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Comic Lettering book

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

Hand Lettering

R esponse to our feature HOW TO LETTER COMICS THE COMICRAFT WAY has been very positive, However, a number of our readers have posted questions in relation to the topic of "Hand" lettering, claiming that our series is incomplete without some kind of disposition in relation to this subject, especially bearing in mind that Comicraft's president and first tiger, Richard Starkings is, himself, a recovering hand letterer. Our intrepid fontmeister and webspinner, John "JG" Roshell, confronted Starkings with our readers' queries at a recent Comicraft retreat in the Santa Monica mountains, and we are now able to present the definitive computer letterer's guide to the almost-but-not-quite-forgotten art of -- what was it again -- oh, yeah...

Hand Lettering

1. Tools:

(a) Pencils. Also known as a "back up word processor" by writers, the pencil works in much the same way as does the "pencil" tool in Illustrator , however you will also need a device known as a "Sharpener" as pencils can be used for only very short periods of time before they have to be refreshed. Before you invest in a sharpener, be aware that they are made by a number of different manufacturers and may have a bus port which is not compatible with your pencil. You will also notice a high degree of line weight variance during the course of a pencil's short life. Don't waste time looking for new supplies of toner, unfortunately pencils have to be completely replaced and requests for cheaper upgrades are most likely to be met with derision by greedy art suppliers eager to sell green lettering artists the same tool over and over again.

(b) An Ames Guide & a T-Square. Unlike your computer programs, your hand and eye do not seem to be capable of lettering without some sort of guideline. The Ames guide is an architect's tool which allows the hand letterer to draw pencil guidelines on which he might then letter with a pen. Be careful; the Ames guide must be used on a T-square platform and will not remember the various point sizes required for standard comic book lettering, let alone for different characters or different page dimensions. And be smart, etch a "reset button" on the Ames guide with an x-acto blade.

(c) Technical Pens & Speedball Nibs. If your only experience of lettering comic books has been with a computer, here's some bad news for the hand lettering novice or "calligrapher"; technical pens and speedball nibs are not equipped with undo features. "Whiteout", a crude but sometimes effective pen-and-paper equivalent to undo is available as a kind of plugin from some suppliers, but despite the careful application of this substance, our researchers have testified that whiteout is not dependable and will often cause lettering to revert to a previously saved version of your document if it is left in bright sunlight. Speedball nibs are strangely named, as they do not appear to be speedy or ball-pointed. Effective use of speedball nibs requires the application to the point of the nib of a thick black liquid known amongst those in-the-know as "ink", which is supplied in small bottles. Technical pens come with ink cartridges and are therefore somewhat less problematic than speedball nibs, however, these cartridges are about a one-hundredth the size of printer toner cartridges which will frustrate first time pen users accustomed to attending to their printers once a month rather than once a day. Computer letterers eager to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome will find relief with the use of pens, however, they will instead encounter the less well-known calligrapher's callous; an unpleasant swelling distinguished by a blackening of the digit closest to the pen reservoirs.

(d) Brushes. More bad news for those of you accustomed to the Illustrator toolbox; handheld brushes are available in different weights but each weight must be purchased separately and there are no preferences available to help you remember which weight you used last. Useful for grim screams and sfx or for filling in blacks on drop shadows, brushes (which also only work with ink) are nevertheless extremely messy and, once your lettering is composited on the artwork, bad brushstrokes are very difficult to remove and impossible to scale or convert to outline. Those of you with the extra money to spend may like to purchase sheets of vellum (a semi-transparent paper comparable to the layer feature in your drawing program) so that you might create your sfx without destroying the artwork, but note well that vellum can be quite expensive and may provide undesirable ripple effects reminiscent of KPT distortions.

2. Practice.

Makes perfect. You're on your own, mate!

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