August 12, 2015 / Allison Smith

I have long since had a love for hand lettering. The whole process and seeing how it different and unique it turns out each time; it is just fascinating to me.

For starters, let’s take a moment to understand a few terms that often get used interchangeably, when in fact they are quite different. Typography, by Merriam-Webster’s definition, is “the style, arrangement, or appearance of typeset matter.” This was related to the process of typesetting done with the movable type printing system. This system offered a way of repeating the use of each letter since they were all prefabricated. Nowadays, it more commonly refers to the system of fonts we have at our disposal via computers. Lettering, on the other hand, is the art of drawing letters by hand, which are created for only a single use. Even more, calligraphy is different from lettering because it is more of a script and is used to refer to large amounts of text (such as the original printing of the Bible). Calligraphy can still be a work of art just as lettering can and is, however it is actually used to describe handwriting or penmanship, which is done for printed works.

So here is a quick overview of my process for hand lettering. Some people have different processes, and I have seen much more in depth ones as well, but this is how I do it. It isn’t too involved and you don’t need to spend a ton of money on supplies either if you don’t want to. I bought a $7 sketch set with pencils, charcoal and an eraser, and a $3 pack of scrapbook paper, just for example.


What You’ll Need:

• A pencil (HB is my go to)
• A big eraser
• A ruler
• Some scrap paper for practice & testing – this can either be a sketchbook or even just scrap printer paper (that’s what I used)
• A nice piece of paper to do your final work on. A heavier weight watercolor paper or acrylic paper is a good choice, especially if you want to add any color to it later, but I used a 12×12 piece of canvas texture scrapbook paper cardstock which worked just fine for me
• A fine tip felt pen (I prefer Mircon .2 or .3 or the Copic markers. The Copic set I used has a .5 fine tip marker and 5 other brush/chisel tip markers in shades of grey for shading, which can add a nice effect. There are other fine tip felt markers you can use, but I highly suggest Microns because they are archivable, which means they won’t fade over time).

What To Do:

phrase breakpoint testingFirst, I take my scrap paper and write out whatever phrase I’ll be writing, just to get a feel for how the words look together. This begins the process of viewing the words more as shapes, rather than words on a page, to see how they best fit together.

Next, I make a quick outline of the shape of my canvas and write different versions of the phrase, testing where the best breakpoints are. To get a good feel for this, I read the phrase to myself and see where I naturally pause while reading. That is usually a good place to start. You can have different size words on each line, and a different amount of words on each line so you can insert your breaks where they naturally happen and if you find some lines are too long, then adjust your words/sizes to fit your canvas accordingly.

Once I know how I want the words arranged, I do a small, quick sketch of the phrase again, this time noting what letter styles I want to use where. I try to match the style of text I am using with the feel of the word.


practice sketchFor even more practice, I will sketch the phrase out again on scrap paper, about the size that it will be on my final version so that I can practice making the letters at the larger size and work out any kinks there might be. Notice this isn’t perfect by any means. I just did the minimum to get an idea for how the letters will feel, look and work together.








final sketch in pencilWhen my practice sketches are all done, I move on to the final paper. If the final paper you’re working with is larger than you want your canvas size to be (for example, I wanted an 8.5”x11” frame on a 12”x12” sheet of paper) then draw out the frame for your text first. I then like to at least make a line vertically down the middle of my canvas, and another horizontally to divide my sketch into 4 quadrants to make sure everything is divided and centered properly. Once you have your canvas and grid area drawn out, begin sketching your letters in pencil.
Take one final look before you make it permanent and make any changes you need to. Notice I had a banner in my original sketch around “keep” but once I began drawing it out, it didn’t quite fit the way I wanted it to and I decided I liked it better without, so I removed it. Once you are happy with your pencil version, begin tracing with your Micron pen. I did a second layer of pen in some spots to clean up any stray lines. Like on the first word where I have the letters filled in with lines, a few of them went outside the original line so I added a bit of a thicker line to that side on all of the letters for a different effect, and to clean up the text. This step isn’t necessary if you want to keep your letters the original weight. Erase any left over pencil lines at the end and then your hand lettered work of art is complete!



Posted In: Blog, Design