So you want to learn hand lettering?
I’m often asked for tutorials on how to create hand lettering, or where one can go to learn hand lettering. Personally, I learned to make lettering by observation and experimentation. I hope what I share here will serve as an invitation for you to explore the hand lettering techniques, methods, and styles that work for you so you can develop your own process. Don’t take what I share here as gospel, but rather view it simply as my story, and then hopefully take the inspiration to create your own.
General tips for getting into lettering
Well first off, there’s nothing new under the sun—and type is no exception. There are only so many ways a letter design can be expressed and still remain recognizable. You want to familiarize yourself intimately with each of the groups of type (serif, sans serif, script, blackletter, calligraphy etc.)
and then understand the characteristics of the type that are in these groups and how they are designed. This understanding will influence your hand drawn lettering. You want to eventually be able to draw letters with the proper weight and stroke contrast without reference material so you can develop your own style. The best way to do this is to focus on one thing at time. For example: say you pick serif to work on first. You’ll want to study the history of that style, learn how it originated, how it evolved, what it was used for, what’s different or the same now compared to a few hundred years ago.
A foundational understanding is very helpful, but of course the best way to solidify this is to draw letterforms and LOTS of them. Pick some reference material and recreate it. Start with just a single letter and pay attention to all of the subtle intricacies and attempt to replicate it. Trace the letters even. Whatever helps you become more familiar. Of course, make sure you’re not sharing copied work. This is strictly for practice. More on that here: On Copying.
What pens are best for hand lettering?
The best pen is the one you’re comfortable with. With this said, I have an entire post specifically on hand lettering pens.
Lettering Source Material & Inspiration
I expose myself to large quantities of classic and modern typography through the internet and spend great lengths of time recreating, experimenting with, and practicing my letters. The important thing is not to overly concern yourself with having the “right” information/ books/references to start. In the beginning, you just need practice. Look at examples from the world around you and just start. Practice is the only thing you need to be concerning yourself with right now. You can access a great deal of examples and material to reference online. Focus on solidifying your basics before worrying about spending money on books.
Hand Lettering Books
I get asked a lot if I have books on hand lettering to recommend, so I figured it was about time to add this section to clearly address it. The truth is, I personally did not learn from books so there are none that I can recommend. I learned from experimentation and practice, and I highly recommend the same approach.
Hand Lettering Process
When starting out, I like to draw a number of small thumbnails to help flesh out a general direction for the composition. For this rough stage, I’ll use either a pencil or a brush pen—just something easy to get the idea out. Effortless prototyping is the goal, so use whatever tool is easiest to crank out iterations with.
In this very first step, I’ve simply written out the words to be used. For this piece, the quote is one I wrote myself, so I was still working through exactly what I wanted it to say. This gives you a basic look at the number of words you have to work with, and is a good way to overcome the blank page syndrome. There’s no pressure, simply write out your phrase in simple handwriting.
You can see in this next version, I start to formulate a rough composition. I’m...
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