Hand Lettering 101: Where to Start

When I started hand lettering, I kept reading about the same “favorite” supplies for beginners. The problem was that some of those supplies didn’t really work for me and I wondered if maybe I’d picked the wrong hobby. Then, I got the right supplies and everything fell into place! Sometimes I think those beginnner lists are some kind of hazing process from more seasoned calligraphers (kidding, but…).

I was also floored to find such a supportive hand lettering community on Instagram. If you don’t have an Instagram account and have an interest in hand lettering, I highly encourage you to consider opening an account (it’s free and can be linked with Facebook, so it’s one less login to remember). All levels, backgrounds, and types of calligraphers are part of a global, information sharing community there!

So, without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite stuff to get started! (Some links contained in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click through and make a purchase, I’ll be paid a small commission for my recommendation at no additional cost to you.)

Books to Inspire and Guide You

The Ultimate Brush Lettering Guide: A Complete Step-by-Step Creative Workbook to Jump Start Modern Calligraphy Skills by Peggy Dean (The Pigeon Letters)

Botanical Line Drawing: 200 Step-by-Step Flowers, Leaves, Cacti, Succulents, and Other Items Found in Nature by Peggy Dean (The Pigeon Letters)

Creative Lettering and Beyond: Inspiring tips, techniques, and ideas for hand lettering your way to beautiful works of art (Creative…and Beyond)

Modern Calligraphers to Follow and Learn From

The Pigeon Letters Website | Instagram This creative lady is the writer behind my two favorite calligraphy books. She’s so talented and will surely inspire your lettering and doodling endeavors!

The Postman’s Knock Website | Instagram I also highly suggest signing up for her mailing list. It’s one of the only newsletters that I actually open and read!

Random Olive Website | Instagram Olivia is a great source for worksheets and instructional videos!

Honey Darko Website | Instagram These two UK-based sisters will blow your minds with their creativity and talent. I’m constantly finding inspiration in their process videos.

Llamas Love Lettering Website | Instagram I love the casualness and whimsy of LLL! Her monthly challenges also help inspire me, when I don’t know what to letter.

The Inky Hand Website | Instagram I love Sarah’s tutorials, but also her “Inky Box” which I discuss more below!

Me! You can follow my sporadic lettering on Instagram at @rebelle.letters!

Pens and Markers for Beginners

Crayola Washable Markers – Yes, plain old Crayola markers, like you’d use in elementary school! These aren’t the perfect tool, but they work and can help you assess whether this is a hobby for you, before investing much upfront.

Pentel Arts Sign Pen Touch, Fude Brush Tip – These are, hands down, my favorite pens to letter with. They are a smaller brush tip than many other popularly recommended brush pens, so they allow you to write in a size closer to your own handwriting. These pens were the turning point for me in my lettering progress – where I went from feeling like a lost cause to a hopeful calligrapher!

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Tombow Dual Brush Pen Art Markers – I have a very strong love/hate relationship with these markers, y’all. They appear on almost every single “beginner tools” list that I’ve found, yet I found them incredibly difficult to get the hang of. I didn’t really get the hang of hand lettering until I got different markers. That being said, they’re probably the most readily accessible markers (at most office supply and craft stores) and can be useful tools as you move along in your lettering. I don’t recommend them as your only markers to start with, so if you can only buy one set, don’t buy these.

Ecoline Liquid Watercolor Brush Pens – These juicy pens are so much fun to work with on large scale pieces. They remind me of the Tombow Dual Brush markers, but I feel a little more in control when using them. Again, I don’t recommend these as your only markers, but if you’re going to buy a range, these would make my list!

Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens – This is another great finer tip brush pen that will allow you to write in a size closer to your natural handwriting. I find these tips to be a little more finicky than the Pentel pens, but they’re still really enjoyable to use and have their own identifiable style.

Sakura Pigma Micron Ink Pens – I really enjoy this assorted size pack of pens for a whole variety of lettering projects, even though they are not brush pens. First, they’re just a dream to write with, even outside of artistic projects. But more importantly, they’re very clean writing pens that will elevate your print and detail work when you aren’t doing a brush script style. They also are archival ink, which means they’re waterproof and won’t smudge or run if you want to use water-based ink markers alongside them.

Sakura Gelly Roll Ink Pens – These gel pens can make fun additions to your lettering pieces. They cover dark ink well, so you can utilize them for fun accents or even print lettering to complement your brush script work.

Uniball Signo White Gel Ink Pen – This is the very best white gel ink pen that I’ve come across so far! It covers over dark ink very well, making it great for accent work and even covering up some sins (like rough edges on letters) on white paper.

The Inky Box – This subscription box is probably my favorite thing I’ve ever treated myself to. Each month, I have a box of awesome lettering tools delivered to my doorstep. I’ve learned about a ton of products that I’d probably otherwise never try and have never gotten a disappointing box.

Paper for Beginners

When I got started, I thought that I needed fancy art paper. I spent a small fortune at the local art supply store buying watercolor and mixed media paper, much of which ended up in the trash as I learned and made lots of mistakes.

The truth is that plain old inkjet copy paper (like this HP paper) is all you really need as a beginner. You may want to upgrade to a heavier weight paper as you start to play with blending techniques and watercolors in your work, but until then, save your money and buy copy paper!

Some beginners do enjoy lettering on dot grid paper, because the dots offer points of reference to help with sizing and keeping letters straight, without impeding on style with lines like traditional lined or graph paper. That being said, some people also enjoy using graph paper, like you’d use in high school math too!

Other Words of Encouragement

Lettering can be tricky at first. There’s so much to learn about pressure and shapes. The most important piece of advice that I received was to stop thinking about it like writing. You aren’t writing letters, you’re drawing letters. When I let go of the idea that it should just flow naturally and in steady, fluid strokes, it became much easier for me to slow down, pick my pen up off the paper when needed (take that, cursive teacher from elementary school!), and focus on making shapes to form the letters I wanted.

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It took me about a month of consistent practice (15-30 minutes a day) before I saw any real improvement. Of course, I was improving, but I didn’t see it until it finally “clicked”. I figured out my tools, paper, pressure, and rhythm, that all just come with practice. Don’t get discouraged if you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again. Just take a deep breath and keep going. Watch tutorials online, try new things, and it will come!

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