Welcome back, friends…I would call all of you ladies and gentlemen, but you know what you are. Anyway, I have today a very important step in making comics. That part is affectionately known as “lettering”. Granted, there are comics out there that don’t use words of any kind like dialog or sound effects. An example of this would be the woodcut illustrated novels of Lynd Ward, such as Gods’ Man of 1929. In fact, there’s no law that says you HAVE to use words to make comics. But for the purpose of this tutorial, we’re going to assume that your characters speak, there are sound effects, and so on. So what are we to do?
The focus of this post will be on hand lettering. Some out there prefer to use freehand lettering, employing no guidelines whatsoever. But if you want good results, I strongly suggest you make use of a handy tool called the Ames Lettering Guide.
The Ames lettering guide is an affordable tool that should run between US$2-5 and is readily available wherever art supplies and drafting tools are sold. This little thing is what many of those who letter by hand use for their work. I’ll show you how to use it in just a minute. You’ll need some other tools as well. Luckily, you’ll probably already have some of these amongst your pencilling and inking equipment.
Pencils are a must. Your typical garden-variety pencil won’t help you here. You’re better off with mechanical pencils like the ones you see here. I use a Zebra brand pencil with 0.5 mm leads. Just as with pencilling comics, you’ll need some erasers and a good straightedge – a T-square is optimal but you can make due with a long enough ruler.
It’ll take time to get the hang of lettering by hand so don’t get discouraged. Practice as much as you can. Explaining exactly how to use the lettering guide is somewhat of a challenge…so I put together a short YouTube video to help out.
Once you draw your letters in pencil, there comes the step of going over those letters in ink. So what tools do you use?
You have some different options. You can use pigment markers such as the Pigma Micron (top) or my choice, the Pilot V-Razor Point (the grey pen). Some purists though swear by the technical drawing pen, such as the Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph (see my article on tech pens for more info). Then, you have many of the old-timers who prefer the tool picture at the very bottom, the dipping pen. These consist of a metal nib inserted into a plastic or cork holder. This will require a container of black waterproof ink and a container of water to use. As for what sort of points to use, the company Speedball makes four basic nibs for lettering – A, B, C, and D. Some swear by the C-6 point fresh from the store while some use the B-6 sanded down to a point. For more info on dipping pens, check out the article I did on them WAAAAY back when I first started up this blog.
Hmm…some of you are probably wondering why I haven’t talked about lettering comics with the computer. You might be thinking “dude, get with the times!” Computer lettering has some disadvantages over hand lettering.
- It’s more expensive since you need a computer and costly programs.
- It looks cold and mechanical to the more organic hand lettering.
- Many of your off-the-shelf computers don’t have suitable fonts for lettering.
Hand lettering is definitely cheaper than computer lettering. You’ll need a PC or Mac, a scanner of some kind, and some sort of computer program. Most computer letterers use vector based programs like Adobe Illustrator though presentable lettering can be done with raster based programs like Adobe Photoshop. This is beyond my knowledge as the vast majority of my work is lettered by hand. For more information on computer lettering and more strategies on lettering by hand, check out the book The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics by Mark Chiarello and Todd Klein. Nowhere else will you find a more comprehensive resource on how to letter comics.
Next time, I’ll talk about how to ink comics. In the meantime, I’d like to ask anyone out there to share their input on lettering. Do you letter by hand or by computer? Which do you like better? What tools do you use? Please comment here.