Hand lettering can be a daunting hobby for beginners. It’s an antiquated craft that has seen a resurgence recently due to its hypnotically fluid technique and intricate finished product that evokes a nostalgia difficult to replicate on a computer. 

If you’ve spent countless hours on Instagram browsing through one hand lettering video after another, you’re not alone; just check out the search trend on Youtube over the past couple years

You might have even thought of starting your own hand lettering project at one point, but perhaps you weren’t sure where to begin. To help you get started, we’ve prepared a guide of 5 easy steps to start hand lettering for beginners, along with some expert tips from one of our top teachers, Mary Kate McDevitt.

1. Invest in Tools

A selection of hand lettering tools. Photo from  Architette Studios
A selection of hand lettering tools. Photo from Architette Studios

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get yourself ready for your first hand lettering project. In fact, some of the most skilled letterers start with a basic set of tools. Here’s a list that you can use as you browse through your local art supplies store:

  • Black point #2 pencil
  • Uni-ball pen or Micron’s fine tip marker pen
  • Tombows’s brush pen
  • 6-inch ruler
  • Compass
  • Tracing Paper
  • Sketchbook

Can’t find the time to make a trip to the supplies store? Mary Kate recommends Jet Pens to find the most widely used lettering pens and pencils. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different kinds of tools and find what’s best for you!

2. Try Different Lettering Styles

Different lettering styles, from a project on Skillshare by Anais Lee.
Different lettering styles, from a project on Skillshare by Anais Lee.

Contrary to the common misconception, lettering is less about writing and more about drawing. This is why it’s important to give yourself some time to get accustomed to various styles and keep practicing. Instead of jumping straight into drawing, start with a warm-up and find at least 5 fonts (at sites like Fonts In Use or Font Shop, or check out our list of 35 eye-catching (and free!) fonts) from different lettering styles. Here’s a list of several styles you can choose from:

  • Serif
  • Fancy Serif
  • Sans Serif
  • Script
  • Representational
  • Dimensional
  • Curve
  • Blackletter
Ohn Mar Win's sketches with different lettering styles
Ohn Mar Win’s sketches with different lettering styles

Use your tracing paper to copy fonts and continue to experiment with different shapes, strokes, and forms. Once you get comfortable with tracing, try reproducing the letters by muscle memory. Remember, there’s no “right” way to go about this, so it’s okay if your work doesn’t look exactly like it does in print form.

Quick tip: Make sure you keep the angles and spaces between your letters consistent, as those two elements are key to enhancing readability and elegance in your letters. For similar expert tips, check out Mary Kate’s class here.

3. Start Lettering

Project "Leave the Edges Wild", by  Maret Paetznick .
Project “Leave the Edges Wild”, by Maret Paetznick.

Now you’ve warmed up a bit, it’s time to start sketching out your ideas! Pick a phrase, word, or letter you want to focus on and play around with it in as many ways as you can think of. In the first stages, it helps not to get too caught up with details and allow yourself to create loose sketches.

The key things to remember, again, are balanced composition and consistent spacing. Keep tightening your sketches until you have a refined final product. Here’s an example from a Skillshare student:

Elena Scott 's Final Sketch
Elena Scott‘s Final Sketch

Mary Kate offers some key questions you might want to ask before you start inking. These will guide you in determining whether you want to add more special details or tone down on the decorative elements to keep your work neat and elegant.

  • Is the composition balanced?
  • Are the letters readable?
  • Is the layout fresh and original?

Once you have your final sketch, it’s time to ink up! This is where all your pens will come in handy. You can draw right on top of your sketch, but if you want to keep your original sketch for future reference, we recommend using tracing paper or a lightbox to ink your sketches on drawing paper.

4. Share Your Work with Fellow Hand Letterers

Project by  Jonathan Ball  shared on Skillshare.
Project by Jonathan Ball shared on Skillshare.

Congratulations! You just finished your first ever hand lettering project. Be proud of the work you’ve produced and share it with fellow letterers online who are on a similar journey. You’ll be surprised by how supportive and encouraging the creative community is, as demonstrated in many of Skillshare’s hand lettering classes. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback or advice on how to improve your work, because you’ll only get better and better.

Here’s a couple other places you can go to get more involved in the hand lettering community:

  • Dribbble: A great place where the best designers and illustrators showcase their work
  • Reddit / Lettering: An open forum for hand letterers, from beginner to expert

To keep you inspired, these are some final products that were created by first-timers just like yourself:

Ruthanne St. John 's Book Cover Project
Ruthanne St. John‘s Book Cover Project
Negin Armon 's Hand Lettering Project
Negin Armon‘s Hand Lettering Project

5. Stay Inspired

Maintain a steady source of creative inspiration by following top hand letterers on Instagram, Dribbble, or Pinterest. Don’t know where to start? Some of our favorites are Mary Kate McDevitt, Jessica Hische, and Jon Contino. For a more complete list, check out this article we wrote that highlights some of the best in the field.

A photo posted by Jon Contino (@joncontino) on Jul 12, 2016 at 9:57pm PDT

Look up images on Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, and Designspiration. If you’re finding it hard to pick a specific word or phrase, start off by choosing a broader topic. Mary Kate reminds us that some of the best inspirations can be found in the most mundane scenes around you. So take a stroll around your neighborhood, visit your local coffee shop, pick up street ads, read your favorite book – all while keeping in mind that creative inspiration lies somewhere closer than you think.

I hope this post has made hand lettering less intimidating for you beginners out there! If you want to learn more about how to improve your hand lettering skills, take Mary Kate’s classes here, or find more hand lettering classes on Skillshare.Explore hand lettering classes

Written by:

Julie Kim