Making a break with the previous pattern of blog updates, which generally lead to me showing off sample pages from recent projects, I thought it might be beneficial to put together a shorter entry to answer a question I get asked frequently.
Two or three times a year, and sometimes during the production process on a comic, somebody will ask me “what’s the standard size for comic book lettering?”
This is one of those questions that you’d think would have a simple, straightforward answer. But in reality, it’s a bit more involved.
Simply put, there’s no such thing as ‘standard font size’ in comic book lettering. And that’s down to a few different factors.
Basically, what you need to understand is that the settings for point size (which describes how tall letterforms within a font will be) and leading (which describes how much space will appear between stacked lines of text) are set numerically within the type handling window of Adobe Illustrator, or whatever vector drawing software a letterer is using.
Below is a graphic which shows how three different, commonly used comic book typefaces look when shown alongside each other. In each example, the point size and leading are set to the same numerical values in Adobe Illustrator’s type handling window. But notice how different they all look.
So, this means that on each new book, a little bit of time’s going to be taken over addressing this issue by necessity.
It should be noted that there’s no hard, fast rule about how the size of a font should be set in a comic. But some common sense decisions can be made. If the font is too large, then it raises the question of whether balloons are obscuring more artwork than they need to. And likewise, a font shouldn’t be reduced to too small a size. However, it’s important to note that, unless it’s in the service of creating a specific effect (like whispering, or shouting) the lettering for dialogue balloons should be kept at a consistent size throughout. Every once in a while, I’ll hear from another letterer that they were asked to reduce the point size of text to make a wordy balloon fit in a panel. Or punch up the point size in another balloon imply to make it fill a large area of dead space in a panel. That’s not done.
If you’re worried about setting the size of balloon lettering suitably for your own comic project, you could use a trick I’ve relied on in the past to work it out. Simply scan a page of a comic you like the lettering design of into your computer. You’ll have to crop this and tidy it up in Photoshop, but that’s nothing to worry about. Just aim to crop to the edges of your scanned page as tightly as possible.
What you need to do then is drag this scanned page into your graphics app of choice. You’ll need to manually resize it so that the edges line up with the edges of what will be your final printed page. It should go up to the edge of the bleed area of your print template, if you’re using one (and you SHOULD be!) but NOT into the outer trim area.
You can then place your lettering onto the page on another layer and manually adjust it until it matches the point size and leading of the lettering on your scanned page.
This will ensure that, provided the lettering on the page you’ve scanned is easily legible, yours will be too. (Amusingly, somebody once passed along a comment from somebody that they found my lettering on a book I’d set up like this to be ‘too small’ – if that’s the case, that reader is probably struggling to read books published by Marvel, DC, Dark Horse… you get the picture.)
One final point that’s worth making here is that it’s sometimes a good idea to boost your point size by a point or two if your project is a web comic or other online-only kind of thing. Sometimes, for reasons I’m not clever or technically savvy enough to explain, what looks good on a printed page doesn’t often look so good on a monitor screen or tablet. Post production processes can render text that would be clearly legible on a printed page borderline illegible.
I hope all the above is useful!