When I post my work online, I am often asked what tools I am using. So this week, I’ve decided to go in depth and talk about ALL of the lettering tools and resources that I use to create my work.
Fortunately, lettering is an inexpensive hobby and the tools are relatively easy to come by. All of these tools can be purchased on Amazon. However, I’d also recommend that you check out JetPens. JetPens has an extraordinary selection of inventory at very reasonable prices.
Before we dive in, I just want to emphasize that the only thing that will make you better at lettering is practice. Fancy tools will help you expand your horizons, but they’re not required to get started. However, for those that love to geek out with supplies and want to learn more about lettering tools, this post is for you!
You’ll probably need some paper. I like to always have these 4 different kinds of paper on hand:
A Nice Sketchbook
There’s nothing like a nice hefty sketchbook to do your best work in. I recommend the Leuchtturm Black Cover Notebook. The pages are blank, but it comes with a double-sided (gridded/lined) guide sheet that you can put under the page you’re drawing on. Awesome!
A Gridded Notebook
I love drawing on guides. When I’m in the weeds sketching, I’m focused on getting out new ideas, not perfecting every line as if it’s the final execution of the work. Quantity over quality. I use this gridded Moleskine. I treat this paper as if it’s expendable. I burn through these notebooks quickly and then throw them away. Only ideas come from this notebook, not polished work.
Tracing paper is awesome. When you’re refining a design, don’t bother trying to redraw something from your notebook or a vector from reference… trace it! And when you refine further, trace it again. Daniel Palacios of Highpulp wrote an excellent post on the benefits of tracing paper if you’d like to read more on the topic.
Pro tip: Drawing on tracing paper extends the lives of your pens. Since the surface is so flat and thin, it absorbs less ink and won’t wear your nibs down as fast.
A Travel Notebook
Nothing special here. Keep a smaller notebook in your backpack, purse, or whatever you carry with you every day. Sketch ideas and notes on the go when you’re waiting around or commuting.
Before we get into actual writing utensils, here are some of the tools you’ll want to have on hand.
Kneaded erasers are self-healing. You can tear them apart and mold them back together again. They’ll last forever and when you use them, they don’t leave eraser particles. If you only buy one eraser, make sure it’s this one.
Use a precision eraser like the Tombow Mono for erasing with precision. These are extremely helpful if you’re working with small detail.
Chances are you won’t always be drawing on a straight line. Get yourself a compass so you can draw curves and perfect circles.
Stainless Steel Ruler
Get yourself a nice 18″ ruler and use it to measure compositions and
Pro tip: These often come with a hole one one side. Drill tiny holes down the ruler. If you use the bigger hole as an anchor, and put your pen in a smaller hole, you can utilize the ruler as a large scale compass!
Transparent rulers are great for measuring small multi-line compositions. Because they are clear and gridded, it is easy to acheive precise measurements.
Plain old Scotch Tape will do. I use this most often to adhere tracing paper on to the sheet I’m tracing. This makes it easier to keep the traced design aligned precisely.
Pro tip: Print your design out on a laser printer and dab the sticky side of the tape over the design to achieve a distressed grunge effect. Cool!
Using a scanner to get your work into the computer can be very convenient. You might already have one if you use a generic multi-purpose laser printer.
If you’re like me and hate desk clutter, I’d highly recommend ScannerPro. ScannerPro is a very powerful smartphone app that has all of the same features your average scanner does.
The GorillaPod is a malleable tripod. In addition to just sitting upright like a regular tripod, you can also wrap it around things to get unique angles and vantage points. I use this with my camera-phone, but you can also get adapters for your DSLR.
Pro tip: mount this above you (for example, on an overhead desk lamp) and shoot videos and pictures of your lettering.
You’re probably want something to put your supplies in. I use this big ArtBin which holds all of my tools in organized slots and compartments.
Alternatively, you can get a roll pouch like the Niji, which is also great for traveling.
Using a light pad like the Huion USB LED light pad isn’t required, but you might find it useful for your tracing purposes.
2mm Lead Holder
2mm Lead Holders are classic drafting and drawing tools. You add sticks of lead into the holder and the holder feeds the lead down to whatever length you’re comfortable drawing with.
2mm Lead for Your Holder
You’ll need some lead to put in that holder.
Lead comes in different grades. The grade determines the hardness of lead. The softer the lead, the darker the shade. Here’s a chart that demonstrates the different grades of lead you can get.
You certainly don’t need every single grade. Personally, I just use 2H. But if you’re doing a lot of shading, you might also want to get something in the 2-6B range.
You always want to keep the lead sharp and pointed, so keep a lead sharpener on hand.
If you’re just sketching casually and want to avoid the fuss of a lead holder, grab a nice .7MM mechanical pencil.
Don’t forget to buy a pack of .7MM lead for refills.
Pens & Markers
There are a lot of amazing pens and markers out there, but don’t get intimidated by the overwhelming variety of options. Over the years, I’ve tried every thing I could get my hands on only to discover that most of them do the exact same thing.
I would encourage you to experiment and find what’s best for you, but in my (not-so-humble) opinion, these are the only one that you really need in your arsenal:
There are a lot of drawing pens out there, but the Sakura Microns are the best bang for the buck. They come in a variety of sizes and colors. For lettering, you probably won’t need every size, but it’s worth buying a variety pack and experimenting to to find what works best for you.
Pro tip: Stock up on the #1 size (not to be confused with #01). Because it uses more ink, it doesn’t tend to last as long as the thinner sizes. But it does cover much more area which is helpful when filling in your letters.
My favorite category! There are countless brush pens out there, and because there are so many potential lettering applications, you’ll want to try a few to see what works best for you. Here are my recommendations:
- Tombow Double-Sided Brush Pen
- Pentel Color Brush Pen
- Zebra Disposable
- Kuretake Disposable
- Tombow Disposable
Pro Tip: Jet Pens sells a sampler pack that includes several of these varieties. This is a great way to dive in and start experimenting.
If you’re looking to do any sort of blackletter or gothic script, the Pilot Parallels are a must-have. I honestly can’t speak highly enough of these pens. The tip is comprised of 2 parallel slabs of metal that feed the ink. They come in 4 sizes: 1.5MM, 2.4MM, 3.8MM, and 6MM. You can also buy a variety of colors and create beautiful gradations.
These pens are extremely precise, robust, and easy-to-maintain. I use them so often that I buy the ink refills in bulk.
Crayola Broad Line Magic Markers
This is not a joke. Crayola Broad Line markers are incredible lettering tools. The
tip is incredibly resilient, easy to control, and allows you to achieve a beautiful variety of line weights.
Pro tip: Individual color sets are the way to go. You can buy a full color set, but you’ll end up throwing the yellow out because it’s not that legibile.
There are a lot of wonderful instructional resources for learning lettering. Here are a few of the books that really helped me step up my game.
Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy
Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters is an unknown gem. It is hands down the best instructional book I have ever read. It covers Roundhand calligraphy in extreme detail, providing examples of the right ways and the wrong ways to draw a letter. If you follow along with this book, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you progress.
The Spencerian Penmanship theory book was written by Platt Rogers Spencer, the creator of Spencerian script. Working through this book after working through Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy (above) will give you a fantastic understanding and appreciation of the differences between Roundhand and Spencerian. A great way to push your cursive script skills even further!
Foundations in Calligraphy
Foundations in Calligraphy by Sheila Waters is an old, yet timeless book. It took a while for me to get my hands on this one, but it is now reprinted and available through Amazon. This book teaches the history, evolution, and instruction of a variety of calligraphic styles. Highly recommended!
The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering
The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering by Valerie McKeehan is a fantastic resource even if you’re not interested in chalk lettering. The styles and instruction that it provides are very unique and can be achieved with any medium.
Having a physical collection of beautiful work produced by other lettering artists can be very inspiring. I revisit these books frequently whenever I’m looking to try something new.
Hand to Type
Hand to Type is a big-ass book of amazing lettering. The work featured within it is incredibly diverse and inspiring. This tends to be the first book I reach for when I’m looking for inspiration.
In Progress is a book by Jessica Hische. If you’re not familiar with her, you should get familiar. She is an incredible artist as well as an influential figure in the lettering community. This book showcases her work and it even goes behind the scenes into her creative process.
Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age is a another large collection of lettering. This one focuses on classic scripts in a variety of styles and applications.
Even though you might be busy with your eyes and your hands, you still have open ears. Why not fill them with something valuable and elightening during those long hours of creative work? Here is a list of the podcasts that I listen to while I’m working. They’re not specifically related to lettering, but they’re all about business and creative pursuit of your passion, which can be very inspiring.
- Sean Wes Podcast
- Lambo Goal
- Smart Passive Income
- The #AskGaryVee Show
- The Abundant Arist
- 10,000 Hours
I hope you find this list of lettering tools and resources helpful. If you have further questions, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to shoot me a message!