Manga Lettering Workflow
Lettering manga probably isn’t a typical job and maybe it’s just my lack of skill in explaining things but for some reason it’s often confused with translation. Or, it’s assumed that all we do is erase Japanese text and plonk in a translation. I mean, that’s not too far from the truth but for anybody interested in a slightly more detailed look at the process, keep reading!
Like most good things, the whole process starts off with an e-mail. If you’re lucky enough to get work, the editor in charge will ask if you’d like to take on a project or are available to letter the next volume in a series that you’ve previously worked on.
Whether the translation is available or not, the editor will also give you either the deadline or when you can expect to receive the files, followed by a deadline.
Other details might include payment, ISBN numbers, page count or anything else that might be of use.
2. File Types
If you agree to work on the manga offered, the next thing you’ll need to do is download the files. This should include a translation, images, logos and any other materials required to get the job done.
For the main pages high-resolution (1200ppi) TIF and PSD files seem to be the most popular but PDF files aren’t that rare, either.
Logos typically arrive in Adobe Illustrator format or EPS and this is also the same for artwork under the dust jacket.
These days TIF and PSD files generally come dialogue-free and with empty speech bubbles making the job of cleaning a lot easier but if you’re working on an old title or for some reason the publisher can’t get unflattened artwork, you’re going to have to clean every page using Adobe Photoshop (or something similar).
PDF files will also need text to be removed but fortunately this can be done in Adobe software like Illustrator or Acrobat speeding up the process a little bit. Typically these will then be exported at 1200ppi and converted to bitmap using Photoshop.
Whichever file type you end up with, any handwritten text (aka asides) embedded in the artwork and sound effects will need to be erased.
Once your pages have been cleaned, now they’ll probably need to be placed in Adobe InDesign. Some companies still do page-by-page lettering in Photoshop but for the most part InDesign is the weapon of choice. It’s the industry standard for when it comes to publishing books and is superior to Photoshop for the job.
Each of the images (or pages) will need to be linked to and placed in your document, positioned correctly and scaled up or down to match the original Japanese book as closely as possible.
Sizes vary depending on the publisher but a rule of thumb is to make sure that at least the top and bottom of the page have the same crop as the Japanese book.
Chapter titles and page numbers often also need to be added but some publishers will add page numbers for you if you’re lucky.
5. Dialogue & SFX
If the book is laid out to your satisfaction now we can move onto the lettering. This is the fun part!
Dialogue needs to be placed in the relevant speech bubbles and typeset with readability in mind while also trying to look aesthetically pleasing. Much easier said than done in some instances and occasionally edits will be made to the translation to accommodate size/shape of the original speech bubble.
Typefaces and fonts also need to be changed to match the feel of the original book. This is generally left up to the letter to decide but editors will give feedback if they think something might be better suited.
Depending on the client and/or the artist’s wishes, sound effects will also either be erased entirely, subtitled or a bit of both. If they’re to be erased then, again, this is usually left up to the letterer to decide how it’s handled. Some letterers still do it by hand, others prefer to use fonts. This is by far the time most consuming, difficult and stressful part of the job. But it is also the most rewarding and creative.
6. Check & Export
Book complete, it’s always a good idea to do a double or triple-check of your work and look for anything obvious you may have missed. Regardless of how well you think you’ve done there is always something you forgot to do.
Obvious things include over set text, dialogue that’s not centred properly, pages that have been aligned wrong and sound effects that may have overlooked.
Once you’re happy, time to send a proof to your editor.
A week or two later, when your editor or proofreader is done tearing your work apart—and rust me, they spot everything—you’ll probably get back some (hopefully) minor corrections to be made. Don’t panic! It’s almost always edits that have been made to the translation, resizing or realigning text. It’s a pretty quick process.
Corrections complete, it’s time to package your files in InDesign and send them to the publisher.
Packaged files will include your original InDesign document, and IDML file, images, fonts and a PDF preview.
Now go take a walk or have a drink. You’ve earned it!