How To Make Word Balloons Using Adobe Photoshop

Making word balloons is part and parcel of being a cartoonist. Just like digital coloring, there are many techniques out there for making word balloons. Here’s how I make mine, using Adobe Photoshop.

1. Start off with some text. Organize your text into the shape of an oval. Keep in mind the line-spacing (leading). For a typical word balloon in my comic strips, my text is sized to 7px and the leading is one pixel less (6px).

Step 0: Start off with text

2. Next, use the Ellipse tool. The Ellipse tool is a much better choice than the Elliptical Marquee tool because you can modify the shape and size of the ellipse very easily, without having to worry about pixellation.

Step 1: Use the Ellipse Tool

2. Create an ellipse. Move the ellipse layer underneath the text. Adjust the scale and size as needed to fit the text.

Step 2: Create an ellipse

3. Use the Direct Selection Tool to adjust the roundness of the ellipse.

Step 3: Use the Direct Selection Tool to adjust the shape of the ellipse

When you click on the ellipse you’ve created using the Direct Selection Tool, you’ll see anchor points, which you can click to pull and adjust the shape of the balloon, like so:

Using the Anchor Tool to Adjust the Balloon's Shape

Or you could keep the ellipse as is, depending upon your preference.

4. On a layer underneath the ellipse layer, draw the outline of the tail using the Lasso tool as shown below. The tail should always point to the character’s mouth.

Step 4: Add the tail using the lasso tool

5. Flood white into the tail (Option-Delete). Flatten the tail layer with the ellipse layer using Command-E.

Step 7: Flatten the

Step 5: Flood the Tail with White

6. Apply a layer stroke on the word balloon layer. Adjust the thickness of the stroke to suit to taste. Set the “Position” of the stroke to inside to retain the sharpness of the word balloon’s tail.

Step 8: Apply a stroke on the flattened balloon layer

Step 9: Stroke settings

7. Behold! The final result!

Step 10: The final result!

As I said, there are many different ways to approach word balloons. The steps I’ve outlined above comprise the methodology I use. Share your thoughts and techniques in the comments below.


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  • Rasmus
    April 21, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I do them almost exactly like you, but at the end I like to also select the handles of the circle with the direct selection tool, and pull them out a little bit. It makes the circle less perfect (which I think looks more pleasing to the eye) and it also makes it easier to fit the text in more evenly.

    • Krishna
      April 21, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Yep – I alternate between going with “oblong” shapes and perfectly rounded. I agree with what you say, though. Oblong shapes (i.e. less perfect ellipse shapes) make for more organic, hand drawn look than using the default ellipse tool setting.

  • Jose Gonzalez
    April 21, 2012 at 9:14 am

    I like the way you boiled it down. There are many “word balloon” tutorials out there, but this one gets to the point elegantly.

    • Krishna
      April 21, 2012 at 9:17 am

      I appreciate that, Jose. Thanks! :)

  • Barry Buchanan
    April 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Great tut! I used to struggle with word balloons. Now days I just use Manga Studio and it makes balloons and dialog super easy. It gives multiple options on shapes and such. While not perfect, it saves me so much time.

  • Krishna
    June 10, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    As a footnote to this blog post: Nate Piekos has a great write-up on the do’s and don’ts of lettering, with examples of both. It’s a must read for any cartoonist: