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COMPUTER LETTERING BASICS

Computer lettering has certainly taken over from hand-lettering in many areas of comics, especially at the bigger companies. Some, such as DC Comics, now have on-staff letterers doing much of the company's lettering work on computers. For an individual wanting to go this route, the initial expenses and learning curve can be daunting.

First, you need a good computer with as much speed and memory as you can afford. I'm currently using a Apple Dual 2.5 GHz PowerPC G5 with 2.5 GB of memory, and a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display LCD monitor. I've had this setup for a few years, and it works very well for me. I also have a Microtek ScanMaker 9800XL large format scanner, a Xerox laser printer, an Epson color printer, a Wacom 4x5 drawing tablet, and an external hard drive for backups. All this costs a good deal of money.

Next, you need software. For the actual lettering work, I use Adobe Illustrator, but I also depend on Adobe Photoshop for working with scans and art files. These are part of the Adobe Creative Suite, which also includes Adobe Acrobat, used for preparing proofs, and Adobe Indesign, used for design work. Most of my design work, though, is still done with Quark XPress, because that program is still dominant at most of the companies I work for. If you want to create your own fonts, you need separate software for that: FontLab or Fontographer. Other programs are needed for maintenance, security, and things like font handling.

Third, you need comic book fonts. I've made my own, something I recommend if you have the time and interest, as it will give your computer lettering a unique look, but many people use commercially available fonts from companies such as ComiCraft and Blambot.

As you can see, lots of things to buy and learn how to use before you even get to letter your first page of comics. Each of the programs listed above comes with tutorials, but I have to recommend my own book as a better way to get started, as it focuses on tools and techniques you'll need just for lettering. As with hand-lettering, practice is the best way to improve, and hours spent doing that will pay off in better lettering, provided you keep trying to make your work as good as it can be. If you have some experience with hand-lettering, you'll find you have a head-start toward making good creative choices with computer lettering.

All text and images ©Todd Klein, except as noted. All rights reserved.

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