Step Ten: Lettering

Now it’s time to fire up Illustrator.

I keep a template file with the following set up for me:

  • Pre-squashed ellipses for dialogue balloons
  • Page area defined with guides and border box
  • A selection of little balloon “tails”
  • Ready to go type with proper font, size, and spacing.

First, the artwork needs to be placed into the file with File>Place. I select the Photoshop file as a link, and using guides I position it on a layer and lock it at the bottom.

Illustrator template and initial word placement.

To place the dialogue, I put all the type on a layer above the balloons. I use a font called “Paradigm” that I created a few years ago while I had access to Fontographer. Other comic fonts are available at

Most of my dialogue is set to 7pt with 8pt leading. I try not to go below that for normal speech, except for words muttered under a character’s breath. I can always go with larger sizes if I want the dialogue to “sound” louder, or bold and italicized type for shouting and extreme emphasis.

I set the type within a box or squashed ellipse to create a pleasing, balanced shape with the words. This is important for making the comic readable and look professional.

I also break up the dialogue into phrases to make it feel natural. The more sentences I squeeze into a balloon, the faster it seems the character is speaking. In general, I keep it to one sentence or less to a balloon for normal dialogue.

Now I put in the balloons. These go on a layer between the type and the placed artwork.*

*I have since moved to drawing my word balloons directly on the page. It’s definitely faster, but not easily edited.

NextStep Nine