How To Create Your Own Comic Art Template

How To Create Your Own Comic Art Template

I make my own comic art template, complete with a lettering guide. It’s easy to do. You can buy bristol board that have panel guidelines built into them, but they are usually on inferior bristol. I like to use 300 Strathmore smooth. And I have a printer that will take that through the manual feed. Here’s how I created my template.

Setup your comic art template in Adobe Illustrator

This part takes the most time, but it’s not difficult. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a new Artboard at 11” wide x 17” high with CMYK color.
  2. Select the Rectangle tool. Click anywhere on the Artboard to pull up the Rectangle Creation dialog box.
  3. Make a rectangle for 10” wide by 15” high.
  4. Use the alignment tools to center it on the Artboard and give it a stroke.
  5. Your stoke color should be set to 30% Cyan, 0 Magenta, 0 Yellow, and 0 K (Black).
  6. Create a two new layers.
  7. Go to your first layer and name it Base Box.
  8. Duplicate your layer twice. Name one 9 Panel Grid and the other 8 Panel Grid.
  9. Lock Base Box and 8 Panel Grid. Select the rectangle on your 9 Panel Grid layer.
  10. In your Menu, pull down to Object > Path > Split Into Grid…
  11. Create a grid with three rows and three columns. I’ll let you decide how much space between them there should be. Some people like everything to be equally distant. If you are a Hergé/Tin Tin fan, you may want to have more space between the rows than the columns, letting each tier stand on its own like a sentence for the visual paragraph you are producing on each page. It depends on your tastes.
  12. Lock that layer and unlock your 8 Panel Grid layer.
  13. Create a new grid, this time with 2 columns and 4 rows.
  14. Select the Pen tool and make hash marks outside of the Base Box rectangle where the new panel gutters meet.
  15. Delete the panels you have made. Now you have guides for an 8 Panel layout that you can pencil once you have printed your board.
  16. Create hash marks on the 9 Panel Grid layer, deleting the panels once you are done.
  17. Now you have a template that can make a standard 6, 8 and 9 panel layout for you comic page.

Create a Lettering Guide

We’ve created a template that will work for drawing panels, but let’s take it a bit further. Let’s create a Lettering guide on top of this so you can handletter your comic instead of using a font, or handlettering it with an Ames Lettering Guide.

  1. Create a new Layer called Lettering Guide.
  2. Select your Type Tool. Click and drag a box on your layer about the size of a panel.
  3. Go to lipsum.org and generate 5 paragraphs of Lorem Ipsum placeholder text. Paste that into your Type box you set. Font doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it. We’re deleting it soon.
  4. Again, this is a matter of preference on how you set your type or how big you letter. According to Comicraft, they set word balloon fonts at 9.5 points with 10 point leading for full size art. I find that to be a little small. I think I set mine at 10 over 12 (10pt size, 12pt leading or 10/12). This is completley subjective. Play around to taste.
  5. Select the Rectangle tool again. Click and drag to create a rectangle around your type.
  6. Again, select the rectangle you just made and go to Object > Path > Split Into Grid…
  7. In the Grid dialog box, click the Preview option.
  8. Now, create as many rows as you have lines of type with 1 column. I used 22 rows. In the padding, play around until you match the leading of each line of type. In the end, you should have 22 rectangles that touch the top of the cap height and the bottom of the baseline for each line of type.
  9. Select your type and delete it. See. I told you.
  10. Now you have some skinny rectangles. Select them all and Group them together (Command/Control G).
  11. Set their strokes 0.5pts and make them 15% Cyan, 0 Magenta, 0 Yellow, and 0 K (Black).
  12. Click and drag your group to stretch them all the way across the page until they meet the other side of the Base Box. If you notice that the lines get thicker suddenly, hit Undo, then double click on the Scale tool. The Scale dialog box will pop up. Uncheck Scale Strokes & Effects on the Options section. Now stretch your box.
  13. Copy and paste your Group. Move it down to slightly below your middle tier. Repeat for your third tier.

Now you have a basic lettering guide. If you know your book is going to use an 8 panel grid, you can adjust your guide from the steps above. This works best with a 6 and 9 panel layout.

Congratulations! You now have your own comic art template! Print it onto your boards and save yourself some time. Or if you draw digitally, you can just import this into your program of choice and draw away.

I can’t find 11×17 boards. All I can find are 11X14 boards.

This happened to me. My local Dick Blick only carries pads of 11×14 Smooth Bristol. I’m too cheap to get the 18×24 pads and cut down. Huge waste of paper, too. So I get the 11×14 pads. I don’t know if there is a shortage of 11×17 pads or what. So what do I do with an 11×17 template?

I have a Brother Multifunction All-In-One Scanner, Copier, and Fax Printer(Amazon Affiliate Link). It’s great. I can print my boards with it and scan them at full Tabloid size also. But it’s old and finicky. It only prints from Photoshop for some reason. I could fix it, but I have 27 other better things to do with my time. Who the hell wants to fix print drivers for an evening? Not me. So I have to print my boards from Photoshop anyway. Which is perfect for resizing your template.

Resize your template in Photoshop

  1. Launch Photoshop. Create a new document for 11 inches by 14 inches.
  2. Go to File > Place Linked and select your Illustrator template as a Smart Object.
  3. Resize your template to fit your page.
  4. Save your document as a PSD.
  5. Print your page. Depending on your printer, it may say that the document is too big to print on your board. I just reduce it by 96% to fit on the page in the Print Dialog box. Works great.

The best part of resizing your template in Photoshop: you placed your Illustrator template as a Smart Object. Now, if you want to change your Illustrator template, those changes will be reflected in your Photoshop document. So you can constantly improve on your template to your heart’s content.

Download My Comic Art Template

You read through all of that, and now I’m going to give you my templates for free. I hope they are useful for you. I created them in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop CC 2015, so you will probably need to be on that level for them to work. I hope that this helps you, and if anything, I hope you try to letter your work by hand. Please try it. Look at all the books at your comic shop and notice how they all sort of look the same. Stand out. Letter your comic by hand for a chage. It adds so much personality to your work. Sometimes you have to use a font, either from deadlines or for translations for international publication. But if you can, do it by hand. I want more handlettered work out in the world.

Download My Comic Art Template
In The Weeds

In The Weeds

This is going to be a different type of post. I’m “in the weeds” right now. One of my favorite sayings. I’m too focused on some big projects, so I’m going to write about what I’m thinking about, especially in regards to storytelling. It all connects. But this represents how I think. This is a good gauge of what is all in my head at a given moment.

Twenty-five Pages of Comics, Coming Up

I’m nearing the end of completing twenty-five pages of comics. It’s a commercial job, and it should be appearing soon. I’m at that late stage of the game though, and I’m beat. I have eighteen pages done and the finish line is in sight. I get like this towards the end of comic projects. Because the work is so time consuming, it ends up feeling like all I do is draw. Just draw, draw, draw. As soon as I get home from my job, I sit down and start drawing. I’m doing this project by hand. I rule out the panels, then do my lettering, then my rough pencils, and finally I ink it all. If nothing goes wrong, I can get a page done a night.

Unfortunately, 2016 has been a bear. Something is always going wrong. You don’t notice when things are going right for you. And you think to yourself, “yeah, I can do this huge project.” Then life gets in the way.

Buying a new car is a hassle

subaru-legacyCars stress me out. Anything else you buy, it usually appreciates in value. Not cars. I haven’t had a car payment in years. But it finally happened. Cars die. Or get to the point where putting money into it leads to diminishing returns.

I am happy with my new car though. I’ve been side-eying the new Subaru Legacy for a long time. They live up to the hype. It’s a rock solid vehicle that has a lot of luxury car features. Quiet. Almost no road noise. Smooth ride. The all-wheel drive is wonderful. I’m so used to driving shitboxes that it’s weird when I take a corner and I don’t fishtail a bit. When I got in for the test ride, I just couldn’t believe I could buy the car for real. I’ve only owned circa 1993–2000 cars my whole life. And car technology seems to have evolved dramatically. It feels like Buck Rogers arriving in the future.buck-rogers

Apple Music

One of the best features of my new Subaru is the Bluetooth connection to my phone. I recently bit the bullet and subscribed to Apple Music. Definitely getting my money’s worth out of it. I think I’ve downloaded near 20 albums since I joined1. Much cheaper than buying albums every month. Plus, having the ad-free Radio channels has been wonderful to set it and forget it while I work.

Go Cubs, Go!

cubsBaseball is back! Last night, I had the Cubs/Diamondbacks game running on my iPad while I was drawing. If you haven’t tried drawing to a baseball game, I recommend it. There is something so zen about baseball. When the first iPad came out, MLB’s app didn’t have video yet (maybe it did and I just didn’t subscribe to it). One of my most favorite times in my life was drawing a backup Lydia comic and listening to the Cubs. It reminds me of the present. Same conditions. I’m trying to bang out a comic in a month, it’s April, it’s beautiful out, and the Cubbies are helping me out. Though this year, they seem unstoppable.

The Wrong Quarry

Again, like that last frenzied run of comics, I can’t just stop and go to bed. I have to decompress for an hour. Before, I used to sit in my garage and smoke a cigar with a beer or scotch and enjoy the cool spring nights. I can’t do any of that shit now or my cardiologist would kill me himself. So I sit down with a good book and drink Sleepytime Tea (don’t knock it). And I finished The Wrong Quarry (Amazon Affiliate Link) by Max Allan Collins this week. I love Hard Case Crime books. You know exactly what you are getting. In general, I love crime fiction. Love it. I’ve been actually poking around at a crime novel in my free (ha ha) time.

the-wrong-quarrySomething I thought about reading the book: Collins doesn’t make his protagonist a superhuman. Look around at most protagonists in crime fiction anymore, be it movies, comics, TV, or books. Most of them are all ex-SEALs who are “on the edge” and are “alcoholics.” Yet when the need arises, they are goddamn supermen. And sure, maybe, if your story works in a weird hyper-realm of believability, that can play. Crank, or John Wick come to mind immediately. Fun stories. But they also are doing it with a wink and a nudge. The creators, they know. They work it well.

But mostly, these superhuman protagonists magically solve any conflict in their path. Despite their underlying problems. These characters are wish-fullfillment male power fantasies. And man, it’s time to stop. Just make real characters. Real stories. Or go all in on the fantasy. And if you do, make it fantastic.

The Wrong Quarry balances all this well. It’s fantastic yet completely believable. And Quarry, our guy, he isn’t a superman. He’s just a guy out in the world trying to make a buck. It plays.

Genre rules everything around me.

Let’s get back to comics for a second. I’m working on a graphic novella, as those of you who have been reading here know. The Walk. It’s part of a planned trilogy of small graphic novellas. I’m working through genres in all of them. This will be my sci-fi story. I had an idea to package them all up like a collection of EC Comics. I even planned drawing like those cats, but we saw how that turned out.

Anyway, genre. It’s fun to play with. The big comic I’m working on right now has a great romance chapter in it. It makes me think I should stop with the crime comics and jump all in to the romance comics.

I love rom-coms. This may happen.

I wrote/drew an awesome “meet cute.”

Midnight Special

midnight-specialI’m taking a small break tomorrow to watch Midnight Special. I’ve been looking forward to this movie ever since the first trailer came out. Jeff Nichols. Man. That guy is a hell of a storyteller. Watch Shotgun Stories. Watch Mud, the beginning of the McConnaissance. Just beautiful, down to earth stories.

I read an interview with Nichols recently. He talked about how he structures his stories. As in, there isn’t one. He starts with an image and constructs the story around that image in his head. Which is what I do. Every story I do has one powerful image in it that I build the story around. We diverge in the sense that I try to apply a simple three act structure to the story. Gives me enough room to manuever, but not enough to dilly-dally. Which is an issue I have. I have to have a bit of structure. If not, you, the poor reader, will read strange passages that go no where. I got to have some rules.

Jessica Abel

Speaking of storytelling, creativity, and rules, Jessica Abel is killing it. Her website should be gospel for cartoonist content marketing. She is firing on all cylinders. She is doing everything I would love to be doing with my website. Except she’s brilliant and I’m still muddling through the cave. I’ve always admired and adored her work as a cartoonist. But this new phase of her career is utterly fascinating and incredible.

Seriously, sign up for her newsletter if you are a storyteller of any stripe. Listen to the podcast. Amazing guidance from a master cartoonist.

NXT: Takeover Dallas, Storytelling, and Shinsuke Nakamura

Last Friday was NXT: Takeover Dallas, and the debut of Shinsuke Nakamura. And holy crap. Imagine if you combined Michael Jackson, Pokemon, and a brutal warlord into a professional wrestler. I am amazed at the storytelling in wrestling, because it is by the seat of their pants every night. I think that would be the most stressful job, being a writer for professional wrestling. And yet, they do it. Mostly well. But you need a good actor.

Shinsuke Nakamura had maybe 3 mintues of build before his debut. Just an iPhone video that he was coming. Then his entrance music hit. Everyone stood up and thought “what in the hell is happening oh god this is awesome?”

And then he and Sami Zayn (one of my favs) told a whole story in a wrestling match. No one spoke a word. But it was a story. Man. Wrestling is awesome.

More to come

I didn’t mention the other projects on my docket. I complained about 2016 being a crap year. And it is so far. But so much opportunity. There are a lot of things happening in my life that I can’t wait to share. More projects. More news. More comics.

But the Cubbies are coming back on. These West Coast games are killing me. I’m not sleeping a wink. And it’s time to get back to work.

See you on the other side.


  1. I’m listening to the Midnight Special soundtrack while I’m writing this post. ↩︎

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