Photo by Muhammad Haikal Sjukri / Unsplash

Alongside illustration and graphic design, hand lettering is a valuable skill for any creative. Hand lettering, also known as “faux calligraphy”, is an art form where each letter or word is sketched by hand. Artists can inject their own style and personality into each letter, from simple lines to spectacular flourishes.

With so many approaches and sketching techniques that can be applied to developing just one font, there are no limits to variations in expressive lettering. Creating a unique lettering style isn’t about writing the letters or words, but designing each individual letterform. Skilled artists can take basic text and transform them into delicately crafted, sophisticated projects.

Before you jump into practicing hand lettering, here’s what you should know to get started.

1. Practice warm-up exercises

Get in the habit of beginning each session with lettering exercises. Beginning your session with warm-ups conditions your muscles so you can draw more cleanly and fluidly. You’ll also develop your muscle memory much faster if you practice shapes and forms.


Start with simple line work that gradually goes from straight to slanted lines. Aim to get consistent, consecutive strokes with even spacing. From there, progress to waves and curves, practicing different degrees of width and length for your upstrokes and downstrokes.

You might find yourself having a difficult time drawing one part of a letter, such as the curves in the letters B or G. Make sure to slow down and take your time; the point is to achieve proper form and accuracy.

2. Draw on a grid

Even before thinking about concept ideas for your letters, measure and create a grid for each letter.

Use a ruler to keep your ratio even and maintain proportions. The grid lines help guide your eye and keep the forms balanced. Drawing your characters on a grid ensures correct composition as your practice your lettering technique.

3. Mix and match typefaces the right way

The ability to mix fonts well is a must if you want to be a versatile artist. Designers combine typefaces to convey a certain theme or message, such as for advertising, marketing, or logo design. To do this properly, find contrasting fonts that complement each other. Compare between geometric and cursive forms, serif and sans serif, or small and large characters.


Be careful not to add too many variations! You don’t want to make the composition too busy and render it illegible. Choose a handful of detailed or strong features for your primary fonts, then pair them with simpler, less obtrusive typefaces.

4. Correct sloppy transitions

A mark of beautiful lettering is how smooth the transitions are between the letters. Unlike standard calligraphy, hand lettering isn’t usually achieved in one fluid stroke, so you have to manually make the downstrokes thicker.

Draw a word or phrase in cursive, then clean up the transitions between downstrokes and upstrokes. Widen each downstroke from one end to the other, ensuring that the transitions are smooth.


5. Experiment with texture

With hand lettering, you’re not limited to just using typical drawing instruments like markers or pens. Try out unconventional tools to create texture in your characters and words. Use tools such as a comb, sponge, or a toothbrush that can make broad strokes for unique effects and textures.

Texture also conveys movement and energy in the writing. Play with different textures by lettering the same word with different tools and see how the visual connotations change.

Photo by Muhammad Haikal Sjukri / Unsplash

6. Study letterforms from around the world

If you’re unsure what style you’re going for, look at other cultures’ alphabet or writing systems for inspiration.

From the elegant curvature in Arabic calligraphy to the angular diamond-based shapes found in Old English script styles, each culture boasts their own characteristics and preferred tools. Incorporate some of the motifs found in different texts into your own letterforms.

Image by Luca Barcellona / flickr

7. Implement digital drawing tools

You don’t need to do literally everything by hand. Supplement your hand drawn designs by digitizing them through apps or software tools like ProCreate, Illustrator, or InVision. Upload your sketch to customize and build on your design more efficiently. To make your lettering pop even more, you can add shadows, gradience, or other custom features.

Digital tools help to cut the amount of time it takes between designing, drawing, and editing letters. Being proficient in both traditional and technological tools allows artists greater versatility in their creative process while developing their skill set.

Hone your hand lettering techniques on a deeper level by enrolling in our Program The Complete Typographer, offered by School of Visual Arts. Learn more about the program below:

The Practical History of Typography

School of Visual Arts