What is “Lettering”?
Lettering is most simply defined as “the art of drawing letters”. The purpose of lettering is to craft a specific combination of letterforms for a single use that represents a certain feeling or design aesthetic. Unlike typography characters, which are previously designed and used as components so you can easily type out a word on a keyboard.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what lettering is, let’s move on to the good stuff.
Free Resources for Lettering Beginners
If you just have a passing interest in typography and only care to know the very basics, your best bet is opting for a simple, free, and extremely basic beginner’s course that covers the essentials.
Content Rich Articles on Lettering
There have been a lot of misconceptions on some of the terms and concepts that we use to describe typography and hand lettering. This article will help you gain a clearer understanding of what typography is and isn’t, and why. Read more
This tutorial will help you understand the various kinds of typography that exist all around us, such as the typography you see in books, billboards, store signage and everything else in between. You’ll gain a great amount of knowledge to help you decipher typography characteristics and what their usage is in this day and age. Read more
In this tutorial, Jesse will showcase three different approaches, which result in three different script lettering styles. She’ll start with a nice simple basic script, touch on a more athletic inspired lettering style and work her way to a classic, fancy script. Read more
If you find yourself wanting to create calligraphy but have no idea where to start, then this is precisely the blog post for you. Lindsey will take you through what supplies to buy, how to hold the pen, a couple of tips and tricks, and how to practice. Trust me, you’ll be a pro in no time! Read More
For this tutorial, the folks over at the Australian Graphic Supply Co are going to create a fictitious client; Hopscotch Brewing Company. They want a sweet logotype for their beer labels. They’re going to trot along at a pretty swift pace, as there’s a lot to cover, and this is for those who already have a basic knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator. Read more
Walk Through Video Tutorials on Lettering
Learn about lettering by watching Shoo Rayner as he explains some basics about typefaces and the main visual differences between each style. View Video
Marzi explains her personal step by step process for creating hand lettering from initial composition to adding color to your drawing in Photoshop. View Video
In this video you’ll learn how John Sullivan approaches creating a brush script style hand lettered font. This process starts in Photoshop with a rough sketch and then moves into Illustrator for vectorizing and final touches. View Video
Teela goes over the basics of converting some hand drawn lettering and making it digital by vectorizing it on the computer. She’ll review with us how she takes a scan of a hand lettered artwork, optimize its contrast in Photoshop, to finally vectorize it in Illustrator. View Video
Professional card maker Kristina Werner presents a full tutorial on how to draw each letter using various types of brush pens. With a bit of practice, you can use your own handwriting to create one of a kind calligraphy. View Video
Pen expert, Laura Coyle, shows you how to create beautiful freehand lettering with Adobe Illustrator and your Wacom tablet. View Video
Materials and Tools for Lettering Artists
This is a list of some of the most popular tools of the trade for lettering artists and includes everything from pens and paper to what gadgets are best suited for digitalizing your hand lettering.
Paper, Pens, Pencils and Brushes
$8.30: Bienfang Designer Grid Paper
Designer Grid paper is ideal for all types of hand lettering and perspective drawings from concept sketches to final presentations. These sheets are printed with non-reproducible blue lines, 8 to the inch that help guide your eye to keep your compositions aligned. Buy on Amazon
Field Notes has become one of the “must have” memo pads for designers. They come in all colors and types and you can even create your own for custom wholesale orders. But to get you started you should check out these books with the 48 dot graph pages.
Personally, I prefer dot paper to grid paper, but I’ll let you decide which is your favorite. Buy on Amazon
Tracing paper is great for sketching and overlaying your drawings so you can really refine and correct your lettering. This paper features light-weight, medium surface paper, excellent for sketching in pencil, marker and ink. Buy on Amazon
$8.96: Staedtler Lead Holder
This lead holder from Staedtler takes all 2 mm leads. It features a long finger grip, pocket clip and lead pointer in the top. A super-lock clutch firmly grips the lead to eliminate unwanted movement, perfect for detailed ornament lettering. Buy on Amazon
$6.99: Staedtler Lead Pointer
To make sure your leads stay small and pointed, this sharpener and tub for 2mm leads will keep your drawing tools like new. With a rotary action lead pointer with automatic sharpening stop, this metal sharpener even has a measurement device for adjusting the sharpening cone. Buy on Amazon
$5.52: Tombow MONO Zero Eraser
Protect your work and erase only what you need with high-quality, precision erasers that will not damage paper. This Zero Eraser features tips in two shapes and sizes for correcting work. The pen-style body is easy to use and store. Buy on Amazon
$10.16: 6-Piece Pigma Micron Ink Pen Set
When accuracy, minute details and preservation count, the unparalleled archival quality of pigma micron pens makes them everyone’s first choice. Experience smooth, skip free writing and crisp ink colors that leave consistent lettering and lines every time. Buy on Amazon
$19.14: Tombow Dual Brush Pen Set
This Tombow Dual Brush Pen features a high-quality, resilient flexible brush tip and firm, fine tip marking pen. You can blend colors easily using the Blender Pen and create subtle washes of ink by just dipping the tip a little into a small cup of water. Buy on Amazon
$8.30: Soft Pilot Fude Brush Pen
This pen produces a very dark, juicy stroke, which takes maybe 2-3 seconds to dry on drawing paper. The brush tip feels smooth and offers a bit of rubbery springiness in its resistance. Buy on Amazon
These pens work much like markers on their own, but you can actually dip them in water to get some incredible watercolor blends. It’s the perfect on-the-go solution or simply a very convenient way to get the watercolor look without the hassle. Buy on Amazon
Tech Supplies for Lettering Professionals
If your wanting to take your lettering to the next level, try introducing some of these gadgets into your workflow. They’ll speed up your overall lettering process while also allowing you to create a higher quality piece of art.
With the latest art LED technology, this Light Pad is considered to be the slimmest light box in the field. It comes with an USB cable, which means you can not only plug it into the wall charger, but also your computer so you can use for both home and work on the go. Buy on Amazon
This is the exact Wacom Tablet I use and it’s fantastic! I find the medium size well worth the investment and it’s definitely the most popular and versatile choice among creative professionals. Buy on Amazon
I only recommend getting this heavy price tag item once you really get serious about lettering and start offering your hand drawn services to clients. The Cintiq is perfect for anyone seeking professional creative results to work naturally and intuitively using Wacom’s professional pen technology directly on the surface of an LCD display. Buy on Amazon
Textures, Brushes and Stock Graphics
Creative Market is a platform for handcrafted design content from independent creatives around the world. This website is my go to resource for finding graphics to enhance my lettering and ease my process for digitizing my work.
I’ve personally invested in each one of these products and I highly recommend you check out these resources below to help enhance your own lettering work.
These textures were sampled from many different surfaces, then tweaked and adjusted by hand for some very unique results. The edges are feather distressed, so you don’t have to worry about any hard edges. Buy on Creative Market
This is the first of many texture packs from Rob Brink. This set features 7 handmade print ready Photoshop files that are 13×19 at 300 DPI. I use this texture pack the most out of all my digital downloads. Buy on Creative Market
Retro Supply Co is one of my favorite places to go for professionally constructed PSD files that give you realistic vintage print effects instantly. If you’re a professional designer you’ll save $1000’s of dollars worth of time with these kits. These items individually would retail for $76. But when you buy now you’ll only pay $37. It’s well worth the investment. Buy on Creative Market
50 Incredible soft brushes, ideal for adding that little bit of texture to your work or layering them up to build convincing realistic textures. These brushes make it super easy to add that “worn” look to surfaces or text. Buy on Creative Market
This brush pack is presented in a single easy to upload .ABR file. All of the brushes were drawn by hand on paper, and then scanned and turned into Photoshop brushes so you can create authentic looking hand lettered chalk pieces without the mess. Buy on Creative Market
TexturePress uses Photoshop smart layers (smart objects), so all you have to do is paste your artwork into the smart layer, save and you’re done. This is a product that I use almost every day posting artwork to my Instagram account and it saves me a ton of time. Buy on Creative Market
Books on Typography and Lettering
Since I first got into lettering a few years ago, I’ve started quite the collection of typography books, along with published resources for learning lettering from some of the best designers in the business. Each one of the books listed here are either in my personal library or come highly recommended from my fellow lettering friends.
Alex encourages you to start drawing all kinds of typography, including serifs, sans serifs, and scripts. He provides ample examples of typefaces to draw inspiration from so you can become confident enough to draw your own. Buy on Amazon
$15.41: Hand-Lettering Ledger by Mary Kate McDevitt
The ultimate tool for designers and creatives looking to tap into the trend of hand-drawn lettering, this workbook features step-by-step lessons on a range of styles plus more than 120 practice pages, making it the ideal place to learn and perfect this in-demand design skill. Buy on Amazon
$14.04: Creative Lettering and Beyond by Various Authors
This book combines the artistic talents and inspirational tips and tutorials of several professional hand letterers and calligraphers for a dynamic and interactive learning experience. Buy on Amazon
$15.62: Little Book of Lettering by Emily Gregory
In a stunning little package that expertly combines a handmade feel with a modern aesthetic, this is the ultimate inspirational collection of contemporary lettering for design buffs and type enthusiasts alike. Buy on Amazon
$35.26: The Typographic Universe by Steven Heller
Unlike most books on typography that present the “best” and most refined examples, the object here is to reveal the “lost” or “unseen” typographies in nature and our urban cities. Buy on Amazon
Drawn from a particularly rich period in the history of shadow type, from the 19th to the mid-20th century, this is the first compilation of popular, rare and forgotten three-dimensional letters from all over the world where the best examples were produced. Buy on Amazon
Filled with examples from a broad spectrum of sources—advertising, street signs, invitations, type-specimen books, personal letters, this book is a delightful and invaluable trove of long-overlooked material. Buy on Amazon
$16.59: Sign Painters by Faythe Levine
Sign Painters, the first anecdotal history of the craft, features stories and photographs of more than two dozen sign painters working in cities throughout the United States. Buy on Amazon
$30.58: Custom Lettering of the 40s & 50s by Rian Hughes
With a distinct air of retro cool, but old enough to be rarely seen in print today, these letters will fascinate and inspire anybody who works with letters or is interested in the way they look: graphic designers, typographers, art directors, anybody who works in advertising, students, illustrators and lovers of vintage design of all sorts. Buy on Amazon
$32.49: Custom Lettering of the 60s & 70s by Rian Hughes
Rian Hughes, an award-winning graphic designer, illustrator, comic artist, logo designer and typographer has combed the archives of custom lettering to bring together literally thousands of examples of inspiring and enlightening hand-lettered fonts from the 60s and 70s. Buy on Amazon
Professional Online Courses on Hand Lettering
In my opinion, the best way to learn lettering is through online classes so you can have an instructor walk you through each step of hand lettering at your own pace. There are some details of lettering that can get lost in translation in articles and books, but with these video e-courses you’ll be able to learn lettering from some of the best designers in the business.
Top Skillshare Classes on Lettering
As some of you know, Skillshare is one of the top online communities for creatives and makers everywhere. You can learn everything from your basic business courses to classes as niche as hand lettering.
When Skillshare first launched, users would have to pay for each class individually, which would range anywhere from $20 – $75 bucks, (ouch!) but now a days Skillshare has a community membership for as little as $9.95 a month with absolutely no strings, and you can cancel anytime. It’s a pretty sweet platform and one that I use almost on a weekly basis to update my skills.
Just click this link to get a FREE month of Skillshare Membership and unlimited access to hundreds of classes including my top four picks for learning hand lettering below.
Mary Kate McDevitt reveals the first steps of hand-lettering and inspires us to concept, design, and letter words for any use—a poster, magazine, t-shirt, or anything else we imagine. Plus, the impressive class project gallery speaks volumes for her clear guidance on common missteps, conceptual illustration, and digitization. View it on Skillshare
Neil Tasker will teach you the fundamentals to building letterforms in script style by hand. This course is entirely hands on, no computer software required. While this is not technically a calligraphy class, we will go through and study how script was built in the past from nibbed pens and brushes. View it on Skillshare
Jessica Hische teaches you her process, starting with that crucial unit: a simple and beautiful single letter in the form of a drop cap. A drop cap is the large letter that starts a chapter in a book, an artform found in manuscripts dating back 2,000 years. View it on Skillshare
Interested in a beginner’s crash course in the basics of modern calligraphy, but have no idea how to start? This class starts at the very beginning, covering the basic tools and preliminary knowledge of modern, pointed-pen calligraphy and giving you a solid understanding of how to compose a truly unique alphabet! View it on Skillshare
Higher Education Lettering E-Courses
Although Skillshare is one of the most affordable online class resources out there, it may not necessarily the best option for more advanced, seasoned designers. If you have been experimenting with lettering for awhile now you may want to gain a higher education so you can take your skills to the next level.
These four courses below will give you a deeper knowledge of hand lettering and help you sell your hand drawn services to clients so you can become a professional hand lettering artist.
This canonical and exhaustive source of lettering education covers advanced lettering techniques, compositional hierarchy, custom type logo creation process, concepting, tools, and more.
In addition to the practical instruction, you’ll also get the business knowledge needed to apply what you’ve learned when working with clients. You’ll get templates of Sean McCabe’s time-tested contracts along with the understanding of what the terms mean and how to tailor them to your process. Purchase from Seanwes
$99.99: Hand Lettering Power Course
Introduce hand-lettering into your repertoire of design skills with this 2 week Power course. Denise Bosler, author of Mastering Type, will provide you with the skills you need to add a personal touch to your typographic communication, from research and sketching to developing dynamic layouts with custom lettering.
You will be given the opportunity to communicate your love of hand-lettering through the process of self-discovery and experimentation as you explore your typographic voice and creative style. Purchase from HOW Design University
Whether you’re a beginner who has never tried your hand at lettering or an intermediate-level letterer looking to pick up some pointers on style or digital tools, Caroline created a highly affordable, information-rich course that will allow you to noticeably improve your lettering skills in a relatively short amount of time. Purchase from Made Vibrant
Learning and improving upon your type-based logo designs is one of the most important investments you can make in your design career. In this course, Ray will go over the entire process of creating a type-based logo, from idea to implementation. Purchase from udemy
It is my hope that this list of various lettering and typography resources has enhanced your knowledge of design and will further equip you to improve your skills. Just remember, all this information is meaningless unless you take the time to practice often and really open yourself to growing your skill.
I will continue to update this post on a regular basis to ensure all information is current so you stay in the know on all things hand lettering.
Last updated on: 03/09/2017
Request for resources!
Above is a complete collection of my top personal resources for lettering and I would like to keep this list as up to date as possible with your help. So if you know of any great books, websites or videos on lettering that are high quality, please share your ideas in the comments below.