Comic Talk, Tips and Tricks

Hand Drawn Comic Tutorial: Hand Lettering
angry_black_guy at 7:35AM, July 7, 2007
posts: 317
joined: 5-1-2007
Hand Drawn Comics Tutorial


-Layout and Pencils (90% complete)
-Inking and Styles (90% complete)
-Hand Lettering (COMPLETE)
-Hand Coloring (90% complete)
-Scanning, Editing, Posting, Printing, and Book Binding (WIP)
-Mix n Match: Digital and Hand Work (WIP)


In my opinion, nothing beats a good hand drawn comic. In this digital age, hand drawn comics are becoming more and more scarce and for good reason; you can do a lot more digitally than by hand. However, hand drawn comics have a certain appeal to them they're rougher, more unified, and feel like a whole, complete piece of art. In this series of tutorials, I'll be going over how to create a hand drawn comic as well as using your computer to edit a hand drawn comic for greater effect.

This tutorial is designed for beginner to intermediate artists and writers. I'm no expert by any means I'm just a hand drawn enthusiast who wishes to share his knowledge. This is a learning experience for me as well; if you see something that's wrong then by all means contact me and tell me what to fix. I don't want to look like an idiot here :D

Hand Lettering

Hand lettering is a dying skill. Digital lettering is quicker, allows for a wider range of fonts, and any mistakes can be fixed with a simple click of the DEL key. However, comic book fonts can be expensive (unless you get the generic free ones) and making your own personal font using a program is a very precise and difficult skill. Some people like the look of hand lettered comics because of the subtle difference in spacing and style as well as the fact that the lines match your own pen strokes. This is a guide to learning and practicing this dying art: hand lettering.


-Ames Lettering Guide

-Technical pen/Fountain pen/Dip-Nib pen *

-Koh-I-Nor Ultra Draw Ink **

-Pigment Marker

-White paint/Correction pen

-Ellipse template ***

* Don't buy all of them unless you want to experiment
** Only if you're using a dip pen
*** Only if you don't want to hand draw elipses

Tools In-depth

Ames Lettering Guide: Ames guide is a funky looking plastic rhombus with a spinning circle in the middle and several rows of dots. You can buy them at any art store for a dollar. They usually come with instructions. The guide is specifically designed to allow you to draw a perfect circle when the bottom edge is lined up with a hard straight edge. It also allows you to draw perfect rows within ellipses so you can line your letters up.

Technical Pen: A technical pen is a difficult tool to use that gives you a sharp, precise line. It requires diligent cleaning or else the inside will dry and crack up and the tip will wear out.

Fountain Pen: A fountain pen is less temperamental than a tech pen but it's flexible and the line you get can easily be altered.

Dip-Pen Nib: The true letters tool, the Speedball C-6 dip-pen nib is difficult to use but gives you perfect lettering. The best ink to use is Koh-I-Nor Ultra Draw ink; it's waterproof and doesn't fade when erased. Dip your pen slightly in the ink and make certain there are no drips or runs before returning to your paper; otherwise you'll get a mess.

Pigment Makers: Pig markers are incredibly cheap but not refillable. They're excellent for lettering, but dry slowly and fade if you erase them before letting them dry. Some markers also bleed so do a test on your paper before using it.

White Paint/Correction Pens: Due to digital editing, white out isn't as important as it once was. If you insist on being a die hard letterist, use white gouache or pro white. DO NOT use any white out with zinc in it or a white out created for school papers; it'll turn your paper yellow.

Ellipse Templates: For people who can't draw a steady circle, an ellipse template can be bought in any office supply store for a dollar or two. It has various sized ellipses and allows you to draw a perfect circle/oval.

Da' Rules

In comic books, there are several “rules” that encompass writing in general. These rules are just a generality; just because I say they're “accepted” doesn't mean they're right. Use whatever works for you but keep these in mind as you write your scripts or letter.

-Comic book font is in all capital block letters.
-The letter “i” is always drawn as a straight line “|.”The letter “l” is always drawn with a tale “L.” The only time the letter “i” is drawn as “I” (with the cross at the top and bottom) is when a character refers to themselves.
-Italicize means someone is emphasizing a word.
-BOLD words means someone is raising their voice.
-Word balloons should never touch the speakers mouth except for special effect.
-Don't use smaller text if you don't have to. It's better to draw a larger balloon. There should always be atleast half a letter of space from a letter to the edge of a balloon.
-Ellipses (…) indicate someone is trailing off a sentence. Double hyphens (–) means someone is being interrupted.

Drawing Letters

The biggest thing with lettering is that people think it's writing. You are drawing the words, not writing them. Look at the letters as individual drawings and ink it like that. Practice drawing the alphabet and apply it to your pages. The following is an image of my letters. Please note the following guidelines when lettering yourself.

-Keep words close together. The distance between each word should be no greater than a capital “M”??
-Make the tips of round letters like O, Q, G, and C higher than the other letters otherwise theyâ??ll look too small.
-Check your negative spacing. Negative spacing is the amount of blank space within letters like “A” and “B”. A letter with evenly balanced negative space is what makes it readable.

Ink each letter with one of your pens or markers. Think of each letter as a pen stroke, not as an actual letter. Be careful and diligent; your hand may hurt, but the more practice you get, the faster you'll learn to stroke. Eventually, you'll be able to letter without any pencil guides at all!

Word Balloon Placement

As a general rule, your word balloons should already be penciled and your letters written before you pencil the rest of the art. This allows you to properly plan where the picture itself will be. Never compensate art for word balloons unless little is being said. Squeezing text into tiny balloons will give you squishy text. If you really want people to look at your art, PLAN AHEAD. For you people who think word balloons take up space, draw the pictures AROUND the balloons; not visa versa.

Remember, in English we read left to right, top to bottom. If the first speaker is on the right, put his balloon highest to indicate he's speaking first. Consecutive speakers are slightly below the first balloon unless there is room to fit them else where.

Bold and Italic Writing

Bold lettering is easy; just thicken your strokes. Italics, though, are difficult, and can only be effective if you have a unified lettering style (meaning your strokes don't change and are precise). Draw diagonal guidelines on top of your horizontal guidelines and practice italic strokes. The angle should only be slight, no more than 20 degrees, and the letters should be slightly thinner.

Fun With Letters and Balloons

There's a general stigma (usually among web comic and digital artists) that word balloons are ugly blobs that “take up precious art.” In my opinion, this is false. Word balloons only detract from art if you don't know how to use them properly. They are a part of your comic; they're supposed to attract the readers eyes so they know what is being said. If you want art, draw a picture. Comics are visual books and the word balloons themselves can be just as fun or unique as your own drawings. You're only limited by your own imagination.

Hand lettering can be really fun especially when you play with sound effects and different styles. Have fun with your word balloons and letters; if a character is whispering, you could make a large balloon but write small. A ghost may speak with wispy balloons and letters while a robot will speak with a more geometric shape. Drawing comics should be fun so have all the fun you want.


Hopefully, this guide was helpful. Any questions, please direct them here and I'll try to answer them. Any compliments or criticism can also be directed here. Like I said, this is a learning experience for me as well. I hope everyone has fun and learned something. Keep an eye out for my other hand drawing tutorials as well!

As for the other tutorials, I'll have them posted up and ready as soon as I possibly can.

last edited on July 14, 2011 10:52AM

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