How To Be A Comic Book Letterer

Essentials Needed To Be A Comic Book Letterer

Man reading manga comic at home
Nazra Zahri / Getty Images



Job Description:

The 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, having 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 hard to read.

Skills Needed:

  • Love Of Text – Okay, maybe not a love of text, but certainly a liking of how words are used and can convey meaning. 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. Just creating the title in Comic Sans because it has the word comic in it is a way to get in serious hot water. You need to think about how those things will impact the page and story. Does it add to the experience? Take away from the art? Lead the reader to the next scene? These are the kinds of questions you need to think about when lettering.


  • Technological Skills – If you plan on doing your lettering in the mainstream style, you will need to do it on a computer. Most comics nowadays are lettered on a computer. There are many programs that letterers use, such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Indesign, to name the most popular. There is also font making software, such as Fontographer, FontLab Studio, or FontForge. You may also want to buy fonts from companies like Comic Book Fonts and Blambot.


  • 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 keys here is lots of RAM and 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.

Page 2 - Quotes From Comic Book Letterers

Quotes From Letterers:

From Richard Starkings – Founder of Comicraft, probably the largest lettering studio in the U.S., Richard helped pioneer the computerized lettering industry. He is a self proclaimed, “…recovering hand letterer.” From an interview with Scryptic Studios.

About controversy of computerized lettering – “No one I know uses their hands to letter; they use a tool called a pen. I use a tool called a computer.

It's just a different skill. Pens are filled with ink, my computer is filled with fonts. Many of the fonts we've created at Comicraft were originally designed using pen and ink. Computers don't letter comics. People do. Electronic Lettering guarantees a finesse and polish which pen and ink cannot, and consequently moves the responsibilities of the letterer away from the precise and studious role of calligrapher, to the more flexible and far-reaching role of graphic designer. The question I've been asking myself is not 'Is Hand Lettering Dead?' but 'How can Comic Book Lettering serve its purpose in imaginative and inventive new ways?'"

From Robbie Robins – A letterer for IDW and Co-President for the company. From an interview with Comic World News.

About essential lettering rules – “When Mike Heisler was teaching me how to letter at WildStorm, one quote he said has always stuck in my mind: "The best lettering is the lettering unnoticed." Meaning, fans are not buying this book to check out my pretty balloons, but rather the art and story.

Never cover the heads of character, always make sure the balloons read in order and NEVER, NEVER cover a woman's chest with a word balloon.”

From Annie Parkhouse – Winner of the Eagle Award and letterer for 2000AD, Rugrats, and Hellblazer. From an interview with 2000AD Review.

About the role of the letterer – “My view, as a designer, is that the lettering should, of course, be secondary to the artwork but aid in the story telling.

This is where people who think that installing a lettering font is all there is to it, are being a bit optimistic. The balloons should lead the eye across the page is such a way as to pace the dialogue and make sure that the frames are read in the right order. Even small adjustments can make a difference. The readers probably won't notice, though.”