Care and Feeding of the Leroy Lettering Set


You may not know exactly what a Leroy Lettering Set is, but if you’re interested in comics, I’ll bet you’ve seen the results of one in action. Leroy lettering was used most notably by publisher EC Comics in books like Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. (Harvey Kurtzman’s EC war stories in books like Frontline Combat and Two Fisted Tales were the exception and were hand lettered by the great Ben Oda.)


You may also have seen a Leroy Lettering Set in action in the early Wonder Woman comics. Here’re a few (cough, cough) typical WW panels from the William Moulton Marston era:



You’ll stumble on this lettering here and there in old comics printed up until the early 60s or so. Interestingly, most of it was done by one couple, Jim and Margaret Wroten, who you can read about here.

Despite its clunky mechanical look that (objectively, anyway) doesn’t go very well with hand-drawn comics art, I’ve always had a strange fascination with Leroy lettering. There’s a free font based on Leroy lettering that I’ve used in a few odd projects, but I was curious about how the actual lettering set worked. I was surprised to find that the sets are not rare and they can usually be had for between $35 and $50 on Ebay. I bid on and won a complete set for $35.00. Here it is:


And here are a couple of the lettering templates:


How Does it Work?

The Leroy Lettering Set is basically a pantograph. One end of it traces the letters off the template, moving the other end of it which has a pen attached. More specifically, the key to its operation is this component, called the scriber:


Here’s how it works:

  1. This is the tracer pin. You stick this down into the grooved letter forms on the template.
  2. This is a little clamp (tightens with that black rear-facing knob) that holds the drawing implement.
  3. This knob is a little adjustable “leg” that supports the drawing portion of the scriber–the part that’s over the paper/holding the pen.
  4. It’s hard to see in this picture, but there’s a dial here that changes the slant of the letters. This is how you make italic letters–as in the Wonder Woman samples, or the bold words in the EC sample.
  5. This is the tail pin. It just stays in the bottom groove of the template like a train track, keeping everything aligned correctly.
  6. These little hash marks correspond to the size of the letters on the template, allowing you to pencil in rough letters. Obviously, you have to fudge things for letters like “I” and “J” that are thinner.
  7. Each template has a pen size. The numbers correspond to the Leroy pen tips that come with the kit… which are identical to the same-sized Rapidograph tech pen numbers.

Drawing implements:

The kit comes with its own refillable ink pen tips, but it’s a whole lot easier to just use a tech pen. As far as I can tell, only actual tech pens will fit into the clamp. I tried mine with Rapidographs and with Staedtler MarsMatic tech pens and they both worked fine because they have this “barrel” for the clamp to grab onto:

penpointsOther pens I tried, most notably Microns, don’t have anywhere like this for the clamp to grab, so they didn’t work.

None of the mechanical pencils I had around would work with the scriber’s clamp, but Leroy made special mechanical pencils/lead hodlers specifically for the set. The set I have recommends a “22” model, but there were several different types made that would accommodate the scriber’s clamp.


Here it is in action. As you can clearly see, I’m still getting the hang of using it. Getting it placed correctly so the letters are properly spaced is pretty tricky, as is picking it up without leaving an ink smudge on the letter you’ve just completed.

The Verdict

I’m sure things go faster once you’ve put in some hours getting used to lettering with the Leroy set, but I’m pretty stunned that people would do whole comics with this thing. I can’t imagine any scenario where this actually takes less time than hand-lettering a comic. I’m glad I bought it, though, and I’m going to continue to practice with it. The free font I linked to above is probably sufficient for anyone who wants to get the look of old-style Leroy lettering.

Feel free to ask me any questions you might have in the comments.


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    • Bill Wottlin on 5/19/2015 at 5:12 pm


    I have worked in several Engineering firms that used Leroy Lettering on their Construction drawings and planning documents.


  1. Back in the 70’s I was the entire Art & Design Dept forthe R&D Dept of Union Carbide…images of drawing an endless array of Benzine Rings still haunt my dreams…and I had to use a Leroy Lettering set for all the illustrations (I kept telling them to at least get some PresType if they wouldn’t buy an IBM Selectric)…I quit and opened NJ’s First comic shop as a result…they kept calling me back, even offered to chaffeur me back and forth

    • Ernesto on 5/28/2015 at 2:56 am


    Thanks indeed for the very informative post-fascinating insight and keep up the practise. Great that you’re reading Lone Wolf and Cub-one of my favourites also!


  2. A fun postscript to your write-up might be that Leroy lettering and Ben Oda lettering were juxtaposed on the same page of many of the EC Comics, and I have blogged about that and shown a sample over at

    I am glad to know about the Leroy font and thanks for a great article!

    • Dave Kopperman on 6/2/2015 at 4:53 pm

    Really, there’s only two possible responses:

    1) Thanks for this!
    2) Holy fucking shit.

    • Ben on 6/9/2015 at 9:07 am

    You must have glanced at my Twitter feed! Yes, I’m reading LW&C. I’ve read bits and pieces of it before, but I picked up the first Dark Horse omnibus edition recently and have been digging into that. Amazing stuff–and I love the slightly larger trim size.

    • Ben on 6/9/2015 at 9:14 am

    Hey, thanks for the comment! I’ve of course read some of your blog posts (including the one linked, obviously) on lettering/Ben Oda. I love Oda’s title lettering, as in the page you posted in that link. I did a EC war story pastiche recently and tried to emulate his title lettering for the “Monkey Business” title:

    I probably should have used that Leroy font for the other lettering, though!

    • Ben on 6/9/2015 at 9:15 am

    Glad you liked the post! And, yeah, it’s a completely insane process for lettering.

    • Michael R on 10/27/2015 at 11:39 pm

    I just picked up a set at a thrift store for $10. It had a bunch of extra templates jammed in the bottom, but its missing the tracer pin. Anyone know where I might acquire one without having to buy an entire set?

    • Ben on 10/28/2015 at 9:26 am

    @Michael – Unless you can improvise a tracer pin by getting a nail or tack or something wedged in there, you’ll probably just have to buy another kit.

    • Jakob on 4/25/2016 at 10:55 pm

    Hi! I know this is an older post, but I enjoyed seeing it. A few years ago, I was given what I’m guessing is at least 3 complete sets and a ton of spare parts by a friend who knows I love art but have awful penmenship. I’ve finally gotten around to trying to figure out how to use them. It seemed a simple enough idea, and I see by your post that I had the right idea, but putting it into practice has been more challenging than I expected. I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. I have several of the mechanical pencils that came with it, and a bunch of what I’m assuming are ink…pens? They look different than your picture. The have a clear barrel on the end (I assume for ink, some have dried ink in them) and vary in size, with different colored bands on them. I am at a loss as to how to work those. Anyway, thank you for your post!

    • Ken Rector on 7/14/2016 at 9:01 pm

    The pens in my Leroy set do not have flats on the nibs like other Koh-i-nor pens. Can you tell me how to disassemble these pens for cleaning?

    • Ben on 7/17/2016 at 10:09 am

    I’m afraid I can’t help you with that. I’ve only used the lettering set with my Rapidograph pens, not the “native” nibs that come with it. I’ve not idea how to clean those.

    • Ken Rectoir on 7/18/2016 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks for your reply. I cut open one of the nibs and found that it screwed together just like the ones with the flats. I soaked the nibs in alcohol for a couple of days and was eventually able to unscrew them with my fingers, no tools.

    I found somewhere else that India ink has shellac in it that hardens when it dries but can be softened by alcohol. So, the remaining nibs just need a good cleaning and they will be ready for my HP7550 Pen Plotter.

    I wonder how you are able to use Radiograph pens in the Leroy scriber?

    • Rita Harding on 9/30/2016 at 6:56 pm


    From my father, a draftsman during the the 60s and 70s, I have inherited many tools circa of that era including Leroy lettering templates.

    I’m would like to find a good home for them. Would you have any idea who would be interested in these tools? Are any being used today?

    Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

    • Ben on 10/4/2016 at 9:21 am

    @Rita – No, no one really uses these any more. They’re simply too labor intensive vs. digital lettering. If you have the a complete lettering set, you could probably sell it on ebay. They seem to go for between $35 and $60. If you just have the templates, though, I can’t imagine anyone wanting them without the set itself.

    • Ben on 10/4/2016 at 9:24 am

    @Ken – A Rapidograph fits into the scriber via part #2 shown above.

    • ken on 10/4/2016 at 1:41 pm

    @Rita,. I have a Leroy set with only a couple of templates. I’d love to have any templates you’d care to part with. Would you want to contact me at kdrhoo at Yahoo dot com.

    • Laurie Sims on 11/22/2016 at 4:03 pm

    I was a Leroy pro for GE in the 70s. Still have a set somewhere.
    A fun piece of trivia you may never need (I didn’t until just now) is that the treaty ending ending the war in the Pacific signed in 1945 aboard the Battleship Missouri was Leroy lettered. There;’s a photo in this wikipedia page:

    • Ben on 11/28/2016 at 9:44 am

    @Laurie – Wow, that’s really fascinating–both your history as a Leroy pro and the treaty.

    • Michael Mow on 6/18/2017 at 10:29 am

    I used my Leroy set for many years when I was a draftsman and illustrator back in the 70’s and 80’s. I did many drawings where all the text was done with the Leroy. Once you get familiar with it the lettering goes fairly fast. I even have some specialty templates and large scribe to do up to 2 inch tall letters. Along with my jewel tip pens I have kept the entire set all these years even though my wife wants me to get rid of the stuff – I just can’t part with the stuff, yet.

    • connel manning on 8/9/2017 at 11:20 am

    I just got a set at a thrift store. Using the ink pens is so fraught with mistakes for me that I can tell it would take a lot of patient practice. Maybe try the pencil (that’s why they make erasers) then ink over it.

    • Jim Dossa on 10/23/2017 at 8:04 pm

    Back in the early 1980s I bought the K&E Leroy music template #2702 and the music slur template #2704 for preparing music scores on pre-printed vellum and subsequent diazo blackline reproduction. An average 9×12″ page of music took about 8 hours to ink–timeconsuming but the results were great. A handful of composers and music typographers I knew were using the same techniques for self-publishing their music. 4-5 years later and the early generations of computer music typesetting programs were appearing. We all switched over to computers.

  3. Thanks for this article, it’s most enlightening.

    I did a webcomic for a few years, all digital. What I wish is that I could actually draw and letter, if only to “fit in” with the crowd who do their comics by hand. I suppose it’s my own personal form of Imposter Syndrome — even though I worked really hard to produce my comic, I always felt a little bit like a cheater because I didn’t draw my comic by hand.

    I never knew about Leroy letterers while I was doing my comic. I’d seen other, simpler lettering guides, but they were the simple metal sheet lettering guides typical in school drafting classes, not the more involved pantograph design. More of a stencil, really, just a thin metal sheet a bit larger than a business card, with the letters and symbols cut out — I’m sure you’ve seen them.

    I ran into Leroy letterers through the fact that I collect K&E slide rules. I learned to use a slide rule when I was 11, and now I collect them, their books, and other related items. Both slide rules and lettering tools are found among drafting tools of various types of engineer. (Too many people on eBay call slide rules “slide rulers”, and think they go along with the squares, triangles, triangular scales used by architects and draftsmen. It’s a pet peeve of mine, since a slide rule is NOT a tool for measuring length, it’s a calculating tool!)

    I JUST bought my first Leroy set, a modest one, on eBay. I’m glad to see you can use them with Rapidograph pens, as I have little idea how to use the original nibs beyond very basic theory. There are packages of them available on eBay as well, but if it’s all the same, I’d rather use a Rapidograph pen.

    • Barbara Beeton on 4/7/2019 at 11:45 am

    I used a Leroy set as an engineering draftsman at summer jobs during college. I am fascinated by engineering tools like this, and have always coveted one, but could never justify getting one.

    A question has just appeared on a typesetting forum regarding how math diagrams were prepared in pre-1970 Russian publications. The images shown were obviously prepared by hand with a tool comparable to the Leroy set I knew, but using a Cyrillic alphabet where appropriate. (The Greek and Latin alphabets are also there, as can be expected with math diagrams; I know those exist, having used them.)

    Do you know if there exists/existed a Leroy set with Cyrillic templates?

    • Ben on 4/7/2019 at 12:39 pm

    I have no idea bout the Cyrillic stuff. I asked on Twitter so we’ll see if any comics people know anything about it. I’ve seen what appears to be mechanical lettering on foreign comics that’s NOT that standard Leroy typeface though.

    • G. Tucker on 5/8/2019 at 12:57 pm

    I was fascinated with these as a kid, but the cost was always far outside my reach. I bought a nice set from eBay and now I see why they were so pricey. The level of precision and attention to detail is fantastic. The templates are machined from high quality material. I think molding them would not give the required precision. The automation of the day was limited, so I expect the templates were made by hand using a pantograph engraver.
    I have a little arm attachment that can be adjusted to expand the type (actually, it’s compressing the type vertically). This can be combined with the italic adjustment to add some variety.
    The pens in my set are the older type, sort of a proto-Rapidograph. They are basically an ink barrel that terminates in a tiny ink cup at the top. Inside this sits a flow control stylus. So, basically it’s the guts of a typical tech pen. I was expecting them to be finicky, but they work beautifully and clean up easily. I also have a hand stylus that holds the pen tips for hand-lettering or ruling. Also works like a charm.
    A couple of tips – I’d remove the large barrel from a Rapidograph pen and use just the tip, you don’t want unnecessary weight. Also, don’t retrace any part of a letter. So for example, an uppercase E would reqire drawing the center bar separately from the rest of the letter, lifting the pen to reposition it.

    • Ben on 5/9/2019 at 9:26 am

    @G. Tucker – Hey, thanks for the info–especially the tip on not re-lining parts of the letter-form.

    • Craig Chamberlain on 10/14/2019 at 3:53 am

    I have used Leroy lettering extensively back in the early 1990s as a draftsperson for my city’s hydro company.
    I still have the K & E product catalog from 1987. It shows that they had 31 different font templates, along with map and graph symbols, electrical and tube symbols, fraction and mathematical symbol templates with the previously mentioned music and musicopy and slur-tie templates. There was even a “design your own template” available in any size from 80 to 500 text along with you making your own symbols on drawings that you used frequently. The one that I liked best was the idea that you could send them an enlarged copy of your signature and they will make it into a template so a secretary could use it to add the boss’ signature to letters or documents even if that person wasn’t available!
    They had the Europa template which conformed to the DIN specification 1451, only in metric mm sizes, capitals and lower case letters for lettering in Spanish, French, German, and English; 11 sizes from 1.6 mm to 12 mm in letter height. Each template had all the accents that those languages needed. There was also Greek, Russian, and Hebrew letter templates in a number of sizes for each. I am sure that the Russian one would cover most of the Cyrillic alphabet that Barbara Beeton might want.
    NOTE: the number of the template on the upper right-hand side of the front of the template in red, shows the form of the sizes: K&E Leroy standard sizes go from 50 to 2000 with a C for capital letters and L for lower case. CL has both capitals and lower cases. If the number has a “P” before the C or L then it is in the type point size, which is the same as what you would choose on your computer in MS Word; for example 24PC would indicate lettering that would be exactly the same size as you printing out a document with text with capital 24 point text. These can go from 8 point text all the way up to 168 point text depending on the font!

    • Ben on 10/14/2019 at 10:02 am

    @Craig Chamberlain – Wow, thanks so much for all that detailed info! I had no idea about the custom template stuff. And one of the commentors above asked specifically if there were Cyrillic sets. So now we know!

    • Penny McCracken on 11/13/2019 at 12:40 am

    I have TWO Leroy sets, plus a large scriber for big letters, plus scribers for mapping, mining, and yes, Cyrillic and Greek letters.

    I’m retired from aerospace, but when contracts fell through, I’d take any work. I was among the first female drafters/tech illustrators/graphic artists in the 1960s.

    I also have just about every Timely template they ever made. In fact, they made three of them at my suggestion. Also, rulers of every kind, curved templates for highways, ships, etc. And two Proportional Dividers. But I had to quit work in 1990, didn’t even look at my tools for years, recently opened up the two big cases, cleaned them all, and am planning on just maybe, doing a bit of art for fun. Over the years, I must have paid out over $4,000, a few each year, throwing the receipts in a shoe box, and deducting them at tax time. I’ve also got two full sets of Rapidograph pens. And many X-acto knives, mechanical pencils, all of it. And at home, I have a portable drafting board I can set up.
    I was disappointed that there are also no more rub on transfer letters to buy, and I think K & E may be out of business?
    For the guy who wanted a way to clean his pens? Buy a false tooth cleaner – the kind that makes vibration in water. It rattles the dry ink right out of the pens.

    • Ben on 11/14/2019 at 11:15 am

    @Penny McCracken Wow, thanks so much for commenting. And… I haven’t used my Rapidographs in ages, mostly because I haven’t had the time to clean them and reload them with ink. Maybe I’ll start keeping my eye out for a denture cleaning machine!

    • C. W. Crowl on 2/20/2020 at 11:49 am

    I was a young engineer in the Aircraft Industry during the 1950 ‘s. We had a Japanese lady who cleaned the Leroy pens in the blackened solution of alcohol. She handled them with a set of chopsticks!

    • Joie Canada on 10/19/2020 at 11:35 am

    J Canada says:

    I spent three years in a large state library keeping all the shelf labeling up to date as the entire library shifted from the Cutter system of cataloging to the Library of Congress system and used a Leroy for all the shelf labels. Of course there was only one font used so they would all be uniform but nobody else among the staff would even touch that equipment–a good number had tried and gotten ink all over themselves and their clothes and did not have a clue how to clean up. It was considerably easier than the hand operated printing press and the ink dried a lot faster that the oil based printers’ ink. I rather wondered after I left who the next shelf label person would be. One did learn how to do the spacing for letter and number combinations so it became almost automatic and I believe that is how the comics which were lettered by Leroy didn’t drive the people who produced them nuts. It takes lots of practice.

  1. […] Leroy Lettering É basicamente um pantógrafo que era utilizado para balonar comics. Parece um processo extremamente lento. Benzilla. […]

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