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Home > Articles > Tutorial: How to Letter Comics the Comicraft Way

Tutorial: How to Letter Comics the Comicraft Way

  1. Introduction
  2. Character Study
  3. Fighting Words
  4. Title Deeds
  5. Electronic Lettering Composition
  6. Hand Lettering

Fighting Words: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About SFX But Were Afraid to Ask

Sound effects (SFX) present letterers with an opportunity for a little creative expression. Size, font style, and the color treatment of a particular SFX will all contribute to the way sound is perceived. The comic book reader was, for over 50 years, accustomed to the look of hand-rendered lettering. At Comicraft, we create the same organic look using a computer rather than a pen. Remember, though, that it is often useful to sketch out your idea on paper before creating the same effect on the screen. Varying your font choices will keep things interesting, but be sure to use a select group of SFX fonts for each comic, as your choices will help determine the book's identity.

1. Pick out a font you've created which best suggests the sound being made, and type out the word (see 'B' in column right). In this instance, I've used ClobberinTime. Many writers will lean on the keyboard to convey loudness (see 'A' in column right), so feel free to omit a few 'A's and 'K's. And editors are also likely to point out that sounds are not exclamations, so generally you should leave out the exclamation points (which writers often include to suggest intensity). Letterers can best communicate volume with the size and style of the effect.

2. Create Outlines (under the "Type" menu in Illustrator), and position the letters on top of each other while varying their placement slightly to give liven them up ('C'). Paste each letter to the front of the one on its right ('D'). Back in ye olde days of pen and ink, letters were drawn one after the other, and so somehow this just looks right.

3. Decide where the loudest part of the word is, and enlarge/reduce letters accordingly. Also think about where the sound is coming from on the artwork: If the sound is coming from a specific location (such as a punch to the mouth), the letters should get bigger as they "move" away.


If you have a tall, narrow space, try stacking and rotating the letters.

Here I broke the Front-to-Back rule to keep it readable.

You can also use the "Free Distort" filter in Illustrator to enhance this effect.

TIP: the Rotate, Scale and Skew tools are great for varying the shape and orientation of each letter. But be careful with the Skew -- too much will give you something that looks nothing like what could be drawn by hand, let alone read by the human eye.

4. Now that you have a nicely-constructed word skeleton, it's time to give it some depth and color. Using varied stroke weights, and the "Copy" (Command-C) and "Paste In Front" (Command-F) commands, you can do quite a variety of stuff. Make sure to "Group" (Command-G) your effect BEFORE you start layering it -- this makes it MUCH easier to go back and change color fills and strokes on the various layers.

ADVANCED TECHNIQUE For particulary large SFX, or whenever you need to let the artwork show through the effect, try this:
1. "Unite" the skeleton (Filter: Pathfinder-"Unite")
2. Set the paint style to a thick black stroke (8pt or so) with NO fill.
3. "Copy", "Paste in Front", and set that paint style to a thinner (about half that) white stroke with no fill.

SUPER-ADVANCED TECHNIQUE Let the artwork show through without losing the lines between the letters:
1. Select the next to last letter
2. "Copy" (Command-C)
3. "Paste In Front" (Command-F)
4. "Send to Back" (Command-minus or Command-Shift-[)
5. Shift-select the letter to its right
6. Filter: Pathfinder-"Minus Back"
7. Select the next letter to the left and go back to step 2 until finished.

5. Using Color: If the comic is going to be printed in color, you'll need to make sure your sound effects (and all your lettering) is properly trapped. The finer points of this could take up a whole page of its own, but here's a basic rule: Make sure to overprint all black lines by checking the "Overprint Stroke" box in Illustrator's "Attributes" menu, and that will prevent most potential problems.

Next: Title Deeds

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