A Quick Guide To Hand Lettering Your First Quote

Here's a quick guide to get you started in lettering your first quote.

This is a photo tutorial on how to get your first quote up and going! I'd love to see your results. To participate you can tweet me or tag me on instagram @keshnadonia I'd really like to see what you come up with! 


Hand lettering can come off intimidating especially when looking at people's work who's been at it for years. When you've learned the fundamentals, and break things down step by step it alleviates the stress and keeps it simple.

You can use hand lettering for personal note cards, invitations, banners and signs. By the end of this tutorial you should have a basic understanding of how to letter your first quote. 


Let's address a few things before we get our hands dirty.


Some Basic Materials

Since this is your first quote we are going to keep the tools and materials really simple. You'll need a ruler or straightedge, lead holder or pencil, a really good eraser and a black marker, or micron pen. Remember that the tools used may change the aesthetic of your work, but the tools do not make the work. Below I have a grid paper, tracing paper, blank copy paper a decent eraser, ruler, micron pen and lead holder.


Here I have my very basic tools to get started on my quote. 

In Short these are the Steps in the process:

  1. You print out the typeface you’d like to use from reference (or sketching out your own beforehand.)
  2. You measure and block out your piece so that your letters are all spaced as you like.
  3. You hand-ink your piece or scan it, then finish in a vector program (like adobe illustrator)

First We Sketch

Grab a blank sheet of paper and sketch out some ideas and concepts for your quote. Sketching is an important part of the lettering process as it helps you to get ideas out of your head and onto paper. Don't worry about how it looks at this stage. Thumbnail sketches are often small, vaguely detailed, messy and quick. It's ok to look for ideas on what to do, but I'd challenge you to get as many ideas out of your head and on to paper before you go and search online or a magazine of examples you like. Sketching helps in challenging your creative thinking, along with planning the feel of your quote and to determine the style.


Now we can measure. For the first few times, it's easiest to stick with rectangular stacking of words. Once you get more practice, you can experiment with a variety of shapes sizes and dynamic compositions. 


To measure my piece I used a grid lined paper. You can download one from here, or use these dotted grid sheets. Create the baseline you’ll draw your text on top of, then evenly space horizontal lines to block off where you would like your letters to go.


Laying out The Pencil Sketch

Start by roughly sketching out the skeletal of each letter. Doing this will help you block out just enough space for your letters. You can go back and add the thickness of your letters. To know where the thickness falls you can reference your typeface sheet. 

Once your initial rough sketch is done, go over it again to solidify the letterforms’ final shapes. Remember that you only want to draw the outline of the letters. If there are portions of solid black, don’t fill those in. Too much graphite can show through your ink and clog your pen. 

Then We Ink

Microns are great archival pens. They do not bleed when erasing and are highly pigmented. They come in various sizes. To trace fine lines, use the 005 point. Trace over the lines and fill in the black areas with your pen. To prevent  smudging your pencil lines, tape a piece of paper or plastic over the area that you’re not working on. This way, your hand will rest on the cover sheet instead of the drawing itself. Once you’ve got everything filled in, let it completely dry before fixing anything.

Scanning and Cleaning Up

Scan your image into photoshop and clean off any additional mistakes. If you don't have a scanner, simply take a photo of your inked image and pull it into photoshop. Once it’s in, if you’re planning on using your lettering as an isolated graphic, there are plenty of ways to separate it from the background, especially if your design is fully inked, creating an even contrast and sharp lines you can pull out via the Color Select or Magic Wand tools.

Take Away

Hand-lettering is similar to any other form of drawing. With much practice and dedication you'll be a pro in no time. In the beginning stages use reference materials to make your pieces and as you become more comfortable practice without them. Get some basic materials to start practicing, and you’ll be well on your way to creating beautiful, unique and personalized text for any occasion. As you get better and you know you are ready to commit you can build your library of materials and tools. Happy Lettering, and don't forget: 

I'd love to see your results.  To participate you can tweet me or tag me on instagram @keshnadonia I'd really like to see what you come up with! Not on social media? That's fine. You can come back to this email and reply with a photo of your work. 

Practice, Practice, Practice. Practice makes perfect.

PRO TIP: Practice Lettering in your free time even as doodle sketches. Even try making sketchnotes in meetings to get better and retain important information!

Keshna Donia