When done right – you tend not to notice great comic book lettering. Meaning it blends seamlessly with the art to make an amazing reading experience.
I used to letter all of the various comics that we created back in the mid-late 2000’s.
I’d pour a glass of wine (I’m not a wine drinker incidentally), fire up InDesign and get to it. It was a nice reprieve from writing, drawing, packaging, Myspacing and marketing our fledgling boutique comic publishing concern.
I wasn’t particularly great – but I was pretty good and lettered around 250 pages in total.
Hand Lettering Your Comic Was Sometimes Ulcer Inducing
Lettering your comic used to be a nerve-wracking experience. That is when you were talking about dropping in the lettering by hand with a technical pen or a #107 nib. While digital lettering today can still be a frustrating process it’s miles easier than in decades past.
Enter the comic book font.
- Origins of the Comic Book Font
- Free Comic Lettering Fonts
- Comic Lettering and Typography Books
- Comic Lettering Videos and Tutorials
- Further Reading
- Comic Lettering Websites
Where the “Comic Book Font” Came From
When I was first hunting for free comic fonts to test out in the early 2000’s the pickings were slim. There were only two or three worthy contenders. Since then thousands of free fonts can be found and downloaded online. By sheer numbers, this also means more free quality comic fonts have also surfaced.
It just takes longer to find them now.
While I tend to stick with “paid for” Comicraft fonts you should play around with some of the free ones first to get a feel for comic lettering.
My goal for you with this post was three-fold.
- The fonts had to be free.
- They had to be able to be used commercially (or at least partially)
- They had to at least be “almost” as good as a paid commercial font.
— Nate Piekos (@blambot) October 1, 2014
Free Comic Lettering Fonts
Blambot Comic Fonts
— C.B. Cebulski (@CBCebulski) May 29, 2014
My first stop was over at Blambot comic fonts and lettering. Nate Piekos has been at this for two decades and has lettered comics for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Oni Press, Dark Horse Comics and many others. Nate’s work has been seen EVERYWHERE.
He’s designed a lot of comic fonts and has made several of them free via a license agreement for independent comic creation.
- Anyone can use Blambot free fonts for non-profit projects, excluding Embedding, Redistribution, or Webfont use.
- If you are an independent/small press comic creator, you may use Blambot free fonts in your comic book project–even if you are making money with your project–even if you use the fonts printed on merch in support of your comic. (This excludes Embedding, Webfont, and Redistributive use.) This is Blambot’s way of supporting the independent comic community and applies only to indie/small press comic book creators.
- If your use does not fall into the above scenarios, and you need a Basic or other license, see the License Options page.
Two of the standouts are:
Back Issues is a handy comic font to get you started. You can play around with it in captions and word balloons.
Badaboom is more of a display font. It would be useful for sound effects, titles or a loud voice word balloon.
But really they’re all great. Other Blambot fonts such as Crime Fighter, Unmasked, and Evil Genius have been around longer than some comic creators have been alive.
Next up it’s over to 1001fonts.com for two more contenders.
Styles: Regular, Bold, Bold Italic
Made by Press Gang Studios
“The original plan was to have five 10-font packs which would constitute a complete lettering system for the comic artist, whether professional, independent, amateur, beginner or whoever wants to use the stuff. The biggest worry for any comic artist in these digital days, when it comes to letters, is what goes inside the speech, narration and thought balloons. I took care of that with Komika Text, which is based on WBX’s Sunday Komix letters.
Then there are the titles and the cover type, of course. Those are accommodated with Komika Display and Komika Title, based respectively on WBX’s Komixation and Supermarket Sale letters. To add variety and flexibility to the superset, 10 more fonts were added in a Hands set, all of which can theoretically be adequate substitutions for the text, display, and title sets, depending on the application. These supposed “alternative” fonts turned out very nice, and in certain respects are even better than the main sets.”
Then I stopped by Font Squirrel.
“Font Squirrel is your best resource for FREE, hand-picked, high-quality, commercial-use fonts. Even if that means, we send you elsewhere to get them.”
The Comic category had 26 fonts but only two really jumped out at me. You can head over there and decide for yourself.
VTC Letterer Pro is brought to us by Vigilante Typeface Corporation aka Larry Yerkes who is a tattoo artist, font designer and freelance Illustrator. This one has been around for a while and I remember downloading it back when I was scouring the net for free fonts.
“ZITZ is my second cartoon font, based on the hand lettering in the King Features daily strip Zits by Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott. According to Robert C. Harvey’s thoughtful Children of the Yellow Kid: The Evolution of the American Comic Strip, “Zits” is a “teenage strip…ostensibly drawn by Borgman and written by Scott…. Borgman produces the final art.” The tall, tight lettering and expressive drawing style of Borgman’s political cartoons has long appealed to me; since 1997, “Zits” has represented a daily dose of his art.
The scratchy outlines of the letters reflect both the artist’s pen and the texture of newsprint. (I saved dozens of strips to get a full font.)
Contains two versions of each capital letter (in the upper and lowercase positions) for a more random look, plus numbers, punctuation, and accented characters.”
My last stop was over to Google Fonts. With hundreds of typefaces to choose from – I finally settled on just one for now. Kalam – a free font that comes in 3 weights.
“Kalam is a handwriting font family that supports the Devanagari and Latin writing systems. Even though Kalam’s letterforms derive from handwriting, the fonts have each been optimized for text usage on screen. All in all, the typeface is a design that feels very personal. Like many informal handwriting-style fonts, it appears rather fresh and new when seen on screen or printed on the page.
Kalam’s letterforms feature a very steep slant from the top right to the bottom left.
They are similar to letters used in everyday handwriting, and look like they might have been written with either a thin felt-tip pen or a ball-point pen. In the Devanagari letterforms, the knotted-terminals are open, but some other counter forms are closed. Features like these strengthen the feeling that text set in this typeface has been written very quickly, in a rapid manner.
Lipi Raval and Jonny Pinhorn developed the family for ITF; Raval designed the Devanagari component while she and Pinhorn worked together on the Latin.”
Alright – let’s take a brief moment to enjoy this amazing page from Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali (ALL-NEW COLLECTORS’ EDITION #C-56, 1978), lettered by the legendary Gaspar Saladino.
Image © DC Comics.
Have fun with this, and when you’re ready trust me, you’ll probably start buying fonts from Blambot and Comicraft. I always check out the online sales in the summer (week of Comicon) and New Years over Comicraft.
Be sure to add your favorite fonts in the comments below. It’s always nice to grow a bigger list.
Comic Lettering and Typography Books
For book recommendations covering all areas of the comic industry go here.
Acclaimed artists Mark Chiarello and Todd Klein demystify these essential steps in traditional graphic storytelling. Chiarello explains the entire coloring process, from computer and software choice to creating color effects that give the action its maximum impact. Klein discusses whether to letter by hand or by computer—a hotly debated topic among working letterers—and demonstrates an array of techniques for creating word balloons, fonts, logos, and much more.
Step by Step, Comic Book Lettering the Comicraft Way guides readers through the process of lettering a comic strip digitally. From font design to balloon placement, sound effects, signage, title page and publication design, the creators of The World’s Greatest Comic Book Fonts cover every conceivable aspect of comic book lettering.
Lavishly illustrated by examples drawn from Comicraft’s ten years as America’s premier comic book lettering studio, this manual is an essential tool for comic book creators everywhere.
In Lessons in Typography, you’ll learn the basics of identifying, choosing, and using typefaces and immediately put that knowledge to work through a collection of exercises designed to deepen and expand your typographic skills.
After a crash course in type terminology, you’re encouraged to walk the talk with lessons and exercises on creating type-based logos, crafting personal emblems, choosing and using the right fonts for layouts, designing your own fonts, fine-tuning text like a professional, hand lettering, and more.
Creative Lettering and Beyond combines the artistic talents and inspirational tips and tutorials of several professional hand letterers and calligraphers for a dynamic and interactive learning experience.
After a brief introduction to the various tools and materials, artists and lettering enthusiasts will learn how to master the art of hand lettering and typography through engaging, easy-to-follow step-by-step projects, prompts, and exercises. From the basic shape and form of letters, to cursive script, spacing, and alignment, artists will discover how to transform simple words, phrases, and quotes into beautiful works of hand-lettered art.
Will Eisner is one of the twentieth century’s great American artists, a man who pioneered the field of comic arts. Here, in his classic Comics and Sequential Art, he refines the art of graphic storytelling into clear, concise principles that every cartoonist, comic artist, writer, and filmmaker needs to know.
Adapted from Eisner’s landmark course at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Comics and Sequential Art is an essential text filled with invaluable theories and easy-to-use techniques. Eisner reveals here the fundamentals of graphic storytelling. He addresses dialogue, anatomy, framing, and many other important aspects of the art form.
Fully updated and revised to reflect current practices and technology, including a section on digital media, this introduction to the art of comics is as valuable a guide as it was when first published.
Further Watching: Videos
How CAPTAIN AMERICA Demonstrates BRILLIANT Comic Book Lettering!
Lettering is an unsung part of comic books, but a great letterer can impact the story more than you think! Today, we’re taking a look at Captain America: Steve Rogers #3 to see how the positions of speech balloons and caption boxes are critical to the story!
Lettering A Comic Book Page (#Adobe Illustrator)
Lettering a Comic Book Page from SK Comic’s Augmented using Adobe Illustrator.
Lettering & Ballooning
Lettering and ballooning are the easy part! We just need to pick or make our font and jam it onto our page.
Master Penman Jake Weidmann
As the world grows increasingly digital, storied art forms like penmanship are quickly dying out. Old masters pass away, leaving behind a gaping void. Enter Jake Weidmann, the youngest “Master Penman” in the United States by three generations. Weidmann’s work shows an attention to minute detail that only comes through years and years of practice. His finished pieces — which fuse calligraphy and fine art — remind us that handwriting can be beautiful.
No More Klein Overlays
Lettering: who does it best and why?
Comic book lettering has some grammatical and aesthetic traditions that are unique. What follows is a list that every letterer eventually commits to his/her own mental reference file. The majority of these points are established tradition, sprinkled with modern trends and a bit of my own opinion having lettered professionally for a few years now.
This article is ancient – but it discusses the masters. The images are broken, and I’d love to see this updated, but I felt it was important to include. You’ll have to ‘Google Image’ examples of each letterer’s works.
Comic Lettering Websites
You want a master class in comic book lettering? Then check out the 1st issue of Doom Patrol by the always great Todd Klein! pic.twitter.com/1bN3Iu8bqM
— Pat Brosseau (@droog811) October 11, 2016