said before this may vary. Then start laying in the images on each page. TIFF or image file should be laid down first then the eps file ontop, line them up ( I do this by eye but you may want to make a crop mark off the page in illustrator and photoshop to help). I also try to build the entire book in InDesign at this point, letters to the editor page, ads etc. this also includes the inside and inside rear cover files and call this file my interiors file, then build an exterior color cover file.

8) AND THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP!! SEND ALL OF YOU FONTS WITH THE FILES!!!!!

I don’t know how much I can stress this point. You need to send ALL of your font with the book. In InDesign you want to do a FILE>PACKAGE to collect all the files that you used and fonts. Even if they are common fonts like Helvetica and such, dont assume that the printer will have them. If you fail to do this I can promise you that bad things will happen….late printing, wrong fonts etc….. just dont do it. Also send a complete set of proofs and a mockup as well as color keys or match proofs for the cover.

Well I hope that this helps or answers your questions.

Any who if you guys find something wrong or have a better way of doing it give me a yell, I’d love to hear from you!!

Thanks

Sean Glumace

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Author: Sean Glumace

Sean Glumace been a graphic and web designer, WordPress instructor, design teacher, comic book letterer and all around creative person for the past two decades.

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