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Lettering for Comics

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Gurukitty Studios does Call For Artists on occasion and one thing that often seems to be just an afterthought or not even a thought in some cases is the talk bubbles, or balloons or whatever you call them. Believe it or not, your bubbles may mean the difference between acceptance and rejection when submitting to Anthologies and other publishing methods.

In our past Anthologies, we have indeed rejected stories that had illegible bubbles and accepted some with less than desirable bubbles, but in the future, we are going to be more and more strict in our selection process so we thought to help prepare potential submitters we would put a tutorial up on our own site for quick information and reference.

First of all, there are many different ways to balloon and letter a comic, whether it be digitally or traditionally. At Gurukitty Studios, we are both traditional artists and often traditional letterers, a computer to us is usually just to scan and put books together, not for art. We have done digital lettering and ballooning, as well as hand lettering, but you can also do a combo of both (which is good if you have bad wrists). In some stories we have done penciled lettering to get the appropriate balloon size to prepare for digital lettering.

Because Gurukitty Studios is a English speaking duo, we are going to do an English style balloon  which is different from balloons you see in Manga (Asian Style) comics. English balloons are horizontal, like English writing, while Japanese is written vertical, so the balloons are vertical.  We often see Manga styled artists trying to fit English in Japanese style balloons, which creates untidy hyphens. It is important to use the right kind of balloon for the right language.
*In the future, Gurukitty Studios will not accept English in Asian style balloons, we dislike hyphens.

Using the right kind of balloons for the right language makes a huge difference.

So that would be point number 1, I know some anime purests will complain that its not real animes without the vertical balloons, but thats B.S. English translated Manga have vertical balloons because they were originally Japanese, and you cant change all the balloons because they are integrated into the art. We excuse this in translated comics because they are translated. If they are written in English to begin with, then they are English Mangas and should have English Balloons.

So the next point to go over, is balloon crowding, your text in your balloons should have space around the text, so that the text floats comfortably inside the balloon, without being cramped in. You can achieve this easily by following 1 simple rule, text first, balloon after.  A general rule is you should be able to fit an invisible “W” on all four sides of the dialog.


When you are laying out yor text for your balloons you should be writing it out in a diamond shape, this will make it fit in a round balloon easily.  See my rather crude,  blurry cellphone photo, I scribbled a diamond overtop after I roughed my text in so that you could see how it fits.

Sorry, bad photo

If you are doing balloons traditionally but digital lettering, you only need to roughly scribble in the text at the right size to get the balloon proper shape and size when you scan your pages. (This is what I’m doing in the sample image which is why the text isn’t so tidy, if this was going to be really hand lettered, my text would be pretty.)

Once you have your text in, you can sketch out the shape of your balloon after. This ensures that your balloon will be big enough to comfortably fit around the text.

I’ve sketched around balloon around my text now.

Ideally when you have done your thumbnails for your pages, you would have included space for text balloons, so if you have a panel with a large amount of text, you could put that in before sketching your page if need be. Don’t be afraid of covering your artwork, in fact, it wont even be a concern if you thumbnail properly. I’ve never been afraid of covering art though, as you can see, I put my balloon a little over her face, you can still make out whats happening, her expression is there, so it’s all good.

From there, if you are hand lettering, you’d want to start in with a pen, ink all your text first. Remember when you are lettering to not just write like you normally would, you want each letter to look like it’s brothers. What I mean is, your e’s should look the same, and your N’s and all other letters should look the same each time you write them, treat it like you are drawing each letter, not writing words.

If you are lettering on the computer and just want the balloons done traditionally, then you can ink the balloon now. I prefer hand drawn balloons with hand drawn art, I found that digital balloons on traditional art doesn’t look quite right and I regret doing it in the past.

I love these pens

For inking comics I usually have a variety of pens. If I want a more expressive flowing look, i’ll use a brush pen (Pentel Pocket Brush), but if I want more clean precise work, I use refillable Copic Multiliners. Often, even if using a brush for the art I will use the technical pans for the balloons anyway (unless I’m really going for some expressive craziness).

Balloon inked! YAY, but so sloppy!

So there, any mistakes you make can be cleaned up with a little white paint. Especially if you muck it up more in the process of inking your art, which I often do!

White gouache, copic Opaque white or other opaque white inks work well with a small watercolour brush (just a cheapy brush will do)

From there, you can scan your art, and add text in digitally.

Those are some really rough basics for lettering, I would suggest googling, as there are a lot of tutorials out there for lettering by more experienced people than me. My main advice is to treat your balloons and dialog as part of your panels and art, not as just something you add on.

On another side note, the blue pencil is a non photo blue pencil called COL-ERASE. I use those because when I scan my comic pages in black and white (BITMAP), the non photo blue will not scan, and I don’t have to erase all my sketches, roughed text and scribbles.  Time saving tip, but not for everyone.

If you have concerns or questions, feel free to contact us.


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