Quickguides: basic layout

In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to lay out a live area. What is the live area? It’s the area of your paper that you’ll fill with drawing (you can draw outside of the live area, but then you get into advanced cartoning: bleeds). Your live area does not include the paper margins, but rather, corresponds to the outline of all the panels. It’s important to lay out a live area before you start working on a page, to make sure that you’re working in the right ratio. For more on the concept of live area and what we mean by ratio, consult Chapter 6 of Drawing Words & Writing Pictures

In this tutorial, we will use a specific ratio (3:4) and specific size (12″ x 16″) but you can use this technique for any size and ratio you need.

Tools you’ll need:

  • a sheet of bristol board (at least 14″ x 17″)
  • a clear plastic 18″ ruler
  • drafting or scotch tape
  • a pencil (a mechanical pencil is handy for this task)

Tools we recommend:

  • a T-square
  • a triangle
  • a rectangular table

1. The first thing you need to do is tape your bristol board to your drawing board (or other rectangular table). Align the bristol board square to the edge of the table. Use a T-square to make this task much easier.

2. Hook your T-square on one side of the table and draw a horizontal line about 1/2″ from the bottom. You can also use your plastic ruler for this, but be extra careful and make sure that it is parallel to your drawing board or table.

3. Using your ruler measure 1″ from the edge of your paper and make a tick mark on the horizontal line you just drew. Then measure 12″ (i.e: at the 13″ mark  of your ruler) from your tick mark and make another tick mark on the line.

4. Hook your T-square over the top of your table and draw vertical lines through each of the tick marks you’ve just made, all the way to the top of your page (or leave the T-square horizontal and set a triangle on top of it to make your vertical lines).

5. Using your ruler, measure from the horizontal bottom to line up the two vertical lines 16″ and make tick marks at the 16″ point.

6. Hook your T-square to the side of your table again and draw a horizontal line through the two tick marks you just made.

7. You should end up with a rectangular live area with 90 degree corners that is 16″ high and 12″ wide. You can verify that the corners are 90-degrees by lining up a triangle with each corner. Verify the width and height of your live area with a ruler.

You can use a ruler instead of a T-square, however, it’s a lot harder to make sure that the rectangle has 90-degree angles that way. You can line up the ruler with the edges of your paper, but even pads of bristols are not always cut exactly rectangular and you may end up with a wonky angle.

Make sure your live area isn’t sitting at the edge of your paper; always leave at least 1/2″ between the edge of the paper and live area.