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Comic Lettering Tutorial

Ghastly Presents
How To Letter Shit

Okay, some of you might be wanting to put letters on top of shit you find on the internet, shit like Apophenia 357 but you don't know how to get speech balloons that look nice and small, clear, easily read letters. Here's a very quick and simple tutorial to lettering shit you find on the internet. It can easily be applied to lettering shit you make yourself too. I'm using Paint Shop Pro, but these techniques can be used with any graphics software which uses layers which is pretty much any software made in the 21st century.

This tutorial is just the very basics. You can go on and on about how to letter shit in great detail but most of that stuff you can learn by yourself through experimentation and by examining how other people letter their work. Experiment and examination are the keys to improving your art skills.

Here's the original art.

STEP ONE: Blow that shit up!

Double the size of the image if you're working with a found graphic in a web-ready size. This gives you more room to work with. You don't have to use tiny text now. If you're lettering your own work then letter on the original scan sized image not the reduced web-ready sized image. When working on your artwork pre-presentation, bigger is always better and it really doesn't take much more time to colour/letter a bigger image than it does a smaller one.

STEP TWO: Letter that shit.

Create two new layers, then go to the top layer. On that layer put your text. Try to pick areas where there's not as much going on . The rules in western culture is speaking order generally flows from top left to bottom right so arrange your dialogue in a top to bottom, left to right formation. Sometimes you might have to fudge a bit on the left-right aspect by try to never fudge on the top to bottom. Here I'm using Digital Strip font at, I think, 14 points or 12 points. It looks fine and will still be readable when we eventuall reduce the image to it's original size.

STEP THREE: Get your shit together.

Got to the layer under the layer you put your text on and use whatever elipse tool your art program has to create bubbles around the text. Select the line width of the bubbles to about 3 or 4 pixels. You want it bold, but not too bold. Try when creating your elipses to get as much of the text as close to the edges of the elipse as possible without touching it. You don't want a lot of empty white space around the elipse. Use multiple elipses and staggered text layout if you have to.

Try to avoid using rectangular bubbles for dialogue. Generally rectangles are used when the narrator is speaking directly to the reader and not for inter-character exchanges. Sometimes you'll have to use rectangles for layout reasons but try to use ones with rounded corners. Rectangles for dialogues tend to give the reader the impression the speech pattern is very static, and monotone. It can be used to express that especially for artificial speech sources like robots and computers.

STEP FOUR: Point that shit out.

Use the point-to-point line tool to make little Vs to point the dialogue bubbles to the characters doing the speaking. Make sure the line width is the same that you used to make your speech bubbles. Make sure you connect all the way with your speech bubbles.

STEP FIVE: Erase that shit.

Use the paint brush set to the same fill colour as the interior of your bubble to paint over any bubble lines that intrude upon the interior of the bubble.

STEP SIX: Oooh this shit is magic!

This step is optional but this is one of the really cool things that computer lettering lets you do really easily. Reduce the opacity of your speech bubble layer to 75%. What this does is allows some of the background art to show up through your speech bubble. The contrast is still high enough that the text is clearly readable, but enough of the background shows through that the reader doesn't miss out on any of the action. This has an almost subliminal effect that makes the reader feel they're not reading the text but hearing it. It's almost like the speech balloons arn't even there. For some projects you might want to use this step, for some you might not, it depends on the level of detail in the background. However, if you do use this method be consistant with it don't keep switching back and forth between transpearent and opaque speech balloons. It'll distract your readers.

STEP SEVEN: Shrink that shit down!

Reduce the lettered image back down to it's original size. Depending on your graphic software there may be some changes to the original artwork, not enough to be noticable though. See let's examine the original side by side with our lettered version.

ORIGINAL

LETTERED

See, not that big a difference.

If you're not lettering a pre-existing web-sized work then simply reduce the size of your image to web-size. Given current monitor norms a comicbook page piece of art works great at a width of 500 pixels. Don't go smaller than that.

There you go. Seven simple steps to lettering shit. Now you have no excuse for not lettering your own version of Apophenia 357. If you want to check out what other people have done with the comic read Apophenia Stories.

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Uncle Ghastly first got his start in webcomics in 2001 with his most popular work to date Ghastly's Ghastly Comic. ... full profile