Out of all the lettering supplies I use and love, there’s one simple supply that I use over and over again and couldn’t do without….
Well, more than one, actually, but the one I’m talking about is tracing paper!
Why is it such an important tool? In this post, learn how you can use tracing paper for your lettering in six ways.
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Why use tracing paper for lettering?
Tracing paper is a handy tool for any lettering artist, and there are several reasons why.
First, it’s readily available and inexpensive, so it’s easy to get a tracing paper pad (or if you’re like me, lots more when there’s a sale!).
It’s also a smooth paper, so pens and pencils glide smoothly over the surface. This helps you get into more of a “flow” when you’re writing, lettering, or drawing.
Because of its transparency and smoothness, tracing paper is very helpful for hand lettering and calligraphy practice.
Whether you’re a lettering beginner or at a more advanced level, tracing paper can help make your creative process and practice smoother and easier.
If you aren’t already using tracing paper as a lettering artist, I highly recommend you start now! Here are six handy ways to use tracing paper for lettering.
1. Lettering worksheets
One of the best ways to use tracing paper for brush calligraphy practice is by putting it on top of worksheets.
Print out your lettering worksheets, put a sheet of tracing paper over a page, and use your brush pens to trace the examples on the tracing paper. This way, you can easily use worksheets over and over again.
The benefit to this is that the smooth tracing paper is easy on your brush pen tips, and of course it’s easy to see what you’re tracing since the paper is transparent.
To keep the papers from sliding around, use a paper clip or a little washi tape to hold the sheets in place as you work.
Instead of using brush pens directly on printed worksheets, grab a sheet of tracing paper next time you use practice sheets.
Brush pens also glide much more smoothly on tracing paper than they do on printer paper!
2. Composition sketches
Tracing paper is the best for lettering compositions! It’s perfect for the sketching process because it’s so easy to trace and transfer design concepts from one page to another.
If you’ve designed compositions before, you know it usually takes a lot of sketches and versions to reach a final piece.
It’s simple to make adjustments by putting a sheet of tracing paper of your work and retracing the design (or just elements of the design).
You can also test out adding an element to a composition by drawing it first on a separate sheet and then layering it over your current design to see how it looks.
Tracing paper can be used from the first thumbnail sketches all the way to the finished composition, and at any time you can go back to a previous sketch/concept and keep working from there.
While pencil is usually using for sketching, you can of course use pens and markers on tracing paper to see how your work looks in ink.
I often take Instagram pictures of my final pieces on tracing paper, too. (Check out my Instagram page; can you tell?)
I recommend saving some of your sketches somewhere to look back on later. Write the date on the paper and when you revisit it, you’ll get to see how much lettering progress you’ve made!
I have a bin of tracing paper drafts that go all the way back to 2018, not long after I’d started doing lettering. At any time I can pull out an old draft/design and rework or reuse it.
When I start going through that bin, I often get lost in looking over my old work and realizing how it has changed over the years!
Related: How to Design Lettering Layouts
3. Transferring designs to another surface
Tracing paper makes a handy transfer paper when you want to quickly and easily transfer a lettering sketch to a final canvas.
If you’ve just finished a design on tracing paper, it’s simple to transfer your work directly to another surface so you can do the final piece in ink.
Here are the steps for transferring words/lettering to another surface using tracing paper:
- Scribble pencil on the back side of the tracing paper, making sure to cover the entire back of the design.
- Place the tracing paper onto your surface with the pencil-scribble layer facing down.
- Once it’s in position, use something like washi tape to tape the tracing paper in place.
- Use a pencil to trace over the entire design. Pull up a corner of the paper after the first couple lines to check how well it’s transferring, and adjust the pressure you use if needed.
- Once you’ve finished tracing, just pull up the tracing paper, making sure the entire design is transferred before you take it off completely.
- Now you can go over your lettering sketch on the final surface using whatever pen you like and complete your design!
This method works well for transferring your lettering to cards, a canvas, another piece of paper, or even surfaces like wood.
If transferring a design to a dark surface, try using a piece of white chalk on the back of the paper instead of pencil so it shows up better.
You can save the tracing paper design and use it repeatedly if you want (maybe just fold it over so you don’t get pencil smears everywhere!).
I’ve used this method to make my own greeting cards by doing the sketching and lettering on tracing paper first and then transferring it to a card.
That way I can save and reuse the same design – like “happy birthday” for example – for multiple cards.
4. Brush lettering practice
Because tracing paper is so smooth, it makes a great practice paper for brush lettering in general.
Brush pens fray easily on rough paper, so using them on smooth paper is important! For more info, here’s a guide I wrote about the best papers for brush pens.
Marker paper like Rhodia paper or Canson marker paper also works well for lettering practice, but tracing paper is even cheaper and works just as well.
Whether you use it with printable practice sheets or not, tracing paper is a good alternative to marker paper for brush lettering practice.
I don’t remember having any issues with ink bleed-through, either!
Pen tips glide easily over tracing paper’s smooth surface, so if you get frustrated with your brush lettering on other paper, you may find that it’s easier to use brush pens on tracing paper.
Try using it for testing brush pens, practicing drills and strokes, or just filling a page with random words and thoughts in calligraphy!
5. Practicing flourishes
Who doesn’t love a beautiful calligraphy flourish? The best flourishes are the ones that flow smoothly, and the smoothness of tracing paper helps you achieve just that!
Both pencils and pens move more effortlessly on the smooth surface, so whether you’re using a pen or pencil to flourish (I recommend practicing with pencil) you can really get into a “flow” with your flourishing.
Tracing paper is useful for practicing flourishes, coming up with flourishes, testing flourish ideas, and practicing smooth lines and curves.
And of course, since it’s transparent, you can trace over flourishes and adjust them.
Fill a whole page with practice flourishes and circle the ones you like best to keep for later! At the same time, you’ll be developing muscle memory so smooth flourishing becomes easier with time.
6. Letter design
Similar to flourishing practice, tracing paper is also great for designing and tweaking hand drawn letterforms.
There are so many lettering styles that are possible, and it can be really fun to come up with your own styles to make your work stand out.
You can start by just sketching out a letter (or the whole alphabet) and changing up little things about it, like the width, angle, or the size of one part of the letter.
You could get ideas from studying fonts or other letter styles, looking at nature (try “stick” letters or floral letters), or adding illustrations.
An example is Belinda Kou, a lettering artist who often incorporates food illustrations into her lettering. You can check out her website here.
The possibilities are endless, but tracing paper can be handy for going through multiple drafts and bringing lettering style ideas to life!
Sometimes, too, when you’re just using a sheet of something like tracing paper, it helps free you up to just play instead of feeling like you have to make something amazing.
Best tracing paper for lettering
Any kind of tracing paper should work for lettering, but if you’re using it for brush pens, make sure it feels very smooth so it doesn’t wear on the pen tips.
You can get tracing paper pads in different sizes, too, depending on what you want to use it for. If you prefer working small, you could cut larger ones into smaller sheets.
All those brands work well for any kind of lettering and are also smooth enough for happy brush pen tips. Use whatever you have available and it should work fine!
Ready to start using tracing paper yet? I hope this post gave you lots of ideas for how you can use this simple but handy tool for your own lettering.
I use it all the time for lettering compositions, practice, and sketching ideas. Give me some tracing paper, a pencil, and a brush pen, and I’d be good for quite a while!
Thanks for reading, and happy lettering!