Word Balloons, Part One

This Photoshop tutorial not only has the dubious distinction of being my first ever, it's also the first part in a series! My goal in these tutorials are to show you how to make professional-looking word balloons that you can reuse or even modify later on. Word balloons, also called "speech bubbles," are a must for any print or web comic, unless you prefer text directly on the page.

  1. Step 1: Create the text
  2. Step 2: Drawing a balloon
  3. Step 3: Drawing the tail
  4. Step 4: Add a stroke


I'm going to teach the vector method, as it becomes far more flexible, as you will see in later tutorials.

I found this image of Cookie Monster talking about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, and learning the "Cookies Are a Sometimes Food" song. I'd like to make sure the world knows what Cookie Monster thinks.

C IS NOT FOR CARROT

C IS NOT FOR CARROT

Step 1: Create the text

We'll want to create the text in-place, so we can fit it to our panel without having to draw the balloon twice or adjust it too much afterward.

I'm going to use my favorite free comic font, DigitalStrip (just say no to Comic Sans). Also, I highly recommend all other fonts by Blambot.

Good comic font.

Good comic font.

Step 2: Drawing a balloon

We're not going to be using the elliptical marquee tool at all. Why, you may ask? Well, the short answer is that they don't lend themselves well to mistakes or changes. If you fill a marquee with color, and realize you need to add a line of dialog, you'll have to erase and re-create your word balloon. Using vectors, we can directly edit the shape and save ourselves time and effort.

I like saving effort, mostly.

The long answer can be found in this page: Bitmap Graphics vs. Vector Graphics (not yet written).

Once you have the ellipse tool selected (if you don't know where it is, consult Photoshop help files about the toolbox, and please learn the basic tools first), make sure it's in "vector shape" mode by checking in the top toolbar just below the "File Edit View..." menu.

Vector instead of 'fill'

Vector instead of 'fill'

Drag out an ellipse in the shape you want your balloon. Don't mind the weird-looking outline that also appears, because it's a visual guide to your circle, and won't be visible any time you have a different layer selected, or export the image.

Yay, circle!

Yay, circle!

You should now have a layer that contains a vector shape (probably named 'Shape 1' or something equally creative). The white box (in my image, yours may vary) is the color of the shape layer. If yours is not white, double-click that box to open a color selection box, and pick white.

Above the background layer

Above the background layer

Step 3: Drawing the tail

No word balloon is no good without a tail (unless that's our intention, but I don't think you're reading this to learn how to make ellipses), so we need to add some points to change the ellipse's shape.

We need the "Add anchor point" tool, which is buried under one of the options you see in the image to the right. What you will most likely see, especially if you've never opened this menu before, is the Convert Point tool, which looks like a crooked greater-than symbol. Hold your left mouse button down on a menu button to see its flyout menu.

Under the Pen tool

Under the Pen tool

Here we want to add three points to the circle. These points will form the two corners where the arrow meets the balloon, and the point of the arrow:

Pick an edge for the tail

Pick an edge for the tail

Here are my three new anchor points. Notice how they are all spaced fairly close together, and are spaced equally. As you can see, when adding the anchor points, Photoshop has tried to match the existing curve as closely as possible. Thanks, Adobe!

1-2-3

1-2-3

Now, take the Direct Selection A tool, and what we want to do is pull the middle anchor point where you want your word balloon pointing.

Pull it away from the balloon

Pull it away from the balloon

Optional Step - Sharpen tail:
This step is entirely optional, as this would make a perfectly acceptable word balloon as-is, but I like my balloon to have a super-sharp tail. Plus, you get to use another vector tool. I'm giddy like a schoolgirl already!

Here is the Convert Anchor Point tool, which we totally bypassed earlier to use his friend, Add Anchor Point tool. Well, this time we're using it.

Fancy!

Fancy!

Click the end of the tail with the Convert Point tool. That's it, this step is done. What we've actually done here is converted the point from a curvy-type point to a corner point, which allows us to have an ultra-sharp point.

Sharpened tail

Sharpened tail

Step 4: Add a stroke

What good is a word balloon without an outline? No good, I tells ya.

Right-click the layer in the layers pallete containing our balloon, and click "Blending options" from the pop-up menu:

A layer's best friend

A layer's best friend

Now look along the left side, and you should see a stack of empty checkboxes with a list. Click the word 'Stroke' (do not click the checkbox, as that will not select the option correctly). Once you click it, it should be both highlighted and checked, as shown in the picture:

Make sure it's checked

Make sure it's checked

If you're also viewing your document at the same time you're adding the stroke, you'll see that Photoshop has provided you with the ugliest stroke in existence. I guess they do this to increase its visibility? I know I have never, not once, ever needed to use a bright red stroke like that.

Note: In (I think) Photoshop CS4 and above, the default stroke color is black.

Ugh.

Ugh.

You should see this part in the middle of the Blending Options window, which is the stroke settings. I used the settings shown: decreased stroke width to 2px, set it to "Center, and made it black. I use "Center" on word balloons because it gives the stroke a sharper appearance overall. Feel free to play around with it to suit your tastes.

Yeah, stroke it.

Yeah, stroke it.

If you used my settings, your balloon will end up looking something like what is shown below. You can't see the sharpness of the tail because of Cookie Monster's gaping maw, but trust that it's sharp enough to cut a thousand emo children.

Mo' betta.

Mo' betta.

You should end up with this:

COOKIE, NOT CARROT!

COOKIE, NOT CARROT!