Hand lettering is one of the most important skills that artists and designers in the digital age can learn. While, of course, we can easily type out letters with a font, a lot of companies and buyers prefer the handmade look of hand lettering. It seems that as creating digital letters gets easier and cheaper, hand drawn letters gain more and more value in the design world!
That being said, hand lettering isn’t easy for beginners. There are a lot of tips and tricks to learn (and a lot of mistakes to be made along the way). I want to share my top 3 tips for improving your hand lettering, so that if you’re just starting out on your lettering journey, you can start identifying your weaknesses and working to fix them!
I share all of my lettering tips in my book on iPad Lettering in Procreate, so if you like these tips and want to learn more, check out the book:
Tip #1: Check Your Spacing
A common, and easy to make, mistake in hand lettering is inconsistent spacing. When you first start lettering, it’s challenging to space your letters correctly on the first try, so using the freehand selection tool in Procreate to adjust your spacing is a must! Here is a tip to check your spacing (this works on both script and print lettering):
1) Create a new layer and draw a little box that is the size of the space you want to use (it should be about half the size of a letter like o).
2) Duplicate that layer multiple times and place each one in between the letters. You can see in the examples blow how inconsistent the second example is compared to the first!
Tip #2: Choose Your Parent Shapes, and Stick With Them
“Parent shapes” are the shapes that make up an alphabet. There are only five of them, which makes deciding how to form your letters as easy as choosing five shapes! Whether you are lettering one short word, or a whole paragraph, your parent shapes should match up.
Parent shapes come in all shapes and sizes, so don’t feel like you have to use the exact shapes I’ve used below. For example, o-shapes can be wide and rounded, skinny and angled, or sharp ovals.
When parent shapes don’t match up, the viewer can see that the letters don’t look quite right, but they may not know why. Here’s an easy way to check your parent shapes:
1) Draw one parent shape (like the o for example) on a new layer in a bright color.
2) Duplicate the shape multiple times, and place each one on the corresponding shape for each letter (use the chart above for reference). If you do this process and some of your o-shaped letters are too small, too big, or angled in a different way, then adjust them to match up to your original parent shape.
3) Repeat the process with each parent shape until your words are consistent.
Tip #3: Study Vintage Letter Styles
The best way to learn new letter styles and improve your lettering is to practice, practice, practice (did I mention practice?). There are so many gorgeous scripts in the creative commons (aka over 100 years old and without an active copyright) to learn from and translate into modern styles.
I want to share one of my current favorites, a 70s inspired script I created, as a free practice sheet below. Here’s the composition I’ll be creating with this script:
Here’s how to use the practice sheet:
1) Open the practice sheet in Procreate and make all layers except the Skeleton Stroke and Guides invisible so you can easily see the stroke.
2) Re-draw the skeleton stroke on the line below each letter.
3) Add the thickener stroke to your letters.
4) Once you feel comfortable with the letter forms, it’s time to create a lettering composition! Create a rough sketch of the words you want to letter on a new canvas. You can start with a single word (beginners, do this!), or multiple words. You can even include some block or serif lettering to compliment the script.
5) Pull up the practice sheet in split screen and use the practice sheet to draw your Skeleton Stroke for each letter.
6) Add in the Thickener Stroke (in gold) using the practice sheet as a guide.
7) Ink your letters (in black, so you can easily see any errors).
8) Add color, texture, and illustrations, or whatever fits your personal style!
I share lots of tips like these in my new book on iPad lettering and my new class on 70s Lettering in Procreate. Check them out to dive deeper into hand lettering!