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The Best Markers, Pens, and Tools for Hand Lettering
You don’t need to break the bank on hand lettering supplies to get you going. The important thing is to invest in versatile and tried-and-tested tools that can help you improve your art — and here they are.
Igor Ovsyannykov August 6, 2021 · 16 min read
Pencils and PensThe most fundamental hand lettering tool you must have is a pencil. If you’re just starting out, you can use just about any drawing pencil available in your local stationery or art store. When you branch out, study a guide reference for pencils. Lead in pencils can either be soft or hard. Most calligraphers use a lighter pencil at first (these are pencils with harder lead), and then switch to a darker pencil (softer lead) once the design takes shape. Pens, on the other hand, are available in larger varieties. Some artists prefer using pens with fine point ink while others choose thick brush pens. It’s all about figuring out which pen works for your art. But for starters, you can invest in a good set of fine tip pens. The small tips are perfect for little details, and the compact sizes excellent for filling in letters. Perhaps the most popular type of pens for hand lettering are brush pens. They’re practically a different category on their own. In many cases, brush pens are the “secret” behind beautiful script. They are an important lettering tool, especially if you want to master writing calligraphy and Japanese characters. Once you find the perfect brush pen for your medium, it can be more than enough supply to help you create outstanding art. And though it takes a fair bit of practice and control to be a brush pen master; you don’t have to be a professional calligrapher to make use of its benefits. When shopping for pens and pencils for lettering, you have to pay attention to the following:
- Accuracy – The pens require precision and smooth application. This feature is imperative if you’re coloring or writing within lines as you need a pen that won’t move around.
- Tips – The pen’s fine tips often provide a precise outline. If the pen can switch between thin and thick lines, then it’s more ideal. But if you need to choose between the two, always choose fine tips.
- Color – The colors need to be vibrant even if you choose dark ones. Black pens shouldn’t look watered down when used on paper.
- Smooth and Sleek – The pen must provide a smooth application. When used, it shouldn’t leave blotches or clumps on the paper’s surface.
Recommended Pens and Pencils for Hand Lettering:
Crayola Broad Tip MarkerApart from regular pencils, this is probably the most basic hand lettering tool you can use. The marker set is ideal for people new to lettering. Crayola markers are easy to use. They also come in various colors. And more importantly, the set is cheap. Though they “light fast” or fade in sunlight, they are versatile and fun to use.
Faber-Castell Essential PITT Artist PensThis is a set of multipurpose pens that is ideal for sketching, doodling and lettering. The bendable pen tip flexes and returns to its original form with ease, which makes it suitable for brush lettering. The set can create smooth, thin and thick lines. The pens are also great for inking stamps.
Staedtler Lead HolderThis pencil is quite similar to a regular mechanical pencil, but it needs to be sharpened once the point gets dull. It’s not just ideal for hand lettering, it’s also perfect for rough sketches and technical drawings. Most calligraphers prefer it over most pencils due to its sharp point and precision. Experts recommend the 2H for rough sketches and the HB for completing final drawings.
Micron Pen SetThis Micron set is a favorite in the calligraphy world. The pens are perfect for outlining and filling in sketches. The pen tips are firm and are hard to bend. They are made from archival ink making them both water and fade proof. The set comes in a variety of colors and sizes. Micron has some minuscule tips for detailed art, and large ones to fill in more substantial details. The best part about this set is that the pens don’t bleed.
Tombow Dual Brush Pen Art MarkerThis pen is perfect for broad strokes or recreational lettering. It’s “dual” because one end of it features a brush tip, and the opposite end has a fine tip. The pen comes in a pack of tens in different vibrant colors. The sharp, thin tip delivers fine lines when needed. When tilted a bit, the marker can create thicker lines. The Tombow pen is a versatile craft tool. It can be used for coloring and lettering. The colors don’t bleed – they don’t even dull with time.
Pentel Sign Brush PensThis set is yet another favorite for many calligraphers. The fine tip is ideal for small, detailed work and bullet journals. They can also be easily manipulated, which is a great benefit for beginners.
Sharpie Water-Based Paint Marker – Extra Fine PointIt seems that there is no calligraphy without a Sharpie. It’s pretty much a standard tool in hand lettering. This particular extra fine point Sharpie is acid-free. It’s ideal for creating bold, dark lines. It’s also water and fade resistant and doesn’t bleed through paper. (Bonus: Five Sharpie Art Exercises to help improve your lettering!)
Uni-Ball Signo White Gel Ink PenThis particular gel pen provides smooth and silky white ink to any project. It adds another dimension of color and detail that can highlight any lettered art. It can also be used on dark papers for bright, stand-out lettering.
Zig Clean Color Real Brush PenThese pens are a hit, especially for new calligraphers. The Zig pens are like real paintbrushes, but with short tips. This means using them is a lot easier. The ink flows smoothly, creating both thin and thick lines. They also come in different fun colors.
Pentel Fude TouchThis is one of the best sellers in hand lettering supplies. The pen is small and effortless to manage. More importantly, it can create beautiful lettering. It comes in various lively colors, so it’s also perfect for coloring and filling in sketches.
Pilot Futayaku Double-Sided Brush PenThis felt-tip pen is ideal for first-timers. The tip is hard so it’s easy to control. It’s also responsive enough to create slightly thick lines. It’s available in both fine and medium tips.
Uni Brush Pen SetThis brush pen set is designed for artists on-the-go. The pens are slim, lightweight and easy to carry around. The pens are also perfect for quick sketches and doodles. The felt-tip set offers different effects thanks to its variety of sizes and colors.
Pentel Pocket Brush PenNo list of hand lettering tools is complete without the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. Though produced from synthetic hair, Pentel brush pen copies the feel and the result of a real brush hair superbly. It’s suitable for artists without or with only minimal experience with brush pens. The pen is springy which retains its shape after each stroke. It also has an impressive ink flow and pleasant pigmentation.
Sakura 50028 Pigma Professional BrushFor professional level hand lettering, Sakura 50028 Pigma Professional Brush is the answer. It manages to give the exact color and result needed for any design. This means even after a while the black remains black. The brush also provides a way to flick the tips onto the paper beautifully. The nibs of the brush are made from top quality materials – a fact often highlighted on numerous product reviews.
Akashiya New Fude Disposable Brush PenThis is a brush pen with bristles. It’s perfect for hand lettering because it’s pigmented, can produce both thin to thick lines, and is exceptionally responsive. Having said that, it takes constant practice to get accustomed to how the brush works and gives off ink.
Kuretake Bimoji Felt Tip Brush Pen“Bimoji” in Japanese means beautiful letters. The name of this pen is apt because it’s often used to create beautiful Japanese letters and characters. The Bimoji pen is easy to control, which helps to create heavy to light strokes without difficulty.
Prismacolor Premier Illustration MarkersIt’s very seldom that one finds an artist who makes commissioned hand-lettered art but doesn’t own the Prismacolor Premier Illustration Markers. The set is a favorite of many professional artists and designers because the pens are made with high-quality materials. They effortlessly glide which result in a blotch-free finish. The set comes with eight vibrant colors ideal for any design or art creation. Because they’re made of first-class materials, the tips stay wet when needed, but don’t leak out excessive ink when not. Also, the ink on the markers is water based which quickly provides a smooth appearance. And if a little water is added, it creates a gorgeous weeping result.
PaperLike pens and pencils, the paper you use for hand lettering affects the overall feel and appearance of your art. Paper for hand-lettered art is a pretty huge category, and every sheet works in a different way. Obviously, a regular sketchbook is a must-have if you dabble in hand lettering, doodling or drawing. If you’re starting out, tracing paper is also an excellent tool to have around since it has a smooth surface to practice on without draining the ink of the pen all at once. If you’re a beginner or just playing around with strokes and swirls, you can use regular print paper. Otherwise, choose from the list below.
Recommended Paper for Hand Lettering:
Regular Copy PaperYou can always, always find regular copy paper in both amateur and professional workstations. Regular print papers are, indeed, the best paper to use, especially when practicing hand lettering using a pencil. The paper is thick enough to withstand pen strokes and thin enough to see through it well. (A word of caution: If you’re working with a brush pen, avoid using print or copy paper. Though it may feel deceptively smooth to the touch, majority of print papers are not considered as smooth sheets of paper. If you look closely, you’ll see numerous tiny fibers that can do extreme damage to your brush pens.)
Canson XL Marker PaperCanson XL Marker Paper is one of the go-to papers of many designers and artists. This paper is thin which is advantageous if you want to slip a different kind of paper underneath for instant guidelines. Colors also blend naturally on this marker paper. The pad is ideal if you plan to photograph or scan your finished work. A trade secret: to maximize the many benefits of the Canson XL, use a scrap sheet of paper as a buffer. This way the ink won’t accidently smudge as you write on the paper.
Canson XL WatercolorAnother Canson paper that is a favorite of many is the XL Watercolor Paper. It’s the sturdy kind of paper that can make colors stay and pop. As its name hints, this is perfect for hand lettering with watercolor wash backgrounds.
Rhodia PadsThere are lots of artists and designers who swear by Rhodia. Its classic orange notepad is a staple for many design houses; so as the brand’s dot pad. Both have smooth, bright pages. The Rhodia Pads come in a variety of sizes which includes minuscule ones that can be stored on small book bags or purses.
Bienfang Designer Grid PaperGrid paper is practical when designing hand-lettered art since you don’t have to get your ruler every time you need something to be aligned or spaced correctly. When it comes to grid paper for hand lettering, the Bienfang brand is highly recommended by professional designers. Just note that this paper doesn’t scan well as is. You may need to use a tracing pad to trace the final output on a new blank sheet of paper, ideally using a Micron or Sharpie for the best result.
Field Notes – 3 Pack Dot-Grid Memo NotebooksThe Field Notes is one of the must-haves drawing pad for doodlers and calligraphers. The notebook is available in a bunch of different styles and colors. It’s even possible to create your custom wholesale order. Another favorite from the same brand is the 48-dot graph page notebook.
Fabriano Dot Grid JournalDot grid papers are perfect for lettering characters and drawing baselines without being dependent on a ruler. The Fabriano dot grid pad can save you time from setting up so you can do your lettering right away. Also, for most designers, the dots are less intrusive than the grids.
Bonus Tips: Make the Most Out of Your Hand Lettering ToolsWith these hand lettering tools, it’ll be easier for you to practice your craft. But more than the supplies, it’s important that you establish a process so you can master hand lettering. Below are some professional tips on how you can further improve hand lettering with your chosen tools:
Start with a simple warm-up.Take 5 to 15 minutes of your time to warm-up your creative cells and hands. With a ruler, make straight lines on paper. From simple straight lines, create angled ones, then move to more complex shapes and figures. Keep the shapes identical and, if possible, evenly spaced. Lines and shapes are the fundamentals of letters and characters so practicing them over and over again is a good habit. The warm-up will help you master spacing and pen control. Also, this is a sensible way to familiarize yourself with new tools like pens and pencils to see how they feel and work.
Practice all the time.Choose a word, preferably a short one, and write/draw it in as many ways as you possibly can. Fill an entire piece of paper of your chosen word. The key is for you not to think about it too hard. Don’t mind if what you’ve drawn is unappealing or too simple. The goal of your practice is to come up with something new and see how far you can push your design process. Don’t get frustrated if you think the output is ugly because, most of the time, something will pop out of the “mess” that will help or inspire you to create something beautiful and organic.
Take advantage of free hand lettering stuff online.There are a lot of generous artists and designers online that you can learn from. Most have their own websites or social media platforms you can check every now and then to see upcoming trends about hand lettering. More often than not, they also offer free samples or exercises to help other dabblers like you. Download these free exercises and use them for your warm-ups. If you have something to share and offer to other designers, you may do so on your own blog or social media channel. This give-and-take process not just helps you become a better artist, but also support the niche you’re a part of to become a better industry.
Invest in the hand lettering tools you need.If you want to do hand lettering professionally, you must spend your time and resources to build a brand. Be smart on what tools and supplies you must own. Buy those that you really need to make a project – especially if it’s a commissioned one – a success. Most hand lettering tools are not that expensive, so you can splurge on the ones that can make your art better. To avoid wasting money, make sure to read the reviews of other designers about the product. It’s impractical to buy everything so you can see which works best and otherwise, so leaning on the advice of the experts in your field helps. Also, pay attention to holiday sales or special discounts from different online stores. As with any form of art, it’s smart to know what’s already on the market and see what works and what doesn’t. This is a clever approach to see which style or concept works best for your art. By reading, researching and trying hand lettering tools, you can make an informed decision on what to get when shopping for new design supplies. With the list provided above, we’re positive that you’ll find the right tools to make your hand-lettered art stand out from the rest.
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