Before I begin the lettering process, I have to scan in my panels and place them into my strip using Illustrator. I typically scan each panel in individually. This way I can crop it and make nice straight boards for each panel. My scanner is not large enough to scan the strip as a whole. And yes I am a dinosaur who still prefers to work with bristol and ink.
Step 1: Put down them words
Once, I have my panels placed I create 4 separate layers in Illustrator. The bottom layer will be for the actual panels, and once you have them placed you need to lock that layer so you don’t end up moving those panels by mistake. The second layer will be for or strokes/ outlines for our word balloons. The third layer will be for the word bubbles themselves. The top or fourth layer will be for the actual words. By setting up the layers this way, it allows you to manipulate the individual element without changing others. I start by typing all of the required text outside of the panels. I typically use the font “SmackAttack” for most of my lettering. You can find great fonts at www.blambot.com . Of course you want to set the lettering up to be center aligned, but since we are mostly dealing with elliptical balloons you want the top and bottom lines to be shorter than the middle ones. This may require you to physically go in and hit the return key to get the text in a more friendly alignment for your bubbles. I also like to highlight or bold face words I feel would be stressed or have some inflection added in the dialogue. That is strictly a matter of taste, but I grew up reading comics in the 70′s and 80′s that used this technique all the time. Since my style is kind of oldschool it just sort of fits. Occasionally I’ll change up the font and size to help exaggerate or add some punch to a specific piece of dialogue. For example, here I used the ”Feast of Flesh” font for our barmaid’s squeal. Not only that I also converted the letters to shapes by using the “Crete Outlines” function in Illustrator. This allowed me to manipulate the individual letters into a visual pattern that I felt added to her exclamation.
Step 2: Adding the Ellipses
Next you want to use the elliptical tool to create your bubbles on the layer under the text. You may want to lock the text layer for a while until you get your bubbles sized properly to contain the text. I prefer perfect ellipses, but every once in a while I’ll use the pen or white arrow tool to manipulate the shape of the ellipse to better fit the text. Usually I do not have the strokes on my ellipses, but in order for you to see them I put them on for this tutorial. Also, you can see I added a white outline around her scream so it would look like it was part of the bubble. This was done by copying those letters and pasting them on the third layer, and giving them a white stroke of 7 points. After I have the bubbles placed around the text, unlock the text layer and move the bubbles and text to their final location. Sometimes this requires additional editing to get the bubbles and letters to fit just right, but usually these changes are minor.
Step 3: Adding the tails and strokes
The last step is adding the tails and strokes. I turn off the strokes on the ellipses on the 3rd layer and copy the ellipses to the 2nd layer. There I change the copies’ colors to black and add a 3 point stroke to them. I then align them with their sister ellipses on the 3rd layer. Once that is done, I then go on the 3rd layer and add a tail to the balloons using my pen tool. Sometimes I add a little curve, but mostly I end up drawing little triangles pointing to the appropriate character. Just like I did with the bubbles, I remove the stroke and then copy them down to the 2nd layer, where I change them to black and add a 3 point stroke. This ends up giving my bubbles the appearance of having a 1.5 point stoke. I prefer this method to joining the tail with the bubble because it gives me some freedom to manipulate the tail without changing the ellipse. Finally, I once again copy the letters of the barmaid’s scream down to the 2nd layer and give it a black stroke of 10 points and align it under the white stroke I gave the letters on the 3rd layer. Thus giving it the appearance of having the same outlining stoke as the rest of the balloon.
I hope this little tutorial was informative and helpful. Now this is not the only way to go about lettering your webcomic, but this is what I have found works best or me. If one of my fellow webcomic musketeers as another method, I’d welcome them to share it here or provide a link to their own lettering tutorial.
- Anthony Summey