Quickguides: lettering

Lettering tutorial: Using the Ames guide

  • Ames Lettering Guide
  • Mechanical pencil
  • T-square or ruler
  • Bristol board
  • Pens
  1.  Make sure your Ames guide is set to size”5″.
  2. Locate the 2/3 row, the bottom row of the three rows.
  3. Look carefully at the holes. You’ll notice that some of them are linked together with a parentheses. These will tell you which sets of lines go together. (More on this later).
  4. Tape a piece of bristol board to you worktable, and lay your T-square or ruler across it horizontally. Hold the T-square or ruler down so it can’t move.
  5. Put your Ames guide on the top edge of the T-square or ruler toward the left side of the paper, and insert your mechanical pencil in the very top hole of the 2/3 row—the one that isn’t connected by a parenthesis.
  6. Drag the Ames guide across the paper, along the top of the T-square or ruler, with your pencil.
  7. When you get to the other side of the paper, put your pencil in the next hole down the row, and drag the Ames guide back to where it started. Do not move the T-square or ruler.
  8. Continue down the row of holes, using each and every hole in the 2/3 row. You will end up with a lovely set of ten parallel lines.
  9. Pick up the Ames guide and find the parentheses. Draw the parentheses on you paper, linking the lines they correspond to (once you get used to the guide, you can skip this step, but it’s very easy to get confused at first, so use this trick until you get comfortable).
  10. Take a look at the sets of lines you’ve made. Notice that the sets of lines within the parentheses may be parallel, but they are not all the same distance apart. That’s because when you’re lettering upper- and lower-case, you want the height of your lower-case letters (or “x-height”) to be more than half the size of your upper-case letters. In this case, note that the x-height is 2/3 of the total letter height… and you might go ahead and make an educated guess that the 3/5 row of holes will produce an x-height that is 3/5 of the total letter height…
  11. Practice lettering at first with a pencil, then with nib pens, such as a bowl-pointed nib. Use the illustration below as a guide to how the letters should fit on the lines.

Note how the Ames guide is designed to make inter-spaces between lines of lettering. This space is also used for letters with descenders like p, g, or q. If your lettering takes up all the available space, you’re not using the guidelines correctly. Double-check your parentheses against the Ames guide.

Making More Lines

Sometimes you just have a lot to say. Three lines of lettering, which is what the Ames guide can lay out for you in one go, may not be enough for you. So, how do you lay out more lettering?

Notice that you’ve drawn ten lines with your Ames guide, but only nine of them are connected by parentheses. The remaining line is there so that you can continue making more lettering lines.

    1. With you paper still taped in place, reposition your T-square just below where it was the first time. (If you’re using a ruler, not a T-square, this is where your life gets more complicated. You have to make sure the ruler stays parallel to the guidelines you’ve already drawn. Our advice? Get a T-square.)
    2. Position the Ames guide over the lines that are already there so that the lonely hole at the top of the 2/3 row is centered on the bottom line of the set you’ve already drawn.
    3.  Hold down the T-square, and run another set of lines, using the same diagonal row of holes you used before.
    4. You can also position the Ames guide so that the bottom hole is over the top line, and continue your guidelines upward.

Guidelines for all upper-case lettering:

These same guidelines can be used when you want to create all upper-case lettering by simply ignoring the x-height line—this is how classic comic book letterers do it. You can also use the center row of holes, which are evenly spaced. Simply use two lines for your row of lettering, and then leave one line blank between rows.

Making word balloons:

1. Ink your lettering first, then quickly sketch an oval around the lettering, leaving plenty of space around the words.

2. Ink the balloon carefully, not in a single go but in short, overlapping strokes.

If you want to use an ellipse word balloon template, you should still letter first and hand sketch the balloon. then move the template around until you find an ellipse that fits. You may have to try multiple templates to find the right one. Ink the whole ellipse using a technical or pigment pen, and then add the tail. (Use graphic white to connect the tail to the balloon afterwards.

And don’t forget: Oval isn’t the only shape you can use for word balloons!