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What is a Letterer?

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  • Written By: N. Phipps
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Generally, a letterer is responsible for drawing the text in comic books. The letterer’s purpose is to help make the text flow smoothly, making it easier for readers to follow the storyline. Letterers must not only possess efficient grammar skills but should be artistic as well. In fact, cartoon letterers oftentimes find themselves taking on the role of graphic designers. In addition to the book’s dialogue, letterers create the logos, titles, word balloons, sound effects, and other related features.

While some comic books are still hand-lettered, most comics today are lettered using a graphics program. In fact, many cartoonists now use a computer font that is created to match their own handwriting. The letterer works closely with other contributing members of the comic book team. This includes the writer, penciler, inker, and colorist. The writer initially writes the script for the comic, developing the plot and setting, constructing the characters, and putting together specific story elements. From here it is passed on to the penciler or illustrator.

The illustrator forms the writer’s script into pencil drawings using preliminary sketches. These sketches include panels of various scenes, giving detail to the characters. The inker is then responsible for adding ink to the drawings while the colorist adds color to the comic. As with a letterer, the colorist may opt to add colors by hand. However, most colorists today simply add color by using specific computer programs.

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Once complete, the comic is passed to the letterer, who adds speech balloons, captions, and sound effects. This lettering process usually begins with copying the outline of type from a proof and creating a pattern of sorts. The letters are then drawn in more detail with strong emphasis on the appropriate use of font, letter size, and the layout of the words. Since lettering is important to the overall look and feel of the comic, the letterer must be knowledgeable in how words are used and how they convey meaning. For instance, many letterers create words that look similar to what the character or effect may sound like.

In addition to comic book or cartoon letterers, there are similar professionals within the lettering business. For instance, the show card letterer is responsible for engraving or etching metal, wood, rubber, or other materials. This job title may also include etcher-circuit processors, pantograph engravers, and silkscreen etchers. Sign painters can also be referred to as letterers. The basic purpose of their work is to create various signs using hand painting and lettering.

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