Thursday 30 December 2010

Wednesday --errm-- Thursday Surgery: The Doctor is Late

Sigh! Apologies, once again, for bringing this to you a day late. The second plumbing catastrophe of the Festive Season has disturbed my otherwise calm and serene demeanour, and disrupted the normally zen-like processes of my working day.

Today, we'll cover a couple of points raised by Kyle Jones…

Forgive me for summarizing your first question, Kyle, but the crux of it is this:
You wanted to compare a page you'd scanned from a bought comic to one that you'd found on the internet side by side in Illustrator to assess the point sizes of the fonts used, but found the sizes of the two page scans very mismatched.
I suspect that you're over-thinking this quite substantially. It is true that the internet scan will have been created with thought only to its pixel dimensions, meaning that it is likely to have very large dimensions in mm and relatively low resolution.

However, assuming that your Illustrator document is standard US comic dimensions, then it is the right size. If the page was scanned from a standard US comic, then simply scale the scanned image to fit the Illustrator document (keep in mind that you will need to scale it to the trim line, because the printed document will have been trimmed down from full bleed). Regardless of the resolution, this has to be the right size, because this is the physical size of the original document!

I would caution against getting too hung up on making an exact match for someone else's point size. What's important is that you can read it (easy to check if you print out a sample at actual size) and you think it looks good.
The second question is shorter and sweeter. Since next week is Comicraft’s yearly sale where every font is about $20 (not trying to be an advertisement for them, I’m also looking into a bunch of Blambot fonts), which ones would you recommend […?]
I have literally no regrets about any of the Comicraft fonts I've purchased. You're quite right to note that the annual New Year Sale is the perfect opportunity to pick up some absolute bargains, but which fonts you choose are a matter of taste. You mentioned that I expressed a preference for Blambot's Hometown Hero over Comicraft's JoeKubert, for example. My preference for Hometown Hero is simply because I'm utterly beguiled by Nate Piekos' double-T auto-ligature, that runs the crossbar of the T across both uprights:
I don't expect anyone else to feel the same way -- it's just that I have done this in my own handwriting for many years, so the font makes a very personal, direct connection to me. Something in Comicraft's TimSale makes me think of classic 2000AD letterer Steve Potter's work and using it calls to mind vast bodies of fantastic comic stories from my childhood.

You should be looking for fonts that make you happy, fonts which it will give you pleasure to use. That pleasure should feed through into your work and add something to your lettering that no tutorial, and no amount of practice, will be able to provide.



Sunday 26 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Providing A Sample

The promised new practice packs will be along shortly -- having slain the Deadline Beast with a day or so to spare, a plumbing catastrophe has struck Campbell Towers, bringing further disruption to the festive season!

However, I do just have time to follow up on the following question from Robert Kurthy.

(I have no idea why you couldn't leave this in the comments, Bob -- it doesn't even seem to have been caught up in the spam filter… my apologies!)

"Can you elaborate on the contents of a typical 'sample pack?'

I can't imagine a letterer would be given enough (free) sample copies of an actual printed issue to mail out all over the place.

So what do you send: color printouts? How many total pages? How many pages from any individual book? From how many different books?

Also, anything else one might send, including important things to put (or avoid putting) in a cover letter, etc. etc."

The first thing to keep in mind here is that I'm hardly a towering example of lettering success! I mean, seriously, how many of you have actually bought a physical comic that I've lettered? Very few of you, I suspect! Once you've considered that fact, treat all advice that follows with the suspicion it so richly deserves!

The most important piece of advice is that anything I say here is automatically over-ruled by anything a company's own submission guidelines say. 

Quite a few companies have submission agreements on their websites so make sure that you've checked for this before you submit and that you've included a signed copy if this is something they expect. Otherwise, you're wasting a stamp.

In addition, always do your research. The recent advert by DC Comics for an in-house letterer and subsequent discussion on Digital Webbing strongly suggests that there is little or no point making a cold submission to DC. Similarly, I believe that Marvel have abandoned the slush pile some time ago and no longer even look at cold submissions, so that's another stamp saved. Top Cow have an exclusive agreement with their letterer, who does all their books; IDW have (I believe) all of their lettering done in-house… 

As you can see, the list of target companies for submission can be whittled down quite quickly!

So… with all those caveats out of the way:

My sample pack consists of colour printouts of my most recent work. On an A4 sheet, a US comic page leaves some space, so I try to include a small amount of text, identifying that publisher and the title, and a single brief paragraph talking about any design decisions that were made for the project. I also put my e-mail address on every page.

I mention the extra text because a couple of editors have said that they found this added interest to the samples above a plain batch of sample pages. Artists are often advised to keep their portfolios for initial showing to the five or six strongest pages they have, and that's what I try to follow here. I additionally include an FAQ page at the back, with a brief run-down of my project history; telephone and postal contact details; and a couple of brief sound-bite testimonials.

Given that all this information is included in the sample pack, I try to keep the covering letter as short as possible, pretty much doing nothing more than introduce myself (if you're following up a contact you made at a convention, this is the place to remind the editor of that) and inviting them to contact me for further information if the sample pack doesn't answer all their questions.

There may, occasionally, be something specific to a submission that's worth also putting in the cover letter. Dark Horse specify, for example, that they prefer to see black and white lettering samples. I don't have any, so I thought it was worth putting a brief paragraph in the cover letter explaining this and apologizing, so they at least knew that I'd read the submission guidelines!

One seemingly trivial thing that's also worth mentioning: I always fasten my sample packs together with paperclips and not staples. If you're sending your samples to an office which recycles its paper, then removing the staples is a pain for the editor. Use a paperclip and, even if they throw your sample pack away, you've made their life a tiny fraction easier, plus they've gained a paperclip! It may not sound like much, but it might be enough to fix your name in their mind the next time one of your submissions comes across their desk, or if they see your work in print somewhere.

For what it's worth, that's the best advice I have.



PS: Belated Festive Best Wishes to all of you who celebrate Christmas. I hope you had a splendid day and I wish everyone a prosperous New Year into the bargain!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery: MIA

On the home stretch with the deadline crunch, ladies and gents, but I've only time for a quick note today -- my apologies.

By way, hopefully, of an apology, I hope to have some more practice packs available for you lovely people in time for the Sunday Surgery (which is Boxing Day, unless I'm very much mistaken).

See you on the 26th!



Sunday 19 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Gizza Job, Go On, Giz It…

(Apologies for the post title which will be incomprehensible to the large chunk of this blog's readers who aren't familiar with blackly humorous BBC social dramas of the 1980s.)

This question popped up on another forum, and I thought it was worth a post here:

"Have you ever posted anything on finding work?"

Now, I will confess that if I had a magic formula for getting work, that's one thing I probably would keep close to my chest!

As it happens, however, I don't have any special insight! The bulk of my income is currently derived from two publishers, and my "in" with them was chiefly dumb luck: in both cases, they were looking for a fill-in letterer in a hurry and my samples were top of the pile. In both cases, the samples had been out for so long that I'd actually forgotten about them.

And this is the only key piece of advice I can offer: if you don't actually have any samples out there, then even dumb luck isn't going to work in your favour.

Also, you're going to want to those samples to represent your best work. I have a simple database (although a spreadsheet will work just as well) with the postal address of every US and UK publisher I can find details for. I record the date when I send a sample pack out to them, and what response -- if any -- I receive. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there is no response at all.

Every three months or so, I try to find time to update the sample pack with current pieces of work, and send a new pack out to everyone who hasn't already commissioned me, or told me to never contact them again.

Be aware that raising your profile is largely a matter of doing a lot of free work and hoping that some of it turns into paying work. The first year I made any money from lettering, I'd say that about 75% of the work I did was actually free, or 'back end', the second year it was about 50/50 and I was able to pack in my day job; this year I think it'll be about 66% paying and I hope that next year it's going to be north of 75%.

(I should stress that I am very fortunate to live an area of the UK where housing prices are relatively reasonable, I have modest lifestyle expectations, and an understanding wife with professional qualifications and a good job. You will not get rich doing this!)

On the subject of back end deals (where you do all the work for no pay up front but in return for a percentage of the profits on publication), I should say that I am not --in principle-- as hostile towards these as many professionals. There is an argument that if the work is good enough to be published, it's good enough to get paid for, a sentiment with which I take no issue.

However, given that these deals do exist, then they are certainly a means, if nothing else, of getting some original material to work on! Your chances of making any money on these deals (excepting some of the big players, like Image) is pretty slim, but if you look on these projects as good practice that you might get paid for, then I would argue that they certainly have some value.

Beyond that, the only advice I can offer is about making sure that even a small break turns into a bigger one: always do your best work, regardless of the page rate; always deliver on time; try very hard not to be a dick.

That's all I've that been doing. So far, so good…!



Thursday 16 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery: Holding Pattern …

Sorry, folks -- you might have to be patient with me for a couple of days! More content is coming soon, I'm just grappling with an unexpected deadline crisis. 

Prospective letterers, take note -- "unexpected deadline crisis" are three words that will dog you for the rest of your life if you're serious about this line of work!



Sunday 12 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Over to you, Rich!

Grappling with a bit of a deadline crunch this week, so today's Sunday Surgery simply points you in the direction of this excellent resource page on Comicraft's Balloon Tales site.

If I have one mild criticism of Messrs Starkings & Roshell's excellent site(s) it's that some of this stuff is pretty tough to find, and the chaps don't blow their own trumpets often enough: how have I been lettering professionally for two years, and as an amateur for years before that and have never seen that page before, guys? It's brilliant!

Anyway, I'll happily leave you in the informative hands Comicraft for today. More stuff coming next week.



Thursday 9 December 2010

Thursday Surgery: Unlettered Pages! With Scripts!

With apologies, once more, for the delay, I'm happy to bring you the delayed Wednesday surgery post.

One area where prospective letterers seem to be at a disadvantage is finding sample pages to letter, either for practice or for portfolio purposes. There are lots of scripts on the web that pencillers can have a crack at, pencils for inkers, inks for colourists, but letterers…? Not so much.

Now, it is true that there are plenty of web-comics and small press titles out there with utterly horrible lettering, so you could just pitch up to them and offer to do their lettering, but that's not much help if you're just looking to get some practise in (and some people can get a bit defensive when you point out that their web-comic looks like absolute pants because they lettered it in ComicSans).

There are some sample pages on the 'Activities' thread on the Digital Webbing forum (which are well worth a go -- I've tried several of them myself, and some of them are hard!) but beyond that a quick Google turns up precious little.

Consequently, I'm happy to bring you some unlettered sample pages, with scripts.

The links below are direct downloads of ZIP files, which should uncompress with any suitable utility to give you the artwork files, and the scripts in Microsoft Word format.

Please note that these pages are supplied for lettering practise only and may not be used for any other purpose. If anyone breaches the copyrights then I will have to remove the files.

First up -- Judge Dredd: It Came From Bea Arthur Block (Part 1) provided by kind permission of editor Matt Smith at 2000AD/Rebellion. There are six B&W pages, and the ZIP file weighs in at roughly 4Mb.

Download Judge Dredd pages.

(NB: I didn't letter the published version of this strip. That was done by the supremely talented Annie Parkhouse. Extra thanks to PJ Holden for letting me have the pages and the script when I was doing some try-out pages for 2000AD earlier in the year.)

Next -- Fractal Friction Pgs 1-10 provided by kind permission of the named creators on each page. There are ten colour pages and individual scripts for each, so the ZIP file is a bit larger, weighing in at 11Mb.

Download Fractal Friction pages.

Please feel free to post the results on appropriate forums, such as the Digital Webbing Lettering Forum if you want some feedback. 

You can also post links to your lettered versions of these pages in the Comments section of this post if you'd like me to provide a crit of them in a future Surgery session.

I have feelers out to other collaborators and publishers, and I hope to be able to supply some more pages next week. 

If you know of any other resources where unlettered pages and the corresponding scripts can be found online, please use the comments section below to share the links, and I'll collect them together in future post.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery: Delayed by Snow!

OK, that's not true. I'm just trying to pull something together that was only highlighted to me earlier today. It should be helpful, but I'm unlikely to be able to get it all ready to go this evening.

Fingers crossed, I should have something for you tomorrow. Apologies, once again!

Sunday 5 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Oh, what a tangled World Wide Web…

Today's Sunday Surgery arises in part out of a query from the depressingly talented Jim Boswell, but which touched on an area that had already caused me some considerable headaches…

As it becomes increasingly common for publishers to want to repurpose strips for web, e-reader or iPad, you may find that you're asked to supply layered lettering files so that publisher can adapt the pages for electronic consumption.

Given that Illustrator files already have layers, the obvious solution would be to turn all the text to outlines and simply supply the .ai documents. However, Illustrator seems to be viewed as a bit of a strange beast in some quarters and requests for layered TIFF files, or Photoshop (.psd) documents are very common in my experience.

Illustrator has an option for Photoshop export which should preserve your layer structure, but I found that every time used it, my artwork and balloon layers would be merged into one, with the Text layer behaving as expected. To save everyone else the frustration of working this out, I can report that that it's the Overprint Stroke setting on balloons and captions that causes this. If you turn this off, then the Photoshop export works perfectly.

Note that you can record an action that contains Select All, and then two clicks on the Overprint Stroke followed by two clicks on the Overprint Fill options which should remove all overprinting from your document.

(You could even build the .psd export into the action, which would enable you to run the entire process as an automated batch option on a folder full of .ai documents.)

However, you need to be very clear with your publisher that a file with no overprinting should not be doubled up as a print file.

There is -- to the best of my investigations -- no way to extract a layered TIFF file directly from Illustrator, but you could record an action in Photoshop to save your exported .psd files as layered TIFFs and then run a batch operation from within Photoshop to handle the second stage of the conversion.

At this point, I will concede that the obvious solution that suggests itself is to simply letter the whole thing in Photoshop. 

The sky will not fall in if you letter documents in Photoshop, but a bitmap graphics editor is, regardless of how many features Adobe shoe-horns into it, simply not as good an option as a programme for which setting type is a primary function. Sooner or later, you will run into the limitations of Photoshop as a typesetting application and, at that point, you'll need to consider using Illustrator instead.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery

…Aaand we're back.

Still pretty busy, to be honest (not that I'm complaining, I should stress) but there's enough time to mop up a couple of questions from previous posts' Comments sections, which is what these 'surgeries' are for.

Where does default lie?

Jesse asks:

"Is there a way to lock Illustrator's ellipses at 0.75 pt? Mine (CS1) defaults to 1pt, which looks too chubby to my eyes, but it's a pain to change each balloon. I've considered creating the page at 1 pt, then selecting the Balloons layer and changing it all to 0.75 pt when it's done, but I think that may end up introducing side-effect oddities where balloons don't look quite right after I change the stroke width."

To the best of my knowledge, there's no way to set the default value in Illustrator.

However, I really only have one basic dialogue balloon for most projects. A not-quite-oval one or a slightly-squared-off one. Some fonts and projects suit one style better and some suit the other -- I don't tend to mix them.

Consequently, I have one balloon with the correct stroke, fill and trapping values to one side of the document on the Balloon layer. When I want a new balloon, I simply CMD-C/CMD-V or hold down the ALT key and drag the balloon onto the document area with the Selection tool. Using ALT turns the normal move operation into a copy.

As long as you have the "Scale Strokes" option unchecked in Preferences, you can then resize the balloon to your needs:

If you want to create a different balloon or caption box with those values, simply click on the master balloon with one of the selection tools (doesn't matter which) and then switch to whichever drawing tool you need. The next object you create should be on the same layer and have the same stroke and fill values.

If you find that having a live object at the side of the page gets in the way, you can always lock it (CMD-2) so that it can't be accidentally selected, and then pick up its properties with the eye-dropper (quick-key 'I'). I've never used CS1, but if it has Graphic Styles, you could also create one with your basic balloon properties and use the Styles palette to quickly apply the relevant values.

What's the vector, Victor?

Kyle Jones came back with a quick follow-up question arising from my 'Resolution' post:

"... Do you ink on a vector layer or a raster layer in Manga Studio. I realize you'd still have to use the bucket tool and some other things on a raster layer (even if inking with vector layers)? Do you do this (inking on vectors) in case you want to make characters or objects bigger as you adjust your drawings?"

I use raster (bitmap) layers for all my Manga Studio layout, pencilling and inking. I'll confess that this is largely because I haven't yet got to grips with the vector features of MS yet, but also because I had previously tried inking in Illustrator and literally never found myself going back and editing individual strokes, only ever deleting them. Given this, the very generous number of Undos available in MS seems more than sufficient.

You're quite right to observe that scaling elements on a vector layer will give better results than a raster one, but I try to do anything like that at the "pencilling" stage so that the inks are all laid down at the same size.

Nonetheless, the vector tools are still something I intend to get to grips with, and I promise a post on that subject once I have!


"Also, what would be the precise specs you'd recommend when building a standard US comic book page in Manga Studio (for Page Size, Finished Frame, Basic Frame and Bleed Width) as it seems different comic company's specs vary slightly, what would be a good generic template?"

Again, I've never used MS professionally for a page of comic art, but this is my understanding…

Finish Frame is the same as the Page Size, in as much as it is the finished, trimmed size of the page. A standard US comic book is 168x259mm, so that's the size I'd use for my Finish Frame; Bleed varies by printer but no-one ever complained about having too much, so make that 5mm on each edge, to give 178x269mm.

Basic Frame is the Live/Safe Type area. This is the one that can really vary, so for a paying job always, always check! For practise documents, you might as well call it 10mm in from the finish frame, so 148x239mm…

As ever, if anything here is unclear, or gives rise to further questions, please feel free to use the Comments section to post queries or give feedback.

Monday 29 November 2010

Books With Bite!

Workloads are starting to ease up slightly, so I'm hoping we're going to be back to business as usual with a Wednesday Surgery this week, and perhaps even the final part of the Illustrator Guide, covering printing esoterica, other miscellany, and the ever-popular Five Lettering Errors That Will Give You Away As A Clueless Noob.

In other news, the Ten Deadliest Sharks graphic novel produced by Discovery Channel and Zenescope's all-ages imprint Silver Dragon, gets coverage on the USA Today website, which is a first for me!

Of course, 2010 has been a rather shark-heavy year for me, what with the artwork restoration and re-lettering on the --ahem-- somewhat less educational Hookjaw for Strip Magazine, which should be hitting the newsstands early next year.

Friday 26 November 2010

If I could direct your attention to…

Still rushed off my feet here at Campbell Towers, but I did want to take a moment to direct your attention to the entirely wonderful Matt Brooker's new book, Timularo.

Matt is better known as his artistic alter-ego, D'israeli, and you'll find a link to his excellent blog under the "Blogs I Follow" header to your right. Tirelessly inventive, constantly experimenting, Matt's open, transparent and lucid discussions of his technique were in no small part the inspiration for this blog.

Well known in the UK as a 2000AD stalwart, providing the art for regular appearances of the strips Lowlife and Stickleback, he's probably better known to American comic readers for a stint inking Marc Hempel in the closing issues of Sandman, or perhaps for his War of the Worlds and Scarlet Traces work with Ian Edgington for Dark Horse. Some may even recall the splendid Lazarus Churchyard, penned by a then-virtually-unknown writer by the name of Warren Ellis…

Those of us with long memories and large comic collections, however, fondly recall the second half of the Eighties and the manifold pleasures of Deadline magazine where, nestled between the barmy adventures of Hewlett & Martin's Tank Girl and the deceptively simple charms of Phillip Bond's Wired World, Timulo was to be found.

Thanks to the adventures of the titular character, some of us have known for many years that Mr Brooker also possesses prodigious talent as a writer and is an admirably handy letterer as well. The strip has been out of print for donkey's years, but Timularo collects all the episodes together and adds a chunk of previously unseen material into the bargain.

Timularo is available from and comes thoroughly recommended. Treat yourself for Christmas.



Edit to add: with impeccable timing, Pete Wells' excellent 2000AD covers blog features a new cover by D'israeli, and includes an informative and fascinating overview of the processes involved in creating it.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Wednesday Surgery

…is probably going to be Thursday again this week, but will usher in stage one of International Be Kind To Your Letterer Day.

--Or possibly later. I'm flat out this week, but I'll hope to have something new and shiny here before the end of the weekend!--

Apologies for the delay.



Sunday 21 November 2010

Sunday Surgery: (Not Quite) New Year's Resolution

A couple of days ago, Kyle Jones raised some excellent -- chiefly Manga Studio related -- questions that I thought were worth a Surgery session. I should stress that I don't use MS professionally (yet) but am more of an enthusiastic amateur. As such, I would unreservedly recommend Doug Hills' excellent book Manga Studio for Dummies as, effectively, the missing manual for this package.

Nonetheless, much of what Kyle is asking breaks down to a matter of resolution, about which I do know something.

Counter-intuitively, I'd like to deal with Kyle's last question first, since the answer informs much everything else.

"in Photoshop on my computer it was very difficult to digitally draw and ink anything much bigger than 300 dpi, but since Manga Studio handles larger dpi projects much better (and can easily handle 1200 dpi without slowing down), is there any point of overkill (or is bigger always better)? If one's computer can breeze through the 1200 dpi setting in Manga Studio, is there any reason to go less? (assuming it will ultimately be colored in Photoshop at a lower dpi)?"

This actually hits on something very important. There is an extraordinary amount of rubbish talked about resolution, and Kyle is exactly right when he refers to higher resolution as "overkill". As computers have become faster and hard drive space has become cheaper, there has been an automatic assumption that more is better. The last time I worked on pre-press, I was routinely being sent graphics files from agencies that were 3600dpi and higher.

This is crazy.

There's a very good reason why scanners offer very high resolution options: if you intend to scan an image and then digitally adjust it or scale it, then it makes sense to scan it at actual size but at high resolution, since making adjustments through the preview on a scanner's software interface is so imprecise as to be useless. Better to bring it into Photoshop at high resolution, adjust, scale, make other fine-tuned alterations and then reduce the dpi to the setting you need.

For this reason, comic line art is generally scanned at 600dpi and is (I suspect) the reason why 600dpi is the default resolution for Manga Studio layers.

But, as Kyle notes, the first thing most colourists will do is drop the resolution to 300dpi.

So… what is the ideal resolution for your documents? 

The answer is defined by the quality of the printed product. All printed material that has any kind of variation in colour or tone is made up of dots of ink on paper. The fineness of those dots in printing terms is defined by the screen frequency, which is measured in lines per inch or lpi.

There is a very complicated formula to enable conversion from dpi to lpi in order to work out optimum resolution, but I worked in newspaper and magazine production for ten years, and the rule of thumb which always worked in my experience is that, for an image that is 100% of printed size, optimum dpi = 2x printed lpi.

Old style B&W newsprint was anything from 45-75lpi

Most magazines are 100-120lpi

Really glossy brochures, art books and some high-end magazines might be as high as 150-175lpi.

I would be astonished if there is any comic on the market printing at higher than 150lpi on internal pages, and 175lpi on the front cover, so anything higher 350dpi (call it 400 if you think the artwork might be need to be scaled up at some point) at actual size is nothing more than a waste of hard drive space and CPU clock cycles. 

In almost all instances where the printed product will be colour or grayscale, 300dpi will be more than sufficient. If in serious doubt, find out what the lpi of the printed pages will be, but I'm prepared to bet cold, hard cash on the upper limit being 150lpi.

If you're creating aliased linework (with hard edges, of the kind that Manga Studio produces, for reasons explained in my previous post here) then you should do that at 600dpi -- if you were submitting traditional pen-and-ink work, that's what you'd be expected to scan it at, so it's as well to respect that as a convention. It's also important to note that the lpi to dpi conversion is only applicable to colour and grayscale documents. Absolute black and white is imaged in much more detail and 300dpi is insufficient in these circumstances.

(The two paragraphs above have been revised in line with some sage and timely advice from Mr Todd Klein, for whose input I am most grateful.) 

 "The brushes I had made in Photoshop were modeled after Freddie Williams' suggestions in his book "Digitally Drawing Comics". For instance, he suggested working in a 300 dpi project 11 x 17 inches and doing contour lines at 6 or 8 pixels as a starting point."

I will confess to being mystified as to why anyone would advise creating digital art from scratch on an oversized document -- the only difference it makes is to the Zoom percentages you have to use. In the layout, "pencilling" and "inking" stages, certainly in Manga Studio, I'd work at 600dpi and actual, printed size.

"What would be the millimeters of an 8 pixel or 3 pixel Photoshop brush in Manga Studio (if page size and resolution affects the brushes at all - which touches upon my next questions - then please assume the page size and dpi would be the same in both programs)?"

The resolution absolutely affects this. Pixels are the "d" (dots) in dpi, so the higher the dpi, the more tightly packed the dots and thus the smaller the pixels. Double the resolution and a brush measured in pixels shrinks to a quarter the size:

For reference, that 24px brush at 300dpi measures 2mm across, and 1mm across at 600dpi.

Manga Studio advises a very old-school way of determining "actual print size" on your monitor, which is to create a document and then adjust the zoom percentage on screen until the ruler at the top of the document matches an actual ruler that you hold against the screen. Once you've determined the zoom percentage that matches the real print dimensions, you can set this as the default value the application preferences and zoom to it with CMD-SHIFT-0 (zero):

Note that, dependent upon your own screen size and default resolution, the print size zoom percentage on your monitor is unlikely to be 16.4% -- you need to measure it yourself!

Manga Studio is much better at maintaining live updates of the same document in multiple windows than Photoshop, so it's worth creating two windows for your working document, one that you leave at Actual Print Size and the other that you do all the zooming in and out of, that way you can always quickly refer to how your linework will look on the finished page and ensure that your lines aren't becoming over-fiddly or insanely detailed. If you have a Cintiq or a dual monitor set up, you can keep the print size window for reference on the monitor that you don't use for the main drawing.

(This last hint shamelessly stolen wholesale from Mr Dave Gibbons' Manga Studio 'webinar' which you can see here, and which is well worth 90 minutes of your time.)

Because Manga Studio uses millimetres rather than pixels, MS brushes are the same size regardless of document resolution: 2mm is 2mm, resolution only changes how many pixels are squeezed into those 2mm.

I would genuinely advise trying to let go of the actual measurements of your pens and brushes, and simply worry about whether you're happy with the stroke weights they give at Actual Print Size.

Obviously, if you change the size of your document, then this will affect the size of your brushes and thus your strokes, which is why I recommend working at high resolution and actual size, rather than on an oversize document at lower resolution.

However, if you are determined to work on documents that are larger than printed size, the key thing to remember is that you are dealing with areas and not lengths. If you take a normal comic page and double the side lengths, you have increased the area by a factor of four.

Consequently, if you want to create a document that is twice the final, printed size of a comic page, you need to multiply the side lengths by the square root of two which, as near as makes no difference, is 1.4

Thus, if a comic page (including bleed) is 178mm x 269mm (sorry, US readers, the rest of the world is metric!) and you want to work on a page that is double that, you need to multiply each side by 1.4, to give 249mm x 377mm.

The same is true for brushes -- a 48px brush at actual size would need to be 48x1.4= 67px on a document scaled to two-up.

It's important to stress, though, that the whole point of artists working on oversize pages was originally to enable the artist to create finer strokes than they would be able to if they worked at actual size. The only reason for drawing at half or two up was so that the linework would appear finer when camera-ed down to actual size (and a certain amount of unevenness of line would also be eliminated). If you're going to scale up your brushes, you might as well not bother!

And that -- I think -- pretty much covers it. If any of this is unclear, or raises additional questions, then please use the Comments section to leave feedback and we'll come back to this in a future surgery session.



Friday 19 November 2010

Magic Wands (Har Har)

(Do you see what I did there?)

Anyway, notwithstanding my new career in stand-up comedy, this is just a quick note to draw your attention to compact but informative interview with DC letterer Steve Wands over on Newsarama.



Wednesday 17 November 2010

Wednesday Surgery: Time is Fleeting

Just a quick organizational suggestion for Wednesday's surgery. This tip has honestly put about 15-20% on my productivity.

Lettering a page essentially has two parts: the boring part and the interesting part. The boring part involves transferring the text from the script to the Illustrator page, placing the artwork and positioning it correctly. In an ideal world, you could stick all this on an Action, and be done with it but, unfortunately, you can't!

The interesting stuff is the actual lettering, which has pretty much nothing to do with anything of the above.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I find there's a time of day when I'm not at my creative best. For me, it's later in the day -- after eight or more hours sitting staring at that monitor, I'll admit that I start to flag. For many other people, it's the earlier part of the day.

If you have the luxury of planning your work more than a day in advance, then use your less-productive hours to do the part of the job that requires little or no creative thought: prep a whole batch of files so they're ready to letter. Because I do this last thing in my working day, I can have a day's worth of worked prepped and ready to go for the following morning. If you've got a laptop you can do the prep work sitting in front of the TV having a nice glass of wine and pretending to listen to your wife/husband.

Trust me: the pretending to listen to your partner part is solid gold. :-)