Drawing The Line: Part 2

Remember learning penmanship in grade school? I used to get a kick out of the tool that the teachers used to draw lines on the chalkboard, it was a series of wire clamps mounted on a strip of wood. Each clamp held a piece of chalk and when the tool was drawn across the chalkboard several parallel lines were produced that  then the teacher could demonstrate proper penmanship on. Music teachers also loved this chalk line tool for creating staff lines on the chalkboard.

Folks that do lettering for comics have a similar tool called the Ames Lettering Guide. Most lettering in comics done today is created using fonts on a computer so there is little concern about type not being ruled properly but those traditionalists that still like to letter by hand have a best friend in their Ames Lettering Guide.

Ames Lettering Guide

This handy little tool fits in the palm of your hand and is made of durable plastic that will last a lifetime. My Ames Lettering Guide is over thirty years old and is still going strong. There is and adjustable wheel in the center of the tool that has rows of tiny holes in it. This wheel can be turned to adjust the distance between each line that will be drawn when you put a pencil in the holes and drag the tool across the edge of a t-square. Move your pencil down into the next hole in the tool and drag again and repeat. Eventually you will have a series of parallel lines similar to the ones drawn by your grade school teacher.

Chris Kalnick, my pal, former ROBOTECH inker and creator of NON and DEPTH CHARGE both featured here at CO2 Comics recently sent me this video of the Ames Lettering Guide being demonstrated. A comic letterer will rule guide lines wherever lettering is expected on the comic page. The lines are drawn very lightly as they are merely guides and will be eventually erased. Some letterers prefer to rule these lines with a non-repro blue pencil. After the lines are drawn the letters are penciled or roughed in. The final lettering will then be done in india ink.
I’ve attached the instructions that accompanies the guide. They explain how to use the tool in detail. You will note that you can accommodate for type size and leading simply by skipping holes.


I’ve attached the instructions that accompanies the guide. They explain how to use the tool in detail. You will note that you can accommodate for type size and leading simply by skipping holes.
For some letterers the size of the letters they plan to create can be very personal. I suggest that, once you determine the size you prefer, you either mark the wheel so that it can always be returned to that mark or tape the wheel in place so it will not be accidentally moved. My experience has been that the Ames Lettering Guide always attracts the attention of curious visitors who might be in  my studio and is almost always played with. People just love turning that wheel as they try to figure out what the dinky contraption does. Maybe I’m a crank, but I taped mine in place because I got tired of having to reset the little bugger.

The Ames Lettering Guide is a more versatile tool than you may expect by first glance. Because the wheel is housed in what it is essentially a small straight edge with one side at a 90 degree angle and the other side a 68 degree angle it can also be used to draw vertical lines as well as angled lines to assist the letterer in keeping letters uniform wether they are intended to be vertical or italic.

The three straight edges of the tool can also be used to conveniently draw small strait lines on the comic page which makes it a great when drawing lines on buildings and machinery. Even the circular shape of the wheel can be used as a guide for drawing curves that may match its particular arc.

I have also found that the guide can be used to make circles by placing a push pin in one hole and a pencil in another. The pin anchors the center point of the circle and as you wind the pencil in the guide around the pin you will complete perfect circles every time. You can make concentric circles simply by moving the pencil to holes closer to the pin. This is a great option especially when a compass or a circle template is not readily available.

Using the Ames Lettering Guide to make circles.

I have just one more favorite use for my Ames Lettering Guide and that is as a burnisher. Back in the day when Zip-A-Tone was the best way to achieve half tones and when a print mechanical was made of photostats mounted with a waxer, I would lay a piece of tracing or bond paper over the work and burnish with my guide . The smooth, roughly three inch edge covered more ground than most burnishers and the short hand-held size offered just the right leverage for applying minimal but firm pressure to the delicate materials being bonded. Boy, talk about ancient history, but it still seems like yesterday!

Using the Ames Lettering Guide as a Burnisher

The Secrets of Professional Cartooning by Ken Muse

You can probably tell that my Ames Lettering Guide and I are best buddies. Hey, we go back a long way, but who wouldn’t like a simple little tool that could do so much work and make a job so much simpler without ever complaining.

As a last side note I know that some folks are just too cheap to part with three bucks to pick up one of these handy gizmos or just can’t find one anywhere even though they are easily found on the internet. Maybe yours is lost and you are up against a deadline. I found this alternative in Ken Muse’s classic book The Secrets of Professional Cartooning.

From The Secrets of Professional Cartooning by Ken Muse

However you like to line your page is your preference. The important thing is that you enjoy making your comics your way. I know I do and that is where I draw the line.

Making Comics Because I Want To

Gerry Giovinco

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19 Responses to “Drawing The Line: Part 2”

  1. Raine Szramski says:

    I have one of these gizmos, taped in the position I like it as well. Infact, I’ve been using it all this week to letter the new “Heaven & the Dead City” pages…

  2. Great minds think alike, Raine! Keep pushing that lettering guide…we all can’t wait for more Heaven and the Dead City. What do you use to letter your pages?

  3. Box Brown says:

    I love the Ames guide, but I want to make one out of NEON ORANGE plastic so I don’t lose it on my desk every 3 seconds.

  4. Raine Szramski says:

    I use Micron Pigma pens, sizes 2 and 8 to letter. I used to use a Rapidograph but these are more convenient. Also good for borders and word balloons.

  5. Raine Szramski says:

    A neon orange Ames guide sounds great. I keep dropping it on the floor when I get too crazy with the t-square and it’s nearly impossible to find on an oriental pattern rug…

  6. antony says:

    Well, I have a bright green one….never thought about using it to make concentric circles, that’s effin’ genius!

  7. The neon green duct tape, seen in the photos, helps me find mine when it’s trying to hide.

  8. Chris Kalnick says:

    Loved your blog on lettering. I really enjoy lettering and designing titles. A cartoonist who also letters harkens back to the days of craft. A lot of those artists from the American Poster Renaissance and Art Nouveau movements designed and lettered their commercial work, and it’s beautiful to see and study today. And, yeah… I tape my Ame’s guide as well.

  9. Bondage of the Ames Lettering Guide, is it a fetish?

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