Becoming a Comic Book Letterer

Tips on How to Land This Dream Job

exploding Boom! thought bubble

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A comic book letterer provides the text and sound effects in a comic book. The key here is to add the text in such a manner that makes it easy for the reader to follow the story. There is certainly a lot of artistic creativity that goes into the process of making word balloons and sound effects look like what they sound like, but the letterer also needs to think about how the text will detract from the story and art if it is too bold, overpowering, or difficult to read.

Skills Needed

  • A Love Of Language: A letterer needs to understand the process of conveying meaning through text. Many letterers will try to make the words themselves look like what the person, creature, or effect sounds like. A BOOM will be large and bold while a whisper will be soft and airy.
  • Strong Knowledge Of Grammar: The letterer is one of the last lines of defense for errors. And since a letterer needs to type in the work or do it by hand, not having a strong grasp of spelling, punctuation, and word use will inhibit your chances at success.
  • Think Graphically: Letterers often take the role of a graphic designer, creating logos, titles, word balloons, sound effects, and more. For example, creating the title in Comic Sans because it has the word comic in it is a way to get in serious hot water. A letterer needs to think about how graphic elements contribute to the page and story. Does this piece of text add to the reader's experience? Does it help transition to the next scene? These are the kinds of questions you need to think about when lettering.
  • Technical Skills: Most comics are now lettered on a computer. There are many programs that letterers use, such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Indesign. You may also want to become familiar with font making software, such as Fontographer, FontLab Studio, or FontForge.
  • Superior Penmanship: If you plan on doing your lettering by hand, and some still do, you will need to develop a strong and consistent penmanship style. It needs to be easy to read and flow nicely. You might even consider turning your penmanship into a font in and of itself, which many do today.

Equipment Needed

Digital Lettering Equipment

  • Computer: The industry standard is the Macintosh computer. You can use a PC, but most people work on Macs. The key here is having lots of RAM and your processor speed. Don’t skimp on these.​
  • Software: Again, the industry standard is Adobe Illustrator, a vector-based program which uses lines and curves based on mathematical equations to create images. This is the program used to put the letters onto the page. Other programs such as font creation programs are very useful to the digital letterer.
  • Storage System: You need a way to save and transport files. If you are working for a larger company, you will deliver items via an FTP server. If you are printing it yourself, you will need some type of storage device to take it to the printer.

Hand Lettering Equipment

  • Pencil: What you use is up to you, but many professionals use mechanical pencils.
  • Eraser: If you make a mistake, you will need to erase it.
  • Ames Guide and T-Square: A what guide? The Ames Guide will allow you, in conjunction with the T-Square, to create lines that will enable you to make your letters the same consistent height.
  • Crow-Quill Pen and Ink: After the letters are created in pencil, you go over them in ink. The industry standard is the Crow-Quill pen.
  • Stencils: You will need many different stencils to create word balloons, tails, and other different design items.

Some Comic Book Letterers

  • Todd Klein
  • Clem Robins
  • Richard Sala
  • Chris Ware
  • Ivan Brunetti
  • Richard Starkings
  • Robbie Robbins
  • Annie Parkhouse

So You Want To Be A Comic Book Letterer?

Start practicing! If you want to hand letter, get some of the equipment and practice your penmanship. If you want to be a letterer for a major company, you might try to see if one of the letterer studios are hiring like Comicraft or Blambot are hiring or need interns. Classes in graphic design might also be a way to go.