A complete free guide on how to learn Handlettering and designing your own Lettering art.

What am I going to learn in this complete guide?

In this guide, you are going to learn the Basics of Handlettering. You will learn what tools to use, wich paper is best, how to scetch your design Properly, how to find and choose the right font for your project, the basics of Composition and Colortheory, how to addIllustrations and finally how to digitize your work.

Calligraphy vs Handlettering

While Calligraphy is the art of writing letters and sentences Handlettering is the art of drawing and illustrating letters and sentences. So when doing Handlettering you are allowed to do an underdrawing and you are completely free in choosing your medium and tools with almost no limitations at all. So you can go wild, try different things and have fun!

The Tools

Ink Pens

Ink pens are one of the most used pens for doing Handlettering. This isn´t surprising as they are easy to use, inexpensive, and available in different thicknesses and colors. There are a lot of different Brands out there, you can pretty much choose whichever you want but be careful! There are a lot of ink pens out there, that are of poor quality. These pens tend to bleed on the paper, smudge easily or even drip in some occasions. So be sure, that your ink pen produces even and sharp lines before using it for handlettering.

Here are some of the ink pens I use for my work:

Uniball Pens

These are made in Japan and are compareable with a ballpoint pen. They feel nice, don´t catch on the paper and produce very sharp lines!

Rotring Tikky Graphics

These are avaleable in a lot of different sizes. Other than the Uniballpens the Rotoring Tikky Graphic pens have a hard tip.

Brush Pens

Brush pens are, as the name already suggests, pens that have a brush as a tip. These are normally refillable but there are some exceptions to this. There is a Hugh variety of brush pens with different tip strenghs and colors. I normally use the brushtip of the Copic Markers but I do have one Brush Pen, that I absolutly love. Its the Pentel Brush Pen from Japan. It has a very soft and long tip that will help you achieve clean lines that can be very slim and extreamly thick with one stroke!

Copic Markers

Copic Markers are very well known and I can´t recommend them enough. They come in a lot of different colours and they are alcohol basedmarkers, meaning they mix well to a ceartain extend. The only twodownsites with theese markers are, that they tend to bleed, if youdont use the correct paper and they tend to dry up fast but they canbe refilled! Copic Markers have two diffrent Nibs, one broad Nib andone Brush nib. Both Nibs are very usefull for handlettering!

Aquarell

Aquarellcolor is one of my favorite mediums for illustrating and hand-lettering. A Basic Aquarell case with some colors will take you a long way! The colours are very versatile and mixable. There are a lot of very cool effects you can achieve with theese colors. And with a good brush you can do some Brush calligraphy as well!

Kneadable ereaser

This is a very simple but insanely useful little tool. It is basically an eraser but you can form it in any shape you want. You can control the amount of graphite, that you want to remove, by pressure and amount of times you go over the drawing. This eraser also doesn´t damage the paper, when using it. Wich is very Importand when you plan on using markers or Aquarell later on!

There are a lot more Mediums and tools, that you can use or try. Get creative and try different things!

The Paper

You can use any paper you want. There are a few things, you should lookout for though. First of all, the paper should be absorbant but notto the point, that the clean lines of the markers bleed out. This isespecially true if you are using Markers. Ink pens are not as bad,when it comes to bleeding. I usually use Aquarell paper, that haslittle to no texture, copic marker paper, this paper is realy thin,so you can lay your scetch underneath and trace it, or you could usethick drawing paper or illustration board.

Scetch out your Design

Before you start on your final work piece you should sketch out your ideas until you are satisfied with the composition. When sketching always remember to be loose. NEVER draw from your wrist, use your whole arm! If you just use your wrist you are limiting yourself and your sketches will appear stiff. Remember, you are drawing and not writing.

Thumbnails

Thumbnails are intended to pump out and test out a lot of Ideas very fast and in very rough form. They are meant to be small, hence the name, so keep them small and draw a lot of them! Try and change things up. Use different fonts, test out a lot of different compositions, try interesting decorations and try modifieing different Letters. I would recommend to draw at leastthirty thumbnails. Once you have a decent number of Thumbnails youcan move on to the next phase, Scetching!

Sketching

In this phase you want to refine your design. So choose the versions and parts of your thumbnails, that you like best. Then sketch out somedesignes incorporating some of theese elements. In this Phase you canstill modifie or change some things and try some little tweaks out.Once you have a final Scetch you can move on to drawing theunderdrawing.

Underdrawing

When doing an underdrawing you shouldn´t use to much preassure on thepen. You want your lines to be very light! Remember, the underdrawingis only meant to be a guide for the final piece. It can help toslightly roll your kneadable ereaser over the entire underdrawing tolighten it up a little more. Be carefull what you draw on top of thelight lines.

Important!
If you plan on using colored Markers you should be careful to not draw over graphite with these markers because you will see the lines through the color and once you drew over them you cant erease them anymore! So pay attention to this.

Finish the Drawing

Finally just finish the drawing. You have all the foundations already on the paper, now it is only a matter of tracing the underdrawing and filling in color (If you want to use color). Take your time when tracing the lines, you dont want to make shaky lines or fill in thewrong thing. And finally dont be dissapointed if you make a mistake.It will happen and it will be annoying or dissapointing but dont giveup! Just calmy start over and most of the time, you will realise,that the second or third atteempt looks better than the first oneanyways!

Tips on choosing the right Font

Choosing the right font for your design can be tricky and in some cases even the hardest part of the sketching and designing phase. Here are some personal Tipps and some Tipps, that helped me a lot to choose the right font for your project.

Fonts are like voices

This advice confused me when my former typography teacher first gave it to me. But it didn´t took long and it clicked. All of a sudden it made so much sense to me, to think of every font and script as a voice. If you read a sentence written in cursive and with hearts instead of i – dots, what voice pops in your head?

It is probably a female voice, right? If you see a font, that is written in capital letters with strong lines, how does the voice in your head sound?

Is it loud and screams or is it calm and speaks quietly? Probably the first option right?

So when you choose a font for your project just ask yourself, what should the voice sound like? Is it loud, does it scream? Is it stable or does it tilt? Is it insane or clean and modern? Is it small or gigantic? Is it playful or serious? Ask yourself these questions and more until you have a voice in your head and then find or maybe even develop a font, that matches the voice. Also remember, that the tone of the voice may change depending on what word it says, so you can use more than just one font.

Vary the line weight

This is a good trick if the font looks too boring or uniform. Break the lines up by changing the individual line weights. You could use thin upstrokes and thick down strokes. Or you could always make one side of the letters a little bit thicker so simulate light shining. Or just give fonts insane outlines. Just try and experiment with different things, there are no rules and you could discover an awesome effect!

Modify the letters

Lets say, you found the perfect font but your design still looks kindaboring, one thing, that can help make the design look moreinteresting is, if you modify some of the letters. For example, youcold give the letter “g” an insanely long lower line, thatunderlines the whole word or you could add some decurations toletters. You could, for example, add some drops here and there togive the impression as if the letters are melting of where freshlydrawn or you could give the letters texture or even give them somedepth. There are so many options to make a design stand out, justexperiment and have some fun trieyng different things!

Basics of composition

Composition is one of the most importand and often compleatly overlooked things. It is importand in every design or concept you make. Knowing theese rules will help you to create interesting and compelling designs.

Lead the eyes of the viewer

This rule is pretty interesting. It is used in a lot of illustrations, concept art and in Graphicsdesign as well. Basicly the idea is tolead the viewers eyes along a path or from element to element in aspecific order. But how is this possible to lead the viewer and howcan you do this is your design?

Subconsouslywe will always look at certain things or elements first or our eyes will be caught by some specific elements first before we move on. I wrote a quick hierarchy of things our eyes get attracted to from most relevant to least.

First Place

The first thing we subconseasly always look at is a persons face. Whenthere is a face or eyes in a design we tend to look at the face ofthat person first. This is becorse we are used to doing this in oureveryday lives. We will idetify faces and automaticly look them inthe eyes compleatly subconceasly.

Second Place

The other thing, and the thing, that is way easier to utilize when doing hand lettering, is a high contrast area. We will always look at the part of the picture with the highest contrast first. There are seven main contrast types, you can utilize. If you want to know more about them in the section color, below, I will go more in depth about these.

Third Place

We will always start looking in the top left corner and our eyes will move down to the bottom right corner. We learned to read this way and whenever we are “Scanning” something with our eyes we will do so by starting in the top left corner. So the first element in the top left corner, that is not overshadowed by a high contrast area or a person is the first thing we will see and read. So If you have multiple faces on a design, we will also start with the first face closest to the top left corner.

There are a lot of other small things our eyes get attracted to but these are the most important and most utilized ones. Once you know these eye magnets you can use them to lead the viewer’s eyes. The viewer will always follow lines or hard edges. So when you start with a high contrast area and a line that goes from that area to another element the viewer is likly to follow that line with his eyes. This is justone way to lead a viewers eyes accross a design. Get creative andlook at poster designs and try to see how they use theese tricks tolead your eyes accross their designs. And then try and incorporatetheese tricks in your designs. You will see how vastly this improvesyour hand lettering compositions!

Visual Hirachy

This is a quick and easy trick. Think of what is important in your design and make sure it gets the space and awareness it deserves. For example make the most Important word big and less important words smaller or give important elements a bright contrasting color. Just be sure, that you give them the stage, they deserve!

The Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio

The rule of thirds is a very powerful compositional trick. And it is relativly easy to utalize as well. Just divide your canvas with threeequal distance horizontal lines and three equal distance verticallines. Now you have nine equaly big sections. On the four corners ofthe middle section there are compositional points of interest. For some reason, that a lot of mathematicians tried to solve and yet still can’t really answer, we tend to look at the elements, that are displayed at these corners. I would not recommend using all four corners at once becorse that could be confusing to the viewer. Butyou could use visual Hirachy to give more importance to one ofthe points and the composition would work again.

I won’t go into to much detail about the golden ratio. It is a well-known aesthetic rule and it is also the reason why the rule of thirds works. If you follow the golden ratio your art will look astheticly more pleasing. You can usethe figunacci spiral to easier aply the golden ratio. The Fibonaccisequence goes as follows: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 etc. The Fibonaccisequence is also used a lot in Composition.

Fibonacci sequence in visual form. Use this for Visual Hierarchy or compositional importance.

Color

There are seven color contrasts, that you can use to make your work stay out. I will go over the four most used and useful ones for handlettering you can then decide if and wich of these fit your design best.

Light and dark contrast

This is the best known contrast. Black and White for example fall under this contrast categorie. You can utalize any colorin its brightest form and in its darkest form to create this contrast. It is a simple but effective way of creating contrast but also the most used one of them all.

Contrast of Hue

The Primary colors red, yellow and blue have the strongest contrast of hue. You can use these colors against each other to achieve a nice contrasting effect.

Cold and Warm color contrast

This contrast is a little bit related to the contrast of hue but it still is its own category. Blue and green are the coldest colors and red and orange are the warmest colors. So you can contrast a lot of different mixes of cold and warm colors against each other to create awesome and eye-catching contrasts. Just keep in mind, that you dont want to use different lighter and darker tones when using the warmand cold color contrast, because the light and dark contrastmay overpower it.

Complementary colors

Complementary colors are the colors on the exact other side of the color circle. Each color always has one complementary color. For Yellow its Violet, for Red its Green and for Blue its orange. These are just some examples but there are a lot of great complementary colors to discover!

Illustrations

And finally, you can add some little or prominent illustrations to your work. This can be literally anything, that fits your design. You can either add something to “underline” the message of your work or you can add some Decorations. You could use an Illustrated figure on your letters or illustrate the background in an interesting and fitting way. Just get creative and don’t be afraid to make a mistake!

Digitize and refine your work

The last step is optional but it can help you out a lot. If you digitize your artwork, you can then manipulate or refine your work in Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop or any other similar program. You can change or enhance the color of your design, you could simply color it completely digitally or you can change little things, you didn’t like. You can also make it to a vector drawing in Adobe Illustrator and prepare it for printing. A Vector Graphic can be upscaled almost infinitely so can use a vectorized artwork for almost anything you like. Or you could clean up some mistake you made and that bugs you. There are a lot of different things you can do from here on out.

Examples

Underdrawing
Aquarell Coloring
Finished piece.
Underdrawing
Inked piece with markers
Colored art with Copic Markers