COMIC BOOK DESIGN BASICS
Graphic design involves placing various elements together on a page or cover in a pleasing and easily readable way. In a sense, a letterer is always making design decisions whenever he puts pen to paper or types over an art file. The goal in lettering is to combine art with words in an attractive way, and comic book design revolves around doing that well.
Much of comics design today is accomplished on the computer. When lettering, you generally have a scan of some comics artwork which you "place" on a layer in Adobe Illustrator, then create your lettering over it in another layer. If the artwork is print-quality resolution, you could then save the Illustrator file in EPS format, and print it. Another way to go is to finish your lettering, delete the placed image, then open the art file in Adobe Photoshop, open your lettering file the same way (at the same resolution, or dpi) and copy and paste the lettering onto the art in a new layer. You could then flatten the layers and print the final file.
Neither of these methods are ideal, though, for various technical reasons. In most cases, the art file and the lettering file are combined in a page layout program such as Quark XPress or Adobe InDesign. These work much the same way as layers in the above programs: the art file is in one layer, the lettering, logo or type in a second layer above it. Here, though, the files retain their original properties without actually combining them until just before the page is printed (a process called RIP, performed by a printer's software). This allows for changes to either the art or the lettering without affecting the other part (the art is still there under the word balloons, for instance) and the lettering retains its vector ability to have clean, smooth edges at any size.
More complex design work, such as covers, ads and text pages, where art and type and logos are arranged and combined, are all easier to do in a page layout program than any other way, and you can change your mind and fiddle with different layouts until you're satisfied you have the best design. In this way, desktop computing has put a lot more options into the hands of creators.
If you haven't done any of this before, I'd recommend getting the Adobe Design Suite, which includes Adobe InDesign, a good page layout program, along with Illustrator and Photoshop. Most of the comics industry is still using Quark, but InDesign is making inroads, and most printers have no problem with InDesign files. You'll find that, with some practice, and good art, logos and fonts, you can create high quality design work on your own computer that rivals anything seen in print. For some examples of my own design work, go to the DESIGN section of this site.
All text and images ©Todd Klein, except as noted. All rights reserved.
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