Analog lettering & Photoshop?

[ A+ ] /[ A- ]

ballonFor some of my own work, most of it really,
I don’t use digital lettering.
Not the way demonstrated
in my last post on this topic.

I DO often shape my balloons the same way, using the expand selection trick after scanning hand-lettered text. But despite a fondness for the LOOK of hand done lettering, I still composite the text and balloons digitally most of the time, rather than writing it directly on my physical artwork.

And while I like lettering by hand, I’m not good at doing it in the formal tradition either, I’m no Todd Klein. And I don’t want the feel of anything like that really either – nothing against it but I don’t always like the way that looks with my art the most. The main reason I do it by hand is to try to capture the same sense of line my art has. So that the words in form, blend with the art itself.

You can see from the two double page spreads out of “Honolulu Lorie’s Lava Love Lounge and Poodle Emporium” – the colour story here – that I also like to experiment a bit with different ways to integrate the lettering that reflects the nature of the text. The Poetic narration of Lorie’s was done in the disembodied white text, that generally had a shadowy translucent ‘balloon’ framing it. I felt this was key to making it read somewhat like Tom Waits.

And likewise the way I draw my speech balloons, is meant to evoke the spoken word more than the read. So while it’s possible for computer lettering to appear more organic, I find this approach much more subtle and nuanced in effect.

  • I write out the text in groupings roughly how I expect to fit them in the balloons or text boxes, often many times larger than I’ll need them, to make it the most comfortable to do a lot of writing by hand and keep the text legible.


  • I’ll use a fairly thick felt tip or ball point drawing pen, have someone proof them for me, make repairs and then scan those.
  • In Photoshop I use the selection tools to drop away the white background after sharpening them up with levels. place the text on a layer over the art, size it to the appropriate scale.
  • Use the selection tools again to create the balloons and plot out where the tails will go, the same way I do in the all digitall method.
  • Then I’ll copy those out onto a single 8.5″x11″ doc and print it out as blues.


  • And I use those – built to custom fit the text and placement – to ink the final rendering of them with my Pocket Brush or some Pigment Pens.
  • This results in a satisfying sheet of perfect word balloons.


  • The balloons get scanned back into the page, cut out leveled and placed in behind the text.

For the final work, I end up with several layers, I save out the file with all the text merged onto one layer, and the balloons on another, both separate from the art. Save that as a new version keeping a copy of it with the editable text still, and then finally for the print ready version, merge them all.

I also experimented with using a comics style font to layout my text, and hand ink in my own lettering over it.

This was a similar process again to the all digital method I use, but I then printed out the text and digital balloons out as blues, and inked over them both! This gallery shows that work. The results were pretty good, next time I’d print them even larger to make it easy to ink them.

I save much of my work as new versions of the file as often as I can remember too. Makes for fewer heartbreaks down the line, and allows me to show my working process pretty well? I hope this proves edifying.

The reason I’ve adopted this method for most of my work is that it’s highly flexible. It means I can use the art for Promo without the text much more freely. Edit the text easily if needed, and it will be a simpler matter to produce translated versions later on as well, when all the text and balloons are editable. With the hand rendered lettering I do have to write new versions of words to make changes, but this is not a very big problem. And I find that Liquefy is a super handy tool for tweaking word balloons for the best results too.

All the pros of lettering by hand & digital compositing without the negatives. And while it may seem to make more work up front, it does save on trouble later on often.