Lettering Tutorial
Gene's picture

A couple people have asked about this before, so here’s a look at the way I letter the Rocket & Bounce comic in Illustrator. For this tutorial you should know a little about Illustrator, but otherwise this is pretty beginner friendly I think. Hope you find it useful!

File Setup
This is the art we’re going to be lettering, a panel from R&B page 5.


First, take your finished art and make a low-resolution version. I usually “save for web” in Photoshop and use the preset “jpeg low”.

Next, open Illustrator and import your art to the stage. ( File >> Place… )

Name the layer with your imported image on it “art”, set the layer transparency to 50% and then lock the art layer so it doesn’t accidentally get shifted while working.

Now make two new layers. One named “balloons” and one named “text”.


Placing the Text
Select the layer named “text”. Now click on the “type” tool. Then click, hold and drag down and to the right. This will create a text box.

Now you can either type your dialogue in the box or paste your dialogue from a Word document or another source.

With your textbox selected, choose your font and font size in the “character” window. I’m fond of “digital strip” from blambot.com, usually around 10pt. Then center align your text using the “paragraph” window.

Now you can adjust the size of the textbox using the control handles (on the box’s corners) and the text will wrap accordingly. This is incredibly handy and one of the best reasons to use Illustrator for lettering. If possible, arrange it so there are more words on the middle lines and less on the top and bottom (since our dialogue will need to fit in an oval balloon). Even with the textbox’s control handles, you’ll probably need to make further adjustments, like moving a word or words to the line below with the “return” key.


Select the “balloons” layer. Now click on the “ellipse” tool and draw a circle around your text.

Then use the “direct selection tool” (the white arrow) and adjust the control points of you circle to better fit around your text. You want to leave roughly one letter’s worth of space between your dialogue and the edge of your balloon.


Balloon tails
This is where things can get a little tricky. Once you’re happy with your balloon, we just need to add some tails.

On the “balloons” layer, select your pen tool and click once inside your word balloon. Now move your cursor to where the end of the tail is going to point. This time click and drag your mouse. As you drag you should see two control handles extend from the point you just made. Now move your cursor back over your word ballon and click and drag your mouse one more time.

This give us a rough tail shape which we can edit by using the “direct selection” tool (the white arrow). Just click on the control points and the control handles to move or tilt your balloon tail as needed. Try to get a nice point on the end and (of course) aim for the speaking character’s mouth.


At this point the balloon and its tail are still two seperate objects. So, to join them together we start, by selecting both the balloon and the tail.

Then, in the “pathfinder” window we click on the “add to shape area” button. This will join our two shapes. However we still have the option of editing them with the “direct selection” tool if we need to. Sweet, eh?


The wrap up
And here’s our finished letters:


To get the lettering back into Photoshop I select everything on the “text” and “balloons” layers and copy it (ctrl+C). Then I open my original art in Photoshop and paste it (ctrl+V). When the “paste” window pops up I select “smart object” because that keeps the letters as vector objects and makes them easily scalable (without pixelation) if needed later. The smart object also serves as a single, tidy container to hold all the balloons and different parts of the lettering. Try it, you’ll get the idea.

Alrighty then. Hopefully this look at the technical side of lettering was interesting if not helpful. If you want to learn more, a simply fantastic resource is the book Comic Book Lettering: The Comicraft Way. It’s a must own! You can also get more lettering tips at BalloonTales.com and check out lots of great free comic fonts at Blambot.com. Also, feel free to visit the forum to share your thoughts or ask more questions. And as always, have fun making your comics!

Thanks for reading!

News blurb: 

Rocket & Bounce’s second chapter will be starting soon. In the meantime enjoy today’s bonus content! A behind the scenes look at the lettering of Rocket & Bounce. We’ve gotten some requests for this one, so hope you like it!