Creating Lettering Time Lapses with a Smartphone

Have you ever seen lettering time lapses on Instagram or YouTube? When I first started lettering, I would watch these endlessly and become hypnotized as the letters spread out across the page. It’s really quite therapeutic to watch someone do lettering or calligraphy.

Ever since then, I’ve had a desire to create my own videos and time lapses.
However, the initial problem that I faced was that I thought that I needed to have video expertise. I had never really edited videos before. I didn’t even really know how to use video software. I didn’t have a fancy camera either, so I really thought making my own videos was not something that I was capable of doing.

Creating Your Own

As it turns out, I was wrong. You don’t need to be a technical guru with advanced software and expensive equipment. And I’m going to show you how you can create your own videos and time lapses on your smartphone.

As far as equipment, I recommend getting your hands on a tripod or a Gorilla Pod as well as a smartphone tripod mount. These will allow you the flexibility to film your work at convenient and interesting vantage points.
The rest is all about the technique, so let’s get started.


Lighting is probably the most important aspect of shooting good quality video. There are tons of lighting setups out there for video shoots. You could can drop a lot of money getting the perfect lighting set up, which is something you might consider someday if you plan to shoot more video. But you can also use the sun. Daylight is the ultimate lighting source and it happens to be free. Early mornings and overcast days will get you the best lighting for your shoots.

Find a well-lit room, even if it’s not where you normally set up your work, and spend a couple hours utilizing the daylight.

Additional lighting tips:

  • Avoid any shadows being cast (or casting your own) on to your work. It will be very distracting in the final product.
  • If the sun is too bright, put a white sheet over the window to diffuse some of the brightness.


There a number of places you can place your camera to capture your work. The best place for you is going to depend on the size, detail and application of your work.

I personally like the look of bird’s eye shots. These happen to work particularly well for larger applications. The smaller the details of your piece, the more your hand tends to get in the way of the shot. If the camera can clearly see the tip of the pen or brush putting pigment on to the page, the video becomes way more exciting.

Depending on your set up, these shots can be a little more difficult to get right. It’s possible for your head to get in the way as you lean in. You’ll notice my head in the previous video. Although it didn’t ruin the shot, it’s a little annoying. But I have actually made the mistake of ruining 30 minute shoots because my head was in the way the whole time!

It’s also possible for the camera to be invasive to your space, requiring you to lean further back, or write at a certain angle so that the camera can clearly capture your work.

You’ll need to find what works best for you, so don’t be afraid to experiment. There’s nothing wrong with stacking books or boxes on top of each other and tying your camera to a stick that hangs off the top. If you need to macgyver random objects together to get a good shot, then so be it.
I often wrap my Gorilla pod around the handle of a tripod and position it over my workspace.

Iphone recording setup
Iphone recording setup

Additional recording tips:

  • Do some test shots! Record some 30 second shots before you jump into something bigger. Review those test shots to make sure your lighting and positioning are satisfactory.
  • Forget about the camera after you hit record. Focus on your work and relax. If you mess up, you can just start again. Loosen up and don’t worry about getting the perfect shot or you’ll end up driving yourself crazy.
  • Instagram forces you to crop your video to a square unless you want black parts around the frame, so if you’re shooting with Instagram’s square format in mind, make sure the focus of your video fits into the middle of the frame. This allows you to crop it without cutting off your work, as well as having a full frame video that you can repurpose for youtube:
Shoot videos with Instagram's centered format in mind.

Shoot videos with Instagram’s centered format in mind.

Post Production

Speeding up the clip is easy and there are a number of free apps that will allow you to adjust the playback. Personally, I use an app for the iPhone called Slow Fast. It’s a cinch to use. Import your clip, and adjust the handles to speed up or slowdown the clip. It also has several other features such as trimming, muting sound, and cropping.

If you have multiple clips or would like to add audio/music, you can use an app like iMovie which is extremely user friendly. Simply select your clips in order iMovie will automatically sequence your clips. Add any other finishing touches you desire and export the final video. If you’re not on an iPhone, there are plenty of Android alternatives to iMovie.

All done!

Now all you need to do is share it with the world!

Not too hard, right? Hopefully this opens a new door for you. Video is a great way to share your lettering work in this day and age. It allows your audience to see the piece come to life, rather than just a final version in still form.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to help. Shoot me a message!

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