REPOST: Making Comics: Designing A Font by Kerrie Smith


There was a bit of a discussion on social media about the art of lettering so I thought I’d repost Kerrie Smith’s piece about her quest to design a new lettering font.

Originally posted on, she has kindly allowed me to report it here.

Designing a Font, Part 1: Looking for inspiration.

For an upcoming project I’m working on, I’ll be designing my first ever font, which is super weird and exciting. Just to ramp up the difficulty it won’t be in English either, rather a set of made up runes for magic. When magic is used in comics it’s generally a stylized English, so there are few places to draw inspiration. I’ve been delving into Celtic and Norse runes, through Promethea, Hellstrom, Zatanna, Dr. Strange, any comics that might have something in them, and my dearly beloved Tolkien appendices. Of course it’s hard to look ideas like that without wanting to use them, so this afternoon I’ve been sitting in the garden looking for patterns in how the trees and plants have grown. The ideas are coming along nicely and will hopefully start pouring in from more sources as well. Sifting through lettering sites, I’ve found a goldmine of stuff I could have done with when I started lettering, which has given me ideas for some future series of posts and projects. For now though, lets just try and get this font done.

Oddly, I now find myself noticing how things are shaped and what angles they make to other objects. It’s very odd seeing the world in a kind of shape sense. It makes me wonder if artists and mathematicians see the world this way and walk around half bonkers. I feel like I may slowly slide into insanity with the looks I get when I mention the angle of the curtains in my front room. But before this is the end of me, I’ll come up with something, ink it and then put it together digitally. So, once more into the breech and hopefully I’ll have a little more to show for it next entry.

Designing a Font, Part 2: Trial and Error

So after a lot of deliberation and finding sources of inspiration, I moved on to actually starting to create my font. What followed was an absolute wreckage of trial and error trying to sort out what the font should look like. Straight lines? Curved lines? Rune-like? Tolkien elvish looking? And then there was correlation of symbols to letters. It was a surprisingly time consuming process that required a lot of testing and mind changing.
Once I had a basic idea of what I wanted where, then came the sizing. I needed to set the font ascenders and descenders in relation to one another and make sure the midbar points were all in line.
When I got to this point the font was pretty much as far as I could take it on paper and so next I’ll move on to the actual digital process, for which I’ll be using typetool 3 and adobe illustrator, which can be found here and here. I find typetool is a little counter-intuitive, so you can make the letter shapes on illustrator and copy them over to work with them for actually manufacturing the font via typetool.

So, that’s all for now. I’ll leave you with the final idea I had put together for the font.

Designing a Font, Part 3: The Digital Stage

Continuing in my adventures of making my very own comic book font (for the first time), I started inserting the letters manually today. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to draw the font, scan it and then build the letters in Illustrator. I broke the letters down into individual Jpeg files then drew them in on Illustrator, a relatively easy job, even with my lack or drawing skills.
Then I just copied them over to typetool, simple as. Once you have your font metrics set to your desired values, your ascender and descenders will keep themselves aligned across the font so you just have to stretch the image to fit if you haven’t set up your guides in adobe. Though I found this guide quite useful for setting things up in illustrator (found on Joaquim Nielsen‘s youtube video).
Once you’re at this point I’d recommend testing the font, before you start working on the metrics and kerning. Which I did, the font itself needs to be tidied up too. I’ll save that for next time though, and I’ll leave you with my ridiculous looking first typing test. But it’s coming along at least.

Kerrie Smith is a letterer and writer of books such as Cling. You can follow her on Twitter @pocketkerrie