FOUR PROGRAM SETTING TIPS:
AN UGLY GUIDE


Hello!! Here are some tips on how to make your comic lettering with a font look nicer by choosing the right settings in Adobe programs! Some of these are specific to Ames and other comic lettering fonts like it, some improve the appearance of any font.

These two lines of text typed in Photoshop CS6 have the same point size, but certain settings are different:


This is what's making me draw frowny faces on these screen caps:




Oh no!! Let's fix these one by one.




1) TURN CAPS LOCK OFF

Ames only has uppercase letters, so typing in all caps doesn't make much of a difference. In the font file, an only slightly different variant of each letter is stored in the slots where uppercase letters normally go. They're generally a little wider than the letters in the lowercase slots, so your text takes a little more space if you only use them.

But there's one thing that makes me advise you to turn your caps lock off, and that's the I with serifs. It's customary in comic lettering fonts to store an I with crossbars in the uppercase I slot. This I is only meant to be used in the English personal pronoun 'I'. It's acceptable at the beginning of a sentence or a name or in an acronym (like CIA) as well, but using it in the middle of a word is a comic lettering faux pas. It stands out like a sore thumb, none of the other letters have serifs, after all!




2) Set kerning to Metrics





In a text where the space between letters is technically exactly the same everywhere, some letter pairs seem visually to stand further apart than others. VA, LT and TA are good examples of this. To make the letter spacing visually uniform, the font designer must adjust the space between each of these letter pairs, and this is called kerning.

Unless you know what you're doing, you should always use the kerning that comes with the font. You can do this by leaving the kerning setting to Metrics (in Illustrator, Auto also seems to do that). NEVER use the kerning setting to adjust the spacing of a text as a whole. If you select your text and put any numerical value in the kerning box, any kerning work done to the font disappears into thin air. To adjust the spacing, always use the tracking setting (on the right side of the kerning box).

(I spent days kerning Ames so I want you to use those settings, okay ;_;)




3) Turn ligatures on

To preserve the illusion of handwriting in a small way, double letters in Ames have been made into ligatures where the two letters are not identical. If OpenType Standard Ligatures are turned off, two of the same letter side by side will look exactly the same, making the lettering look more mechanical. They should be on automatically, but if they aren't, above is where you can find the Standard Ligatures button in the Character panel in Photoshop CS6. Below is its location in Photoshop CS5, where it's more cunningly hidden.



Update: I hear that no version of Photoshop Elements supports OpenType features. Why you gotta be like that, Photoshop Elements.




4) In Photoshop: Control the rasterization


Actually, lettering your comics in Photoshop is usually Sort Of A Bad Idea if you're planning to print it. People who letter comic books professionally don't do lettering in Photoshop as a rule. They use programs that preserve the vector outlines of the letterforms, like Illustrator or even InDesign. Photoshop kind of sucks at dealing with type: It converts the text to pixels, and the further down we go from the 1200 dpi print resolution for type, the more Photoshop struggles to do this accurately. This can give the lettering jagged and pixely edges or uneven spacing.

Photoshop can do a fine enough job for webcomics though, and I know a lot of people are more comfortable using it, so.

You can help Photoshop deal with your text better by setting an anti-aliasing method. The anti-aliasing method that suits your text best depends on a lot of things, so experiment with different settings - Sharp and Crisp are usually safe bets.

If you use the type tool at screen resolution (72-96 dpi), you can get good letterforms with the right anti-aliasing method, but the spacing will most likely go wonky, so I recommend choosing a higher image resolution, like 300 dpi.

Here's another problem: If you're lettering a color comic and working in RGB color space, Photoshop turns your text darker than if you use Grayscale. This is a problem with sRGB, as explained in this article. If that bothers you, one working solution to this is to convert the image's mode temprorarily to 32 bit (from Image > Mode) when you downsize it for web, then convert it back to 8 bit (using "Exposure and Gamma").

It's difficult to write more specific tips for this bit because how well Photoshop deals with type seems to depend on the version of the program you're using and a bunch of other variables, such as your font, font size, image resolution, color space and settings, the position of the stars and whether Neptune is waxing or waning, so, well. Good luck??



Um, anyway. That's all I have on program settings, happy lettering!!