Introduction to Typographic Terms for Hand Lettering Artists

10-Step Introductory Lettering Guide

Now that you’ve ordered some new pens from the list of hand lettering tools, let’s jump back into the introductory lettering guide!

On a previous page, we covered four of the ten steps.

I’ve included the first four steps below for your reference, but feel free to skip to where we left off:

Jump to Step 5 ↓

Step 1 (of 10)

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.

Writing all of the words out first gives you a basic look at the number of words you have to work with. It’s also a fantastic way to overcome the blank page syndrome.

There’s no pressure, simply write out your phrase in simple handwriting. It doesn’t have to look pretty.

Step 2 (of 10)

You can see in the second version, I start to formulate a very rough composition. I’m trying a simple arrangement and thinking about which words should be in which lines.

Here, I try to stack lines in a comprehensible way that places a focus on the most important words of the quote.

Step 3 (of 10)

Building off of the previous step, I begin to incorporate some vague idea of style for the words.

You’ll notice I have some sketchy script, serif, sans-serif, and block letters beginning to develop.

We’re starting to get a decent idea of our composition, and we can begin to pay attention to potential letter interactions and overall balance.

Step 4 (of 10)

This improvement is subtle, but we are starting to tighten things up.

The first three words are now all in one line. There is an interaction of the ‘f’ descender in ‘Life’ on the second line.

If you look closely, you’ll also notice some faint pencil lines. These guides and shapes are used as a reference for building the initial composition sketch that comes next.

Step 5 (of 10)

With the ‘f’ descender presenting a unique opportunity, I explored a few ways that it could interact with the letters below without interrupting the flow and legibility of the words.

The highlighted solution is what ended up being in the final piece.

The ‘f’ swoops down to complete the cross bar of the ‘A’ for a smart fit that prevents any awkward extra space. It’s almost unnoticeable if you don’t know what to look for, but that’s the beauty of it.

Step 6 (of 10)

Going off of the rough pencil guides from a couple steps ago, I create a much more precise and even pencil sketch. I render the previously chosen styles with detail and pay close attention to spacing, balance, and legibility.

(I have a video on spacing your letters on a future page.)

Step 7 (of 10)

Much of my time is spent in these pencil stages. Typically I’ll start out lightly, and gradually press in harder with the pencil to create darker lines.

The darker lines are what I’ll follow when I ink the piece with a pen. I want to first be certain of their shape.

When I go to ink, I don’t want there to be any thinking left to do—only rendering.

Step 8 (of 10)

The pencil sketch is complete. The primary things you want to be sure of in this stage are the styles, spacing, alignment and balance.

It’s okay if your pencil lines aren’t perfect, but the closer you are to perfect, the easier the inking will be. Take your time!

Step 9 (of 10)

We finally begin the exhilaratingly dangerous stage of inking!

There’s no going back at this point, so just relax, put on some music, and get in the zone.

It’s just you, the pen and the paper. There’s nothing else in the world you’re thinking about but the very line you are drawing at this precise moment.

There will be time for zooming out later, but now is for the macro detail.

Step 10 (of 10)

After much patience, and numerous breaks, you will see the finished piece that is hopefully somewhat close your grand vision.

If you’re anything like me, I encourage you to bask in this moment, for tomorrow you will see only flaws. We are our own worst critics, after all.

This is a good thing however, because it keeps us moving forward, and it ensures we push ourselves to be better and better with each and every new piece.

Up Next: Free Video from Learn Lettering

I want to show you how I designed a lettering piece from scratch. From concept to completion, I walk you through each of the steps.

Click through to watch a lettering piece take shape.