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
The iPad Pro Has Changed My Mobile Life

The iPad Pro Has Changed My Mobile Life

I’m never going to buy another laptop again. The iPad Pro is the mobile computer I’ve been looking for my whole life. It’s changed my mobile creation kit in a big way. Back in August 2015, I wrote about the tools I use on the go. Since the iPad Pro replaces a good majority of them, I reassessed everything. I took tools out, and I added a few new ones.

The iPad Pro is my perfect mobile solution.

I purchased a new iPad Pro a few weeks ago once the Apple Pencil and Keyboard Case became available in my market. I never buy new technology without trying it first. As soon as I picked up the iPad Pro in my hands, I was reaching for my credit card. It’s light. Not as light as my iPad Air, but I can hold it with one hand comfortably. And it’s beautiful. Crisp colors on screen. Blazing fast. Amazing speakers. There are a slew of other resources out there that you can read about how great the Pro is. I recommend reading Federico Viticci’s excellent reviews (iPad Pro Review: A New Canvas and iPad Pro Accessories Review: Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard, Logitech CREATE Keyboard). Mr. Viticci uses an iPad Pro as his sole computer, so he knows what he’s talking about. Love his site.

So far the best thing for me is having more than 16gb of memory. I was constantly moving apps on and off my iPad Air. Now, I can reclaim it for what I use it most: reading and light computing. I read most of my news and 8 magazines on it, as well as comics. I deleted all the productivity apps and now my iPad Air is fun again. Reading on the Pro though, is amazing. I feel like George Jensen using it when I pull up the New York Times or the Economist.

iPad Pro

Nerds will recognize my wallpaper.

The Keyboard Case is interesting. I’ve written several papers and articles on it already. It did take some getting used to since it uses the new MacBook keyboard technology. It’s a little disconcerting at first, but I now find it enjoyable. The low profile of the keys are sometimes an issue for me. My fingers will get lost on the keyboard more than a regular one. It’s not that noticeable though. When it’s all folded together, it makes carrying the Pro easy. And I like the spill proof material it’s made out of.

Procreate Illustration

The Apple Pencil is just as amazing as everyone had speculated. It’s the first stylus I’ve ever enjoyed using. I’ve been doing illustrations in Procreate, which has been optimized for the Pro. Working in it is incredible. And if you need something professional done quick, the Pro/Pencil/Procreate combo is perfect. I haven’t tried drawing sequential comic art yet on it. But there are already a ton of YouTube tutorials out there for anyone to search through. I don’t think it’s going to replace my current analog process. It’s nice to know that if I needed to, I could create pages on it.

Another bonus is the Astropad app, which I tried on my iPad Air and found it just not powerful enough to use for real work. I haven’t had an opportunity to use it with the iPad Pro, but I’m assuming it will kick ass. Astropad turns your iPad into a mirrored screen of your computer. Launch Photoshop, and it shows up on your iPad. And now you can use the best stylus ever created with the most powerful graphics program.

This made me re-think not just my mobile setup, but my whole office. The MacBook Pro was the best solution for me for a long time. I needed portability and power. But it was never as powerful as a desktop machine, nor did it have the optimal screen real estate. Don’t get me started on the “portable” part of those machines either. The newer MacBook Pros are lighter, but they are still backbreakers. With the iPad Pro, I can now have the best of both worlds. When my current MacBook Pro dies, I’ll be replacing it with an iMac. The iPad Pro does most of what I need (I can even code on it with Panic’s excellent Coda), but it’s a full fledged graphics tablet also. When I sit down at my main workstation, I want power. And as amazing as MacBook Pros are, they are not as powerful as a desktop. I have an iMac at work, and I never have to quit programs to work in another.

Out with the old tools

As I wrote earlier, the iPad Pro eliminated some of my prior tools. Out came the sketchbook, portable Bluetooth keyboard, iPad Air and assorted pens. I replaced them with a new Moleskine notebook, a Fisher Space Pen, a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen (with Sailor Jentle Yama-dori black ink) and a TWSBI Diamond 580AL Blue Fountain Pen (with Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki blue ink). I stepped up my adult game. I got fucking fancy.

Note: I’m going to be linking a lot to the excellent Pen Addict blog. I found this site for their great Apple Pencil review and got hooked on the rest of their weird geeky pen passion. Awesome resource. They are sponsored by Jet Pens, which is where I buy most of my art supplies. So I was happy to throw them a couple bucks via affiliate links for their excellent writing.

The amazing Fisher Space Pen

Fisher Space PenThe Fisher Space Pen was built for astronauts. If it’s good enough for them, it’s amazing for me. This thing will write in water, grease, whatever. It’s small. And that’s why it was perfect for me. How often do you find yourself actually carrying a pen in your pocket anymore? How often do you need one? Even when you are signing for the check at a restaurant, do you want to use the pen they give you? In the height of cold and flu season? No thanks. The Fisher Space Pen goes right into my front right pocket every morning when I leave my home, and I never notice it. It’s perfect. And it looks great. Pretty inexpensive and refills are cheap. You can order them online or at any big box office retail store. Check out the Pen Addict review.

The Moleskine Notebook

In my original blog post for my mobile gear, I didn’t slam Moleskine per se. But I wasn’t exactly favorable for their products. They are standard designer/writer kit, especially if you want to be perceived as a designer/writer/really special snowflake. Also, I never liked their sketchbooks because they were a pain to get flat on a scanner. So I switched to spiral sketchbooks.

However…

Now that I do most of my sketching on the iPad Pro, I didn’t need a sketchbook in my bag anymore. And I still believe in the physical act of writing notes on paper. It helps you remember information better. So I got a new Moleskine notebook. Because, let’s be honest, they make fantastic notebooks. It will take me a year to go through one of them. They look great. And now when I bring one to meetings, clients will realize that they are talking to a real creative person. Not one of those fake ones with a yellow legal pad1.

The Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen

Pilot Metropolitan Fountain PenAfter I got the Fisher Space Pen, I started thinking a lot about the pens I use in general. In the office. At home. And you know what? I’m tired of crappy pens. Most of us use whatever the office has in stock. And they’re good enough. But try a Space Pen and you’ll have the same realization I did. I’m tired of cheap, disposable pens.

Enter the Pilot Metropolitan. It’s a fountain pen, which turns off a lot of people immediately. But I’m so used to using nibs for cartooning and lettering now that I thought “what the hell?” The Pilot Metropolitan is a cheap beginners fountain pen. If you aren’t sure about fountain pens in general, this is a beautiful pen to try. It writes so well. Seriously. It’s like going from a V4 engine to a V6. Or a Ford Fiesta to a Honda Accord. You get the picture. It comes with a refill cartridge, but I sprung for a fountain pen converter. The converter lets you draw ink into a chamber, so you can just buy a bottle of ink that will last you awhile. I decided to go with the black Sailor Jentle Yama-dori ink (to match the color of the pen)2. It writes well. The nib on the Metropolitan is fantastic for the price, and the ink is smooth. It’s an affordable setup. And when you whip out a fountain pen anywhere, people notice. Here are the Pen Addict reviews for the Pilot Metropolitan and Sailor Jentle ink.

Finally, the TWSBI Diamond 580AL Blue Fountain Pen

TWSBI Diamond 580AL Fountain PenOr as I call it, Sex Pen

I enjoyed writing with a fountain pen so much that I decided to step my game up even higher. If the Pilot Metropolitan is a Honda Accord, the TWSBI Diamond 580AL is a Cadillac. It’s beautiful. It’s made of plastic and aluminum, and each part is replaceable. The Diamond has a piston charger built in. All you need to do is dip the nib in ink and twist the piston mechanism at the end of the pen. The ink flows into the chamber. Beautiful. It is an amazing pen. I am finding myself looking for reasons to write things down with this pen. I went with the Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki blue ink to match the blue aluminum highlights of the Diamond. The ink is sublime. Sometimes low key and sometimes it leaps off the page. And I just love blue ink, in general. There’s something about it that I adore. The combination of ink and pen is so satisfying to write with that yes, I’m going to relate it to sex. It just feels so good. It’s on par with how in love I am with the iPad Pro. It’s just… right. It actually relaxes me to take notes with the pen on the Moleskine. Check out what Pen Addict had to say about the TWSBI Diamond 580AL and the Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki ink.

You are obsessed with pens, Max. How much further will it go?

It can’t go any further. I actually own a Mont Blanc fountain pen. It was a present for being the best man in my uncle’s wedding. So, if the Pilot Metropolitan was an Accord, and the TWSBI Diamond 580AL was a Cadillac, the Mont Blanc is a Porshce. Or something else obscene and amazing. It has a gold nib. Which means it will never break down like a steel nib. And it can only be used by the owner, because the owner breaks it in to their unique writing style. But since I got it when I was a shithead 19 year old, I never understood how great it was. I mean, abstractly, yes. Swiss bankers in movies used Mont Blancs. But I didn’t appreciate good penmanship, or nice things, because… 19. I was happy with Hot Pockets in 1996. Not Mont Blancs. Or fountain pens. I intend on using it though, only at home, and only for special occasions.

Mobile as all get out

These are all the tools I’m currently using on the go. I hope you can find something of value in any of these. I will have a more in depth article on the iPad Pro and how it applies to comics soon. But for now, consider this a brief introduction.


  1. Any writer that carries a yellow legal pad is a real writer because they don’t care. They want to write. They’ll write on anything. They have to get words out of their brains before they explode. Writers write on anything. They don’t need fancy shit to write. You don’t need fancy tools. I’m not writing a novel and I beat the hell out of my notebooks, so the durable Moleskine is good for me. ↩︎
  2. Cartoonists: beware! You must use fountain pen ink which is not waterproof. If you try using the ink we use in a fountain pen, you will destroy it. That’s not to say you can’t draw with one of these. In fact, I believe Stan Sakai uses a fountain pen. But just be aware that you aren’t going to get those dark lines that we like. The ink is thinner for regular usage. ↩︎
Will the iPad Pro be the ultimate mobile creation tool?

Will the iPad Pro be the ultimate mobile creation tool?

Last month I wrote about my mobile gear. In short, my bag contains: an iPad Air, a Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard, a sketchbook and assorted pens. That’s about all I need. I have a Wacom stylus, but I don’t like drawing on my iPad. It’s not a fun experience, neither through input or the assortment of drawing apps on the market.

Last week, Apple announced the new iPad Pro. At first it interested me, and then I questioned why I would want it.

Simplicity

Ditching all those tools for an iPad Pro is tempting. Especially with the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. I would no longer have to remember to throw my keyboard into my bag. Adobe announced some new apps that work with the Apple Pencil, which is also promising. I’m impressed with Adobe products in the last year. They’ve been adding significant value to their Creative Cloud subscription. And from early hands on reviews, it sounds like the Apple Pencil may be the first stylus to get it right.

However

As tempting as those features are, it almost feels like they ruined the iPad. I bought the first iPad the day it was released and loved it immediately for what it was. I’m actually writing this post on my iPad Air. It’s my “casual” computer that can function well when I want it to for work.

So the iPad Pro makes me wonder why I wouldn’t just buy another laptop. I’m not a fan the current state of drawing apps for iOS. Why wouldn’t I buy a Wacom Cintiq Companion if I want to draw digital? And as a tablet, the iPad Pro is heavy. It’s about the same as the original iPad, which was a pain to hold for any extended time. I’ve read some early reviews that the size to weight distribution on the Pro is fantastic. I’m just not interested in that wrist workout again though.

Wait and see

I’m an unabashed Apple fanboy. I admit it. I also admit to eyeing the Microsoft Surface since reading Frenden’s review. I decided not to go forth with that purchase because the pen output doesn’t sound ideal. Nor did I decide to go through purchasing a Cintiq Companion because of the bulk and battery drain. So it looks like deep down I have some interest in an iPad Pro. But I think this is the first Apple product that I am going to wait and see how it’s reviewed by cartoonists. And that’s weird for this Apple fanboy, trust me. I had the first iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. I loved them all. I still love them, in the case of the Apple Watch. This will be a bit strange for me to not just immediately throw money to Apple.

Mobile Creation On The Go

Mobile Creation On The Go

I worked at a small design firm early in my career. One of the owners possessed the object of my desire: a titanium PowerBook G4. He would bring it to the office on his motorcycle. Worked on it all day in his corner office, doing everything from programming to design work. And at the end of the day, he’d pack it up so he could work from home. I wanted that freedom. Mobility. I wanted mobile creation.

Titanium PowerBook G4

This thing is a beast.

Fifteen years later, and mobility is not a problem. Now it’s choosing what devices you use. How mobile do you want to be?

It’s akin to how joyful listening to music must have been a century ago. Think about it. If you wanted to listen to music, you had to go someplace to where a band was playing. Or you made your own music. Or you went to church. Now we listen to music while we do three things at once. Every song ever made is available to us through a myriad of devices and delivery systems. It’s almost an afterthought.

The same is true with mobile devices.

Over the years, I have tried a variety of devices to achieve the mobility I desired. I experimented with writing on a Palm Pilot. I looked at the old Treo’s. Something light and small enough that I could do simple mobile computing. Nothing beat the laptop. I’ve owned three MacBook Pro’s over the last 8 years. It’s heavy. They have become lighter over time, but my latest, a 2011 model, is still 5 pounds.

Then the iPad was released in 2010.


Mobile Creation Bag

My Mobile Creation Bag

There is a lot of speculation on the current state of the iPad. For me, it’s the perfect machine on the go. I bring mine with me to work everyday. I can comfortably read documents on it without wasting paper. The Office365 apps are a dream. But where it shines for me is for writing. I use a Logitech K810 Bluetooth Keyboard (Amazon Affiliate Link) that syncs with both my laptop at home and my iPad Air (Amazon Affiliate Link). I toss it in my bag everyday in case I want to write. I’ll use it instead of my iMac. The iPad offers a focused writing experience for me. The first draft to every blog post or comic script gets it’s start on my iPad. When I get into doing revisions and publishing, I’ll switch back to my laptop. After I’m done working though, it’s back to the iPad. I use it on my couch for casual computing.

The only thing I don’t use my iPad Air for is drawing and sketching. I have a Wacom stylus. I just find using it and the available software for it to be cumbersome. So I have a simple spiral sketchbook that goes with me everywhere. I also carry a mechanical pencil, a click eraser, a Pentel Touch pen and a Pentel brush pen for drawing on the go. I hope in the future the iPad offers a better drawing experience. Maybe the rumored upcoming “iPad Pro?”

There are other solutions for mobile/digital drawing. I’ve narrowed down possible choices to the Microsoft Surface and the Wacom Cintiq Companion. The Surface is a little too close to owning another laptop though. The one Cintiq Companion I’ve played with weighed more than my Macbook Pro. For now, traditional tools work better for me. Especially when I can take a photo of a sketch with my iPad or iPhone and send it to my laptop to work on later. You should read about illustrator Ray Frenden’s experiences with both the Surface and the Companion if they are of any interest to you. His reviews are informative.

I carry these items in a lightweight bag everyday. If I’m traveling on vacation or I’m headed to the office, it’s the same bag. I don’t need much else. I still want to keep my laptop though. If I’m traveling and I know I need to work, it comes with me. Design work in particular needs a tradional desktop experience. I can do some simple programming on the iPad, but I feel a lot more comfortable with my laptop.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next five years. I’d love to have a 15 inch MacBook Pro with the same power, but have it weigh as much as the new MacBook. If it had an Apple designed stylus, then it may be a perfect fit.

One last thing…

In order for my whole set up to work, everything I work on needs to be able to sync. This is easy now. My favorite apps all sync to the cloud between my iOS devices and my MacBook Pro. Day OneEvernote, and iA Writer Pro are my main writing tools. They offer the best digital experience for me.

Recently though, I read this article from the New Yorker: Why Startups Love Moleskines. If you are anything like me, you bought a crapload of Moleskine notebooks in the mid 2000s. And if you were me, you thought, these are kind of expensive and they won’t lay flat on my scanner. I switched back to simple and cheaper spiralbound sketchbooks. But these new Evernote Business Notebooks by Moleskine interest me. I may pull the trigger on one and try it out. It appears too good to be true: a perfect mix of analog and digital tools. I’m not holding my breath. But I’d like to at least try it out. I’ve talked about my love for Evernote before. It might be worth a shot adding one of these notebooks to my bag.

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