Turning Your Calligraphy into Hand Lettering

Before I decided to focus more exclusively on calligraphy, I was actually a hand lettering artist. There was nothing like finishing a big, polished hand lettering piece. However, the one thing I struggled with when it came to hand lettering was the lack of immediate satisfaction. This was an aspect of calligraphy that I really enjoyed. I was able to see my results in a matter of minutes.

If you’ve ever felt this way — or if you’re a calligraphy artist who has never done actual hand lettering, this post is for you. Today, I want to show you how you can easily turn your calligraphy pieces into hand lettering works.

Starting with Calligraphy

Your end result will be a nicely detailed hand lettering piece that can contain as much aesthetic decoration, color, or depth as you like. But it begins with calligraphy, so let’s start there.

Don’t think about the hand lettering bit just yet. Simply create a calligraphy piece that you’d like to eventually turn into hand lettering. This can be a word, phrase, or even a composition.

Ink written in Calligraphy

In the image above, I’ve created some guides and written the word Ink, which is what we’ll be using throughout this post as an example. I find the guides to be very helpful for ensuring precision. They’ll also come in handy in future steps.

You don’t need to be 100% perfect at this point since you’ll have the ability to manipulate the piece in future steps, but I’d recommend doing your best to get the layout and orientation as “locked in” as possible to save yourself trouble down the line.

2. Scanning and Manipulation.

In this step, you’re going to create the template that you’ll use as a foundation to create your hand lettering piece.

Scan your piece into your computer. I prefer to use Photoshop for this step. If you don’t have a scanner, but you do have a smart phone, there are scanning apps that can do a pretty good job of creating digital renditions. I use one called ScannerPro for the iPhone. I actually prefer to use this over my scanner because it’s quicker and easier.

Initial scan of a Calligraphy piece

Once you have your image imported, you might need to make some adjustments. This is where I find the guides to be helpful. As you can see in my ScannerPro scan, the lines are a bit warped to the side. If you use a proper scanner, you likely won’t have this problem. Either way, it’s easy to correct, with Photoshop’s Free Transform Tool. I won’t go into depth here, but if you want to take a couple of minutes to learn how to use this tool, I recommend this great tutorial from Design Reviver.

Corrected scan of a Calligraphy piece

In the image above, I’ve taken a minute to straighten out my guides with the Free Transform Tool and cropped it down to a comfortable size. I’ve also dialed the opacity back a little bit. This step is optional, but I like to save the printer ink.

If you need to adjust kerning, spacing, or any additional areas in which you’d like to prepare the image, now is the time to do it.

3. Preparing the Template

You’re almost ready to begin your hand lettering piece. Just one more step!
The next thing you want to do is print your scanned calligraphy piece out, but you want to do so at a larger size. This will be the size of your final piece.

Printing the scan of a Calligraphy piece

My original piece was only about 2 inches wide, but I want my lettering piece to be much larger, so in the print settings within Photoshop, I’ve adjusted the scale to occupy the majority of an 8.5″x11″ page.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to create a piece larger than your printer, no problem! Check out BlockPosters.com. This service allows you to upload an image and turn it into a tiled poster. You can choose how many pages wide and what their orientation will be. Then it gives you a PDF that you can download and print. From there, you cut and tile the pages together to form a poster. It’s awesome for DIY projects!

Creating a tiled poster using blockposters.com

4. Tracing the Template

Once you have your template printed out, it’s time to lay down the foundation for your hand lettering piece!

I simply laid another piece of paper on top of my print out and traced it.

Printed scan of a Calligraphy piece

If the surface you’re working on is too opaque to see the print out through, there are methods of transferring lines to other sheets of paper. You can go out and buy graphite transfer paper which is made for this purpose, or you can use this awesome DIY method that Mindy Lighthipe does a fantastic job of demonstrating in one of her YouTube videos:

Whichever way you choose to do it, you should end up an enlarged, outlined version of your original calligraphy piece.

Traced scan of a Calligraphy piece

5. Hand Lettering!

That’s all you need to get started. Now you can get to work on the actual hand lettering part. The possibilities here are only limited to your imagination.

I began by outlining my work in pencil and then filled it in with a black Micron multi-liner pen. I chose to create a decorative inlay for a 3D effect.

Sketched hand lettering of a Calligraphy piece
Inked hand lettering of a Calligraphy piece

Finally, I colored it in with some Prismacolor markers, which are fantastic for color blending.

Finished hand lettering of a Calligraphy piece


If you’re confident in writing calligraphic letterforms but not so confident in freehand illustrating them, welcome to the club! Hopefully this approach to hand lettering gives you the best of both worlds. I’d love to see what you come up with! Tag me in one of your pictures on Instagram.

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