Hand Lettering for Beginners
Let’s talk about lettering: how to define it, what materials to use, and all the steps involved. Throughout this article, you’ll learn how to create unique lettering for anything from greeting cards to comics, invitations, or even banners for special occasions.
MaterialsFirst, for all but the most freeform of projects, get a ruler. You’ll need it to plot the overall shape of your piece before sketching the letterforms, make grids, and block off your letters so they’re spaced appropriately.
PaperYou’ll also need something to draw on. There are three most common types: Plain Printer Paper: For less formal projects, or in the planning stages, it’s perfectly fine to use this. It’s cheap, good for getting ideas down, and can be used for anything you won’t need a hard copy of after you scan it. And later, we’ll also explain a neat trick you can use with it that can cut down on time and effort if you feel like you’re struggling. However, it’s very acidic and will yellow with time, so don’t use it on anything you want to preserve for a while. Bristol board: If you want to give your piece some weight and endurance, Bristol board is an excellent choice. It’s also perfect for framing. If you choose this, you’ll then be faced with the choice between vellum, with a softer matte finish, and plate, which is smooth and shiny. It’s generally said that vellum is better for pencilling, where plate is better for inking. Inks are more likely to bleed on vellum, but plate is known to smear pencil lines with the slightest touch. Grid Paper: If you’re particular about making sure your lines are straight, or if you’re planning on finalizing your project via computer, grid paper can save you a lot of time on the blocking stage. It’s also fairly cheap and very easily available.
Pencils and PensIt doesn’t matter what kind of pencil you use for the layout and sketch stages. Some of the world’s most talented letterers use #2’s or ordinary mechanical pencils for the layout stage. And similarly, ballpoint pens can be used for quick sketches, informal projects, or anything you want to have an intentionally messy feel. Image by “The Marmot” For intermediate inkers, archival markers, like Pigma Microns and Prismacolor Premiers, are a solid all-around choice, being easier to control than a dip pen but more professional than ballpoints. They do have a major drawback, though: each pen gives you just one line weight. In other words, it takes a pack of markers to do the job of one dip pen, and this can get expensive. However, it’s worth noting that some, like the chisel-tip and brush-tip, provide more variety than the fixed-width ones. Image by Chris Lott Let’s move on to dip pens. They’re high-maintenance, needing to be washed and cared for regularly, but the professional result they give is worth it. Drawing with them could be the focus of a whole separate article, but the basics are that you need to the right balance of ink—enough to ensure a good flow, but not so much that it leaks and splatters—and the right balance of pressure. it takes a light hand—if you press down too hard, you can bend the nib, which will ruin it—but you also need to move with confident strokes. Also, each side of the pen creates a different line weight and will move in different ways, so you’ll need to learn to use each one. Technical pens are for truly dedicated and detail-oriented users. They’re not just expensive but high-maintenance, requiring you to change the ink cartridge, take care not to break the often tiny nibs, and clean them regularly to prevent clogs. However, in the right hand, they can create incredibly delicate and precise lines.
Steps in the ProcessIn short:
- You pick out the fonts you’d like to use (or sketching out your own beforehand)
- You measure and block out your piece so that your letters are all spaced as you like
- You hand-ink your piece or scan it, then finish in a vector program
PreplanningFirst, a hand-lettered piece can serve many purposes, so what would you like yours to say? And what letter style would you like to use? If you already have in mind the words and character styles you plan to use, all the better. Now, the more complex the design you’ve plotted out, perhaps with some flourishes surrounding your lettering, the more you’ll need to plan ahead. The first thing to determine is the theme and overall feel that you want to present in your piece. This will both help you find attractive and thematic fonts, but also the decorative elements that you might use to accentuate them.
MeasuringFirst, decide on the overall shape of your piece. For your first few times, you might want to stick to a rectangle, but once you’ve got some more practice under your belt, you can start experimenting with a wide variety of different shapes. Create the baseline you’ll draw your text on top of, then evenly space horizontal lines to block off where you would like your letters to go. Image from A Pair and a Spare
The Pencil SketchFirst, you start to lightly sketch a rough outline of each letter, just so you know how large each one is going to be. If you’ve done your blocking correctly, you should have a much easier time with this stage. Image by Workturn Or, you can use that trick we mentioned earlier: a graphite transfer. Basically, you take a pencil or a graphite stick, rub it against the back of what you want to transfer, lay it down, then draw over what it is you want to copy, transferring a light image of it onto the page. Once your initial rough is done, go over it again to solidify the letterforms’ final shapes. Remember that you only want to draw the outline of the letters. If there are portions of solid black, don’t fill those in. Too much graphite can show through your ink and clog your pen.
InkingImage by Sean McCabe Trace over the lines and fill in the black areas with your pen. To avoid smudging your pencil lines, tape a piece of paper or plastic over the area that you’re not working on. This way, your hand will rest on the cover sheet instead of the drawing itself. Once you’ve got everything filled in, let it completely dry before fixing anything. If you’re using Bristol board, don’t use correction fluid to fix mistakes: it isn’t quite white, so correction fluid will stand out against it. And even if you are using white paper, a a white gel pen that’ll dry flat is better than correction fluid that’ll often dry lumpy.
Scanning and Cleaning UpIf your paper is too large to be scanned in one fell swoop, Photoshop can take multiple scans of different parts of a piece and automatically composite them into one continuous image. If you don’t have Photoshop, Microsoft ICE can do the same thing for free. Once it’s in, if you’re planning on using your lettering as an isolated graphic, there are plenty of ways to separate it from the background, especially if your design is fully inked, creating an even contrast and sharp lines you can pull out via the Color Select or Magic Wand tools.
How to Create Your Own Lettering AlphabetTime to get some real lettering practice. We’ve prepared a series of short videos and a set of worksheets to help you get started.
Scripted Letter AFollow these simple steps to learn how to draw a scripted letter ‘A’. Start by drawing a swirled line stroke, and extending this up and slightly to the right in a diagonal line to make the point of the ‘A’. Then, continue the diagonal line back down the other side, finishing in another swirl stroke to match the other side. Complete your design by drawing a slightly curved line across the middle of it, curling the ends slightly to finish your letter ‘A’.
Scripted Letter BLet’s draw a beautiful scripted letter ‘B’. Start your letter ‘B’ by drawing downwards with your pen in a straight vertical line. Next, draw a semicircle that joins the middle of the straight line, and in one stroke bring your pen around in a large arc, looping the tail once over itself to finish the design.
Scripted Letter EStart your scripted ‘E’ by drawing a small curl, and without lifting your pen from the paper, bring your stroke around into a semicircle shape. Loop around again into another semicircle, and finish the ‘E’ shape with a final curl.
How to Design Your Own Ampersands for DIY Lettering
Ampersand 1Sweep your stroke into a large loop, drawing around to the right and down on the diagonal, and making a big curl at the end of your stroke. Start your next stroke where the first loop you just drew ended. Take your pen and draw a downward stroke, curving around to the right and swooping up. Finish your ampersand with an elegant curl.
Ampersand 2Here’s another beautiful way to draw an ampersand. Start by drawing a C-shape that loops around on itself in a small looping stroke. Without taking your pen off of the paper, keep drawing another C-shape that sweeps around and ends in a slight curl at the end. Finish off your ampersand by drawing a downward curl that then strokes across in a straight horizontal line. Complete your ampersand with an elegant downward curl. Here’s another amazing script lettering tutorial by the talented Chris Piascik.
ConclusionHand-lettering is a lot like any other form of drawing, but with letters as your subjects and font sheets as your reference material. Get some basic materials, start practicing, and you’ll be well on your way to creating unique and personalized text for any occasion. Reading up on some basic drafting definitely won’t hurt either. Feeling confident? Join our 7-day challenge to become a lettering expert. Got any questions? Other tips or resources? Leave us a comment.
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C.S. Jones is a freelance writer, artist, and photographer.\r\n\r\nIn the past, he co-founded an art gallery and worked at a product photography studio. These days, he does photo tutorials (and gigs), online copy, and content marketing for a living. He also writes about webcomics at Webcomicry.com…View More Posts