How to Start Hand Lettering: Simple Beginner’s Guide

You’ve seen hand lettering before, you love how it looks, and you’re ready to try doing it yourself. But where do you start?

I’ve written this beginner hand lettering guide just for you, and I’ve kept it simple and easy to understand while still giving you all you need to get started.

Hand lettering doesn’t have to be complicated! In fact, it’s the simplest form of lettering to learn – and I’m going to teach you how.

I’ve been hand lettering for years, I still do it (and enjoy it), and I’d love to help you learn it, too!

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pencil lettering on a notebook that says "how to start hand lettering"

What is hand lettering?

First of all, what exactly is hand lettering?

Hand lettering is the art of drawing letters. Take any tool, draw some letters in any style, and you’ve just done hand lettering.

Yep, that’s all there is to it!

Hand lettering can be as simple as that, or it can be as complex as 3D beveled letters with shadows. There’s not really a right or wrong way.

Hand lettering is an art form that doesn’t require any special tools or knowledge. Anyone can do it.

(True, you may not love your work from day one, but that’s what practice is for!)

Many lettering artists are self-taught because of this. They just started drawing letters one night and kept learning from there.

That’s really all it takes for you to learn hand lettering: a desire to learn, and the willingness to keep practicing!

Hand lettering vs lettering, calligraphy, or fonts

What about hand lettering compared to the terms “lettering” or “calligraphy?”

There are various lettering and calligraphy terms you’ll see people use, and they’re not always used correctly.

Most of the “hand lettering” articles I found online are actually teaching modern calligraphy, not hand lettering.

It’s okay if you don’t know or use the correct terms, but I just want to clear some of it up so you understand the definitions!

  • Lettering: “Written or printed words.” It’s a general term that encompasses any kind of words or lettering, whether that’s hand lettering, calligraphy, or even typed fonts.
  • Calligraphy: “Beautiful writing.” Calligraphy is the art of writing letters with a pressure-sensitive tool, like a brush pen or pointed pen. Letters are built up with a series of practiced strokes.
  • Hand lettering: “The art of drawing letters.” Hand lettering artists draw and illustrate letters in any style using any tool, instead of writing or typing them.
  • Handwriting: “Writing with a pen or pencil.” Everyday handwriting is usually quick, functional writing that’s used to communicate or record something.
  • Fonts/typefaces: Sets of digital, typed characters in a specific style or font family. (Hand lettering may look like fonts even though it isn’t.)

Related: The Difference Between Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

calligraphy vs hand lettering

Examples of hand lettering

Let’s look at some examples of hand lettering so you can see a sampling of different letter styles and possibilities!

There are a lot of lettering artists on Instagram, so I picked some of my favorite posts to show you.

First, here’s a piece by Selina of @letteredinlovecreations. Notice that she used a Sharpie marker for this piece (no fancy supplies needed!).

There are at least eight different letter styles here, which makes for a very interesting design, especially with some added elements like shadows and banners.

Next is a piece by @jacycorral where you can see more hand-drawn lettering styles.

She also used embellishments (arrows and stars) to fill in space and emphasize words.

Below are four different versions of the same quote by @stefankunz. You can see how many variations are possible with just one phrase!

There are also more complex techniques like 3D curved letters, shadows, and banners that really make the designs stand out.

I had to include one more by Stefan Kunz because just look at all those styles for one letter!

Once you get the creative ideas flowing, you can come up with all kinds of unique ways to draw letters.

Here’s another skilled lettering artist, @oraarts, who uses details like shadows, highlights, dots, and stars to add emphasis and make the lettering stand out.

You can be sure it takes a lot of time and practice to create pieces like this, but the finished result is so impressive!

So far these examples have been black and white, but below is a colorful design by @bydawnnicole.

She has a playful, cute style. Notice how she added doodles throughout the piece and used a mix of different letter styles.

Don’t get overwhelmed, though! Hand lettering can be simple, too.

Like this lettering by @fearfullymadecreations. She drew simple serif letters along with a script word in the middle (drawn and filled in to look like calligraphy).

It’s not complicated, but it’s still so pretty!

Hand lettering can also be as simple as outlining letter shapes and filling them in.

Here’s an example of that by @junebug.doodles_ where the letters are outlined with a black pen and filled in with colorful markers.

I’m feeling inspired to do some hand lettering now, aren’t you?

There are so many more examples out there; I had a hard time picking just a handful!

The possibilities are really endless with this art form and it’s so easy to pick up a pencil and start.

Tools and supplies for lettering beginners

You don’t need any special supplies to start hand lettering. Start with a piece of paper and a pencil or pen and use what you have!

If you want to buy supplies, here’s a list of hand lettering tools with some links:

  • Ruler for drawing guidelines. Any kind will work.
  • Pencil. It doesn’t really matter what pencil you use. Experiment with harder or softer pencils if you’d like.
  • Eraser. Use any eraser you have. I often like using kneaded erasers, but you’ll probably also want a firm eraser.
  • Paper. Printer paper or drawing paper works great. If you don’t like making guidelines, grid paper is very useful for drawing neat letters. Thick paper like mixed media or Bristol is great for final pieces.
  • Tracing paper. Really handy for doing multiple drafts of lettering work.
  • Fine liner pens. A set of fine liner pens in varying sizes is useful for outlining and drawing letters in ink, especially small details.
  • Markers for filling in larger areas. Any kind will work – there are so many out there! Colorful markers are fun to have, or a set of brush pens.
  • White gel pens are great for adding details over inked lettering.

There are so many supplies that you could try, but there’s no need to get them all at once. Start with the basics!

(By the way, you can find a list of my favorite supplies and how I like to use them on my resources page.)

Alternatively, you can use an iPad and Apple Pencil if you prefer working digitally. A program like Procreate is great for doing lettering and other art.

If you use Procreate, turn on the drawing guide and set it to a grid to use as guidelines.

The basic lettering styles

The lettering style possibilities are endless, as you saw in the examples above. But let’s look at the most basic styles and their characteristics.

The three basic lettering styles are sans serif, serif, and script. There are many variations, but these are all you really need to know to get started.

I’ll show you some examples of each of these.

Serif

Serif letters have small lines called “serifs” attached to some of the ends.

There are many different styles and variations of serifs. They can be thin, thick, rounded, or squared. (They even have names, but I won’t get into those!)

Here are some examples:

serif lettering examples

It takes practice to remember where to put serifs (and where not to put them) on different letters. Try studying serif fonts to see where the serifs are placed.

A website like fonts.com will have lots of different fonts that you could practice with and get ideas from.

(Note: I drew each of these examples by hand but got inspiration from various fonts!)

Sans serif

Sans serif letters are letters without serifs attached.

Sans serif lettering styles tend to look clean and easily readable because of this.

Here are some examples of sans serif letters (again, there are so many possible variations):

sans serif lettering examples

Uppercase sans serif letters will likely be the easiest to start drawing because it can be such a simple style of letters.

It gets a little trickier when you start adding thick and thin lines, but again, you can practice by tracing a font.

Script

Script lettering is usually connected, cursive-like lettering.

Script letters can have thick and thin strokes to look like calligraphy, or they can all have a consistent width, or “weight.”

If you learned cursive, script will probably be easier for you to pick up.

Here are some examples of script letters:

script lettering examples

Script lettering tends to be more fluid and expressive than the other styles, but it doesn’t have to be.

If you decide to do thick and thin lines for a script lettering style, work on making the transitions from thick to thin (and vice versa) smooth.

In contrast, monoline or monoweight lettering means that the lines are a consistent width all the way through, with no variation.

Practice tip

To practice drawing lettering styles, type out the alphabet using different fonts and print out the pages. Trace over the letters multiple times to learn the shapes and where to add thickness or serifs. Try it with script, serif, and sans serif fonts.

Other styles

There are also many lettering styles that don’t necessarily belong in one of these three categories.

Illustrative, uniquely-drawn lettering styles could be called creative lettering or decorative lettering.

For example, you could draw letters made out of objects (e.g. leaves, pencils), or letters that look like something else (e.g. a neon sign, ribbon).

The great thing about hand lettering is that you can be as creative as you want – there are no real rules!

You could mix and match styles to come up with your own unique version.

Letter terminology and structure

It’s a good idea to start with a general knowledge of letters and their structure so you know how to draw them better.

There are some lettering terms and guidelines that you should know before we start.

Learning hand lettering means diving into the fascinating world of letters!

Lettering guideline setup

Take a look at the example below to see how lettering guidelines are generally set up and how letters rest on them.

lettering guidelines

Try using a ruler to draw a set of guidelines for yourself and labeling them. You could also add angle lines, to help keep the letters at a consistent angle.

(If you’re just doing uppercase block letters you can skip the ascender and descender lines.)

Of course, there are ways you can change it up, too.

You could draw guidelines on an angle if you wanted to have the baseline slanted upwards or downwards.

Some “bouncy” styles of lettering also have varied baselines instead of a straight baseline.

Basic anatomy of letters

There are a lot of really specific terms that are used for type anatomy, but there’s no need to get deep into those.

For now, I’ll show you some basic lettering anatomy terms that you may need to know.

basics of lettering anatomy

This is by no means a complete list of typography terminology. I’m just covering terms that you might actually use!

Here’s the list of terms and what they mean:

  • Ascender: The part of a letter that extends above the waistline/x-height.
  • Descender: The part of a letter that extends below the baseline.
  • Tail: Just a term for the descending strokes of letters like g, y, and p.
  • Bowl: That round/elliptical shape that makes up letters like a, b, d.
  • Stem: Main straight line of letters like n, d, t.
  • Counter: Enclosed area of letters like a, g, o. Can also be an “open counter,” like in h or n.
  • Serif: A stroke attached to the ends of some letters.
  • Crossbar: Line that crosses letters like A or t.
  • Leg: Term for that downward-extending stroke in letters like k or R.
  • Loop: Any descender/ascender loop that’s part of letters like g, h, f, etc.
  • Ligature: A term for when you combine two letters with a connecting stroke, making them essentially one character.
  • Flourish: Those swirly, decorative strokes that can be added to (or around) letters.

Don’t feel like you have to memorize – or even use – all of these terms. (I don’t!)

It’s just handy to know what some of the different parts of letters are called.

How to build letters

Before we start lettering, let’s look at how you actually build the letters.

There are a few ways you can draw and construct letters:

  • Outline the entire letter
  • Start with a “skeleton” frame
  • Build the letter in sections

Here are examples of each of those three methods:

3 ways to construct letters

The outline method will give you a slightly messier, more hand-drawn look.

The other two methods will help you keep the letter widths more consistent.

There’s no right or wrong way, so play around and use whatever method you want.

How to start hand lettering

Let’s start hand lettering!

Grab a pencil and paper and follow the steps below to create your first piece.

Keep it simple and start with just a word or two. As you practice, you can start doing longer and more detailed pieces.

Time needed: 20 minutes

Here are step by step instructions for how to start hand lettering.

  1. Choose a style.

    Pick a lettering style that fits the piece you want to create. The options are endless, but start with just with one or two. Sans serif block letters are nice and simple.

  2. Start with a sketch.

    Use a ruler to draw guidelines for yourself if you don’t have lined paper. Roughly sketch out your idea(s) in pencil beforehand if you’d like.

  3. Draw and build up the letters.

    Use the method you prefer to draw the letters, whether it’s outlining, starting with letter frames, or constructing in sections.

  4. Refine.

    Once you’ve drawn the letters, you can refine and adjust them. Pay attention to things like consistent width and spacing.

  5. Complete in ink.

    Go over your penciled lettering design with a fineliner or other pen. Trace it onto a fresh piece of paper if you’d like.

  6. Add extra details (optional)

    Now is the time to add extra details like shadows, outlines, inlines, or other embellishments to the letters.

    Once the ink is dry, you can erase the guidelines and admire your finished work!

Congratulations! You just created your first hand lettering piece!

If you’re not satisfied, you can start over and make changes.

Remember that practice will move you forward faster than anything else!

If you’re wondering how to add extra details to your lettering, check out this post: 21 Easy Ways to Embellish Hand Lettering

Practicing and finding inspiration

One of the best ways to practice hand lettering is to find inspiration around you (or online) and try to replicate the styles that you see.

Fonts and hand lettering are all around you on packaging, signs, mail, book covers, etc.

Two great places to find lettering inspiration online are Instagram and Pinterest.

Start paying attention to the letters you see and think about how you could recreate them.

Practice tip

Look around you and find a font or lettering style that you want to try replicating. Start sketching with a pencil (or you could trace) to figure out how to draw the letters yourself. Or you could take the idea and put your own twist on it!

Here are some things to think about when you’re looking at lettering ideas:

  • Where is the weight (thickness) added, if at all? How much contrast is there between thin and thick lines?
  • What colors are used?
  • Is a serif, sans serif, or script style used? Or is it more of a creative or decorative style?
  • Notice how a lettering style can change the whole appearance and feel of a word.
  • What details are added to make the words stand out? (Flourishes, shadows, etc.)
  • How would I draw this style?
  • What makes this lettering style unique?
  • What do I like best about it?

For the purposes of practice, it’s ok to replicate lettering that you see online and want to try.

That will help you learn new lettering techniques and styles.

(Just remember, you should never copy someone else’s artwork and say it’s your own. Give credit to the artist if you post it online.)

You should also practice coming up with your own lettering styles and ideas!

As you practice hand lettering, there are several things to pay attention to and work toward:

  • Consistent spacing
  • Consistent angles
  • Letter sizes
  • Legibility
  • Consistent line widths

It’s always a good idea to start with a pencil sketch so you can figure out a concept and make adjustments.

Use your eraser whenever you need to!

A pencil, eraser, and tracing paper are some of my favorite lettering tools.

For more tips, read this post: How to Practice and Improve Your Hand Lettering

pencil sketch of lettering in a moon shape
Lettering within a shape is a fun challenge.

More resources for learning hand lettering

While I haven’t created any courses or workbooks for hand lettering myself (yet), I’m going to point you to some other artists who you can learn more from!

My blog (that you’re on right now) is all about lettering and art topics, so keep an eye out for more posts on hand lettering here, too.

Final thoughts

There is so much you can do with hand lettering – you could decorate envelopes, make your own cards, do lettering on signs or just about any surface!

(More ideas in this post: Creative Ways To Use Your Hand Lettering)

Remember that nothing drawn by hand will be absolutely perfect, and that’s what makes it special. Try not to worry about perfection and just have fun!

There aren’t really any rules for hand lettering – just guidelines.

So experiment and play with different styles and ways of drawing letters.

Expand your skills over time instead of trying to learn everything at once (if you do that, you’ll just get overwhelmed).

I highly recommend putting the date on your work, too. Later on you’ll look back and see the progress you’ve made!

If you just started hand lettering, I’d love to see what you make. Feel free to send me a picture or tag me on Instagram @byheidigrace.

Have fun drawing letters!

You might want to save this post for future reference, too ⬇️

how to start hand lettering
everything you need to know to start hand lettering

2 Comments

  1. I would love this so much! I have a lot of time now being on disability I want to be able to make bows for my girls, etc.. Thank you for your time.

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