Whether you letter by hand or with a computer, there are a few things you need to consider, like spelling, grammar, spacing, and placement to name a few. If you are lettering by hand, most of these things you need to take into account before you lay ink to paper. If you are using the computer, life is a lot more forgiving. If you do letter on paper, you can still use the computer for fixes if needed.
I letter using Photoshop and this is usually the last step of my comic making process. Because the lettering part of my comic is completely digital, this allows for constant rewriting and easy fixes if needed. I also have a wide selection of fonts to choose from. There’s a ton of fonts available online and most will be free to use, as long as you aren’t a major comic producer like Marvel or DC. For Joe Independent, using them should be fine. However, you must check the legal yourself for each font to be sure. You can also consider creating your own font using a font creation program. These programs are pretty easy to use, but don’t be fooled; building a font is a lot of work and requires a lot of tweaking to get it right. The up side is that you have a font that is truly original and that you own the rights to. I don’t do this; I use fonts I found from Blambot Comic Fonts and Lettering. There is a wide variety of professional quality fonts that you can use. I recommend picking one or two fonts and stick with those, jumping between several fonts is going to look unprofessional, so keep your selection limited. You basically want a standard font to use for most dialog needs and something to use as a bold font, something that you can use for emphasis. Keep in mind that you want a plain, simple font for dialog. Your readers will thank you when they don’t have to struggle to read your text. They will also reward you by reading your comic again tomorrow. If they can’t read it, they won’t. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.
Once you pick a font, the next thing is to consider how you’re going to display your text; meaning, whether you are going to use speech balloons or not. If you are using balloons, are you using oval balloons, square balloons or a mix of both? A regular conversation uses oval balloons, but a character talking from the phone or the TV uses square balloons. I wouldn’t recommend having one character use ovals and the other character use squares, unless they are two different species for instance, or one is a robot or something like that. If you decide not to use balloons, this gets more difficult to show which character is saying what, and you might consider using pointers to indicate which text belongs to which character.
Let’s assume that you are using balloons. Whether ovals or squares, it’s important to make sure your text is centered in the balloon. You can eyeball this, but it will look unprofessional if it’s way off. You also can consider font size at this time, you want to make sure you can read text, so don’t make your letters too small. After you settle on a font size, the question of how big to make the balloon comes into play. I generally try to just leave a margin between the text and the balloon that isn’t too big or too small. Most times, you don’t want your text crowded. You can use over-large balloons if you want to indicate the character is whispering or being sheepish and conversely, you can crowd the balloon with text if you want the character to seem loud or angry.
For emphasis, don’t forget to use your bold and italic options. You can place these on single words or whole sentences. I like to increase the size of the font when doing this; it helps sell the importance and the difference of these words. I generally use these three options together. I don’t mix fonts in a sentence. You can, and it might look OK even, however, in Photoshop, this is a lot more work, and time is always a consideration for doing your own webcomic. A little warning; don’t overuse your Bold and Italic option, it will get tired quickly.
I highly recommend typing your script first into something like MS Word to check spelling and grammar or at the very least, use the Photoshop spell check. You might get away with grammar errors in a comic because characters don’t always talk in perfect English. You might get away with spelling errors if it’s more of a phonetic thing or a dialect thing, but generally, you need to double and triple check your spelling. Watch out for words that sounds like other words, like ‘than’ and ‘then’, ‘weather’ and ‘whether’, or ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’. Basically, do as many drafts of your dialog as possible; not particularly rewriting, but looking for these types of errors, because they will, unfortunately, slide through.
Sorry, this might have been less about the art of lettering and more about what to watch out for when lettering. If you are hand-lettering your comic, the art of inking is something I know very little about. The actual technique is something I’ve never mastered, but if you hand-letter your comic, you still have to consider all the above points. The last thing I can say about lettering is to look at other comics and imitate what you like. A little technique borrowed from here and something else borrowed from there and soon, you’ll have created your own lettering style.