The Beginner’s Guide to Hand Lettering

Hand lettering is the art of creating beautiful letters, in any style, using a range of different materials, such as pens, pencils, paint, charcoal and more.

If you think, “This looks like calligraphy!” Then you are not wrong. The two practices are easily confused – but what exactly is the difference between the two?

What is the difference between hand lettering and calligraphy?

Calligraphy is the art of writing letters, usually in a script style, using specific tools, such as a sharp nib or brush. Letters are often done in one stroke, while hand lettering lets you go back to a room time and time again to refine or alter your image. This is especially useful for beginners, who can take their time learning about hand lettering.

Hand lettering focuses on illustration and drawing of letters. If you’re still not clear, focus on the actual process of creating the letters rather than the end result.

What is the history of hand lettering?

The Mainz Psalter of 1457

ZU_09Getty Images

Hand lettering is believed to originate from the Middle Ages. Around this time period, books were handwritten and often featured illustrations to accentuate or embellish a story. The illuminated manuscripts were religious texts and passages created by monks around 1100 who also used elaborate and colorful designs to highlight stories and letters; these often contained precious metals such as gold and silver.

What kind of material do I need for the hand lettering?

hand lettering guide
Hand lettering by Abbey Sy

Sy Abbey / Design Bolts

The beauty of hand lettering is its versatility – and the fact that all you need is a pen or pencil, some paper, and an eraser to get started, so you don’t have to shell out a lot of money. If you are particularly passionate about crafts, however, there is a fantastic range of different materials that you can use to produce beautiful creations. Those who want to add some color and interest, however, may want to check out these articles.

How do I get started with hand lettering?

Prima consulted the talented Max of Lettering Daily – an online community that provides educational and inspiring content for those new to hand lettering and calligraphy – to find out where to start.

“As with many creative skills, the best way to start hand lettering is to learn the basics,” he began. “To be more concrete – learn to draw simple capital letters: how to construct them correctly, their proportions, their balance, their rhythm and their consistency.

“It’s only when you have a good understanding of how to draw the individual letters of the alphabet that you can start putting them together to form words.

“From there you can start forming quotes, layouts, compositions and all those beautiful illustrations you’ve seen on Instagram and Pinterest. Then you can start playing with the style of the letters. Their weight, their height, width, tilt, shadows, 3D, colors, textures and much more.

“Basically your imagination will be your only limit,” he says.

At this point, Max advises exploring different styles of lettering, details of which he provides here.

This includes serif lettering, script lettering, black letter, bubble style, graffiti, and creative lettering. “As long as you can maintain readability and visual harmony, there is no limit to what you can create,” he says.

Max also shared a beginners guide to hand lettering with Prima, which can be viewed here.

Hand lettering ideas

As you might expect, Pinterest and Instagram provide a treasure trove of examples of handwritten lettering, ideas, and inspiration. Read on for some of our favorite hand lettering artists.

hand lettering guide
Flavia Salvidori / instagram.com / fvadesign /

Flavia Salvidori / i nstagram.com/fvadesign/

We love the colorful work of Flavia Salvadori. Follow her on Instagram to find out more.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, on their website.

Colleen Bringle also has a brilliant range of colorful designs on her Instagram profile – check them out here.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, on their website.

Inspo Galore can also be found on the Women Of Type Instagram page, which aims to showcase the typography and lettering of designer identifying women. We liked the styling of this piece above by Allyssa Ellis – follow it here.

Max’s top tips

For those new to the beautiful art of hand lettering, Max gave the following tips:

  • Start with the basics and work your way up to more difficult elements
  • Consistent practice is more important than intensive practice – 15 minutes a day will work better than two hours twice a week
  • Look for inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest, but avoid comparing yourself and your skill level with other more experienced artists – Every master was once a beginner!
  • Read books to learn more about how things work, study and build your foundation
  • If you’re feeling creative stuck, break the pattern. Try out new tools, new techniques, or even take a break, go for a walk, exercise, etc.
  • Ask for constructive feedback from more experienced artists. While sharing your work can be intimidating, I strongly encourage you to seek feedback from someone with more experience.

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