View Full Version : old school lettering!

08-19-2003, 07:47 PM
hey i was wondering if any one knows any tips and tricks to "analog" lettering as i have been meaning to learn this.

i would work on digi-lettering, but i prefer the challenge of learning the old way.

08-19-2003, 09:26 PM
I used to do this back in the day for my own stuff... the only things I might suggest is that you always make plenty of space in your panels for dialogue, plan ahead whereever possible, and rule very light blue lines in all your bubbles to keep your dialogue level.

Oh, and always draw the bubble AFTER you finish the text.


08-19-2003, 10:43 PM
Or, if you're not going to do it right on the board, you can get some stick-and-peel paper, cut it out, and sticker it over your art. That's how my friends and I used to do it in high school. God knows how well it stands up to archiving, though. I threw all mine away years and years ago.


08-20-2003, 03:20 AM
thanks for the tips fellas.

anyone else with any words of wisdom?

08-20-2003, 08:14 AM
It's best to use one of them Ames lettering guides to help make nice, even lines to letter on. I make my lines, pencil the words to make sure it fits, ink the words, then draw the baloon. If you don't have good handwriting, use your computer. My lettering is OK, I guess. Check the lightbulbcomics link below to see how I did.

Bruce Lee
08-20-2003, 08:34 AM
The key to doing good lettering by hand is to learn how it's done. First of all, letterers use a little plastic tool called an Ames Guide. In conjunction with a t-square, the Ames Guide is used to pencil out tiers of horizontal guidelines onwhich the letters are then penciled. Once the lettering has been layed down in pencil, it is then inked. Once the ink dry's the pencilled guidelines are erased away. Highly skilled letterers may be good enough to just letter in ink, bypassing pencilling the actual letters, but most pencil the letters first, and I don't know of anyone who doesn't use the guidelines produced by the Ames Guide.

There are two methods of hand lettering. 1) Lettering straight on the art board, and 2) lettering on a separate sheet of paper. The latter is called the patch method because balloons drawn on separate sheets of paper were cut out with scissors or x-acto knife, then pasted on the board or on an overlay. Today, the patch method is mainly done on the computer, as is most forms of lettering.

A good book on comics that has a good chapter on lettering is HOW TO DRAW AND SELL COMIC STRIPS, by Alan McKenzie. You can find it on Amazon:


Ames Guides can be purchased at better art stores that carry drafting equipment, etc.


08-20-2003, 10:52 PM
hand letting old school one word:WHY. Lettering on the computer is much less a pain in the butt. And the evil ames letting guide is the worst tool ever invented. Ok OK I'll be nice. Lettering the old way ,before the computer, is time consuming and god help you if you make a mistake or your editor tells you to change some dialogue.

Many people say that computer lettering is cold or soul less because in many cases the same fonts/type faces are used to death. Thier are a lot of cool fonts out their to be used not just comiccraft or blambot. Another perk of computer lettering is it can be easlily edited moved/ modifyed to fit around your cool images,colored in a wide varity of styles on the fly and produces a more uniform clean end result. If you really want a hand lettered look their are programs like fontagrapher that will allow you to make your on fonts in any style even your own handwriting.

08-20-2003, 11:25 PM
Yes, computer lettering is easier. But hand-lettering is so much nicer on almost all occasions. I'd rather read a John Workman-lettered book than any computer-lettered one.

08-21-2003, 02:09 AM
Originally posted by Tommm9
hand letting old school one word:WHY. Lettering on the computer is much less a pain in the butt.

maybe you don like the stress of it, but i prefer working harder. it gives me more satisfaction to do something by hand then to take what i consider, the lazy way out.

but we arent here to debate preference. i will shut up now.

thanks everyone for the help, it is greatly apreciated.

im surprised that PJ doesnt have a couple of old-school pro letterers lurking about. come on, i know you are there! send me some more tips!

Bruce Lee
08-21-2003, 04:16 AM
Originally posted by Tommm9
hand letting old school one word:WHY. Lettering on the computer is much less a pain in the butt. And the evil ames letting guide is the worst tool ever invented.

The Ames Guide isn't hard to use at all. It took me about 15 minutes to learn how, but I did have instruction. I can see where it might be easy to get confused, but that's something that can happen with anything--pencilling, inking, and even (gasp!) with computers.:p

Why would anyone want to do it the old fashion way? Frankly because when done correctly, the old fashion way of lettering can actually add something to the page, and even elevate the artwork. With computer lettering, things like kerning be a pain in the butt. I do get what you're saying though--lettering is something that takes time to master, and if you're not willing to go through the trouble to learn that particular craft, comic fonts are the next best thing. Some fonts are decent, some aren't. Most do tend to be pretty lifeless IMHO, but I've seen some that aren't too bad. Comicraft fonts are the best available, but they still have a distinct feeling of sterility. I can't help but be instantly aware of a comicraft font when I'm reading a comic, and I don't think I should really be aware of the lettering in a major way. It shouldn't be a distraction.

The biggest problem I've seen with computer lettering is in regards to sound effects though. Yik. I've only seen a few computer sound effects that really work as well as those done by skilled hands. Again, that's my opinion there, but I suppose I tire of the ASTRO CITY (often cheesy) sound effects rather quickly. Sound effects and artwork should go hand and hand, one enhancing the other. That seems to be something that's not really being considered by letterers these days. How a sfx is incorporate into the artwork can be harmful to the storytelling and the art itself if improperly done.:eek: I've seen "transparent" sfx covering entire panels that have really confused the storytelling, and obliterated a lot of the penciller and inkers hard work.

Originally posted by Tommm9
If you really want a hand lettered look their are programs like fontagrapher that will allow you to make your on fonts in any style even your own handwriting.

I've seen these, and many are pretty successful, but there's still problems to deal with here also. Kerning, being one issue that has to be overcome. I think if you're going to do computer lettering, this is the way to go though.

So far, my favorite way of producing lettering involves the "by hand" method and using the computer. Scanning balloons and pasting them in is far better than the old fashion paste-up and mechanical methods.

Bottom line is: we all have to do our own thing. What works for one may not work for another, and all that jazz. There's no wrong way to do lettering, as long as the end result is good.


08-21-2003, 12:01 PM
The only computer lettering I like is on title pages, if they make up a cool title logo and credit box. Two places I thought those were done well were old series like Doctor Strange (MK mini) and Generation X.

06-28-2005, 12:13 PM
I was just about to post a thread asking about hand lettering tips when I saw this. Also, in response to:

hand letting old school one word:WHY. Lettering on the computer is much less a pain in the butt. And the evil ames letting guide is the worst tool ever invented.

I think hand lettering, when done right, looks a hundred times better than a font. Can you imagine reading a comic like Sin City if Frank Miller switched to some font instead of writing it by hand?

06-28-2005, 02:22 PM
I like hand lettering mostly for comics intended for print, and computer lettering mostly for comics intended for web-publishing. Of course, there are exceptions to everything. However, thereís a certain charm in hand lettering that isnít there in computer lettering. But, yes, it is MUCH easier to edit computer lettering. In my experience, both take about the same amount of work time while obviously requiring different steps.

In any case, lettering should be a part of the artwork. When youíre designing a page or a panel, the lettering has to be part of that design. I find that by hand lettering directly onto the page, I can design the entire page as a whole, not as parts.

A quick rundown of my personal lettering process:

I use a lightbox, so my pencils and original letters are done on an 11x17 sheet of paper. First, I rough out all of the dialogue, balloons, and illustrations. This allows the lettering to be a part of my panel illustrations and the overall page design. If I am confident with everything's placement, and am confident that the lettering will fit, I will often go in and do some tighter pencilling and then tighten up the lettering. If I am unsure if the lettering will fit where I want it, I'll tighten up the lettering first and then tighten up the pencils. Either way, when I'm ready to tighten up the lettering, I'll go in and use the Ames guide.

I have the Ames guide dial set to 3.5. Most pro letterers, from my understanding, use a setting of either 3 or 4. Then, using the last set of holes (all the way to the right of the guide), a T-square, and a long translucent triangle straight-edge (so I can see the page through it... but an additional straight-edge isn't required; you can of course simply use your T-square. I just happen to like to use the translucent straight-edge), I draw in my guidelines according to how my dialogue is laid out. Then, I go in with a pencil to "pencil" the letters, and then a Sharpie to "ink" the letters and the balloons for use with my lightbox. The "inking" step may seem time-consuming, but Iíve gotten to be pretty quick at it and, since I use a lightbox, it makes the visibility for the actual inking stage much easier. Then, I'll go back and tighten up any pencils that still require tightening.

Once my page is penciled (including Sharpie work), I put the board on top of the pencils, tape them together, switch on that lightbox, and start inking the letters (I currently use a Rapidiograph 0.6 with a 0.5 for the balloons). After the letters are done, I do the balloons. For my current comic, I hand draw the balloons because I want that non-slick look. There are circle and ellipse templates available, of course. Lastly, I ink the rest of the page.

Voila. Hand lettering.

There are of course several different methods, and after experimenting, this is the technique that works best for me.

HOW TO DRAW AND SELL COMIC STRIPS, by Alan McKenzie is an EXCELLENT book for beginners, and even non-beginners looking to find tips on something theyíve not tried before. I got it a long, long time ago and still open it up every once in a while.

Also, if you can come across it, there is an AWESOME tutorial on hand lettering by none other than Todd Klein in an old issue of Wizard. Sorry, I forget what issue it is. However, Iím pretty sure THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO COLORING AND LETTERING COMICS, by Mark Chiarello, and Todd Klein, is just as, if not moreso, useful.

(Here is an interview with Todd Klein that I found while searching for the issue number of the aforementioned Wizard mag. I havenít been able to read it yet, but after scanning it, it promises to be a good read. Itís not really technical, though there is some mention of his technical process, and there is some inclusion of his thoughts on the lettering process, hand lettering, and computer lettering-


After researching various methods, be sure to experiment with them to find your own way of doing it.