Hand Lettering for Beginners: Step-by-Step Guide to Get Started

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July 30, 2018 March 7, 2022
Jim Harding photoAuthor by:Jim Harding

Have you noticed how hand lettering became a steady part of our life? Most likely, you’ve stumbled upon decorative writing at a local convenience store. Or saw elaborately handwritten chalkboard menus at your favorite restaurant. Bet, at a particular moment you thought it would be great to try some decorative writing. So, what’s stopping you? Even if you’re not a designer, this tutorial can be your point of entry to the wonderful world of hand lettering. Let’s get started!

What is Hand Lettering?

So, what IS hand lettering and how is it different from calligraphy? A distinction has to be made between the two. Hand lettering is a type of drawing which allows an artist to create decorative fonts. Meanwhile, calligraphy is a strict form of handwriting subject to specific rhythm and rules. At first, hand lettering might seem a bit intricate, but practice makes perfect. Follow the tips and advice in this tutorial to get started.

What Makes a Hand Lettering Starter Kit?

What makes a perfect toolset for decorative writing? Just a few things:

Paper. Absolute beginners might want to start with a paper pad designed for markers. Smooth paper surface will help to achieve the fluidity of strokes.

Ruler. It’s impossible to develop a steady hand and straight lines without a ruler.  

Pencil. There’s nothing better than a sharp pencil to learn different types of lines. Baselines, x-lines, and cap-heights will help you create a stencil for your first handwritten words.

Brush pen. Beginners should choose a Kuretake Cocoiro pen or any brush pen with a medium-length brush tip. It has the optimum length to create flowy strokes and maintain control.

Developing a Steady Hand and Movement

Source: ftd.com

One of the most challenging parts in hand lettering is making your letters flow in a particular way within certain limits. The above-mentioned baselines, x-lines and cap lines serve as such. Drawing your letters within the three equidistant parallel lines will help you achieve steadiness in your handwriting. The cap line determines the height for all capital letters. The x-line determines the height for all lowercase letters, while the baseline creates the guide which the entire word sits on.

If you wish to add dynamic to your decorative writing, use flourishes. Swirls, loops and decorative strokes of any type will help you create movement. Just don’t overkill it with all kinds of decorative elements. Now that you know the basic theory, let’s proceed to our free practical lessons.

Basic Hand Lettering:  The Alphabet

Source: ftd.com

Let’s start with something easy and familiar – the alphabet. Once you develop your personal style of writing, you will be able to incorporate letters into fonts or a logo. The only requirement here is keeping your hand lettering as creative as you can. Before you start, search for a downloadable reference which includes all the letters, then follow these steps:   

  1. Use a ruler to draw a cap-line, x-line and baseline. Remember, these lines will guide your first few letters.
  2. To add flow to your letters and make them more versatile, you need to balance the pressure. To create thin lines, release pressure on upstrokes. On the contrary, to make thick lines, apply more pressure on downstrokes.
  3. The lines are there to guide you, but they don’t necessarily have to limit you. In other terms, you are free to go outside to give your hand lettering a more dynamic look.
  4. Speaking of more versatility, use decorative elements like loops and flourishes. But only when you’ve grasped the basics.

How to Transition from Thick to Thin Lines?

Source: piecescalligraphy.com

Learning how to transition from thick to thin lines is one of the basic skills to make your hand drawn letters flow. However, this is a skill that can be learned through consistent exercise. For starters, you need to get accustomed to your pen. Practice the sequence of stroke sizes to adapt the pressure. Begin with the “hairline” barely touching the page, then add more pressure to create a more visible line. Finally, add the maximum pressure your pen tip allows to make the strokes as thick as possible.

Don’t get disappointed if your lines look shaky at first. Practice is the key to success. Using as many pens as possible to do the strokes, you will gradually develop a steady hand and understand the capabilities of every instrument you use for hand lettering. Also, don’t try making the strokes perfect, just try to be consistent. Start with separate lines, then connect them with one another to end up with a solid structure. This is a great exercise to use as a daily warm-up.

How to Create a Hand Lettering Artwork?

Source: webpagefx.com

Now that you have all the instruments and know the basics, we can proceed to the pinnacle of our tutorial – creating a finished hand lettering artwork. For this lesson, based on the webpagefx guideline, you will need the following:

  • Pencil
  • Large eraser
  • 0.35 mm tip ink pen/line marker
  • 0.2 mm tip ink pen/line marker
  • Ruler
  • Paper

Once you’re set and ready to go, follow these step-by-step instructions:

  • Draw the guiding lines using a pencil and a ruler. The lines will help you keep consistent dimensions for every letter. In this tutorial, the author keeps to 1 ¼” letter height, 1” letter width, ⅛” space between letters.

  • Source: webpagefx.com
  • Sketch out the letters making sure to fill the guides.

  • Source: webpagefx.com
  • Outline the stencil you’ve prepared using a tip ink pen or line marker.

  • Source: webpagefx.com
  • Create a double border by drawing a line within the letter border you’ve just created.

  • Source: webpagefx.com
  • Fill each letter with parallel horizontal lines.

  • Source: webpagefx.com
  • Add inner shading to create an optical illusion of volume for the letters.

  • Source: webpagefx.com

    You’re almost done. The only thing left is to erase the pencil guidelines. And voila, you can enjoy the finished artwork!

    Bottom Line

    Hand lettering is no rocket science for amateurs, but rather a fun way of bringing out one’s inner artist. As for graphic designers, this is a great skill to use for work. Be creative and develop your unique style of decorative drawing. It’s always fun to experiment!  


    Hi, I'm Jim. Most of all in my life I like to receive mails from designers, marketers and developers about how introduction to MasterBundles site has changed their lives. Give a chance to your destiny - subscribe to our mailing list, add the blog to your bookmarks, buy bundles. Write to deals@masterbundles.com if you want to talk or publish your article. I embrace each of you.
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