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Art of the Comic Book | David Marshall, Instructor

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Lettering with Speedball Pens

by David Marshall | (updated )

While very few artists enjoy lettering, it's an important part of comics. It takes up space, directly affecting page design. Consistent standards give artists an exact amount of space to work. (This is why most artists prefer full scripts instead of the "Marvel Method") Better-than-functional lettering enhances storytelling, giving your audience the best possible reading experience.

Most mainstream comics are lettered with fonts these days, mostly for digital production reasons. To some, digital lettering can feel impersonal. Most independent comics (and even some mainstream books) are hand-lettered. Longtime comics writer Mark Evanier wrote a thorough comparison of digital and hand lettering.

Lettering for this class will be done done by hand with calligraphy pens (nibs), india ink and Ames Lettering Guides. Like any other skill, the path to good hand-lettering is pave with practice:

Dialog Nib: Speedball C-6

My first attempt was selecting a nice dialog nib. The C-6 delivers the most amount of ink in the thinnest space:

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Bold Nib: Speedball B-6

In practice, the bold nib is more important that the dialog nib. Find one you can control, then pick a dialog nib with the greatest contrast. In this example, the B-5 contrasts well against the C-6:

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Comparing Ames Settings and Speedball Nibs

The next step was testing out the new preferences with real content. This was a process of trial-and-error:

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Example in Different Sizes

Examples of new defaults in both Ames scales 3.5 and 4.5. For regular lettering in an Ames 3.5 scale, I prefer the Speedball C-6 nib, using the B-5 for bold letters. Yes, the word balloons look like they were drawn on the subway.

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