Saturday, September 23, 2017

5 Simple Tips To Start Hand Lettering

A question that I get often is if I use special pens to make the words on my bible pages look the way they do. While there are special pens and markers to allow you to achieve the same look, I usually don’t use those in my bible (you CAN, I just normally don’t). The below is an example of the lettering I’m talking about.

What I am doing in my bible is called handlettering (or sometimes called faux calligraphy).  Handlettering is different from dip pen calligraphy and brush pen calligraphy. These ARE done with special pens and markers, which I may go over in the future, but you can handletter with things that you probably already have around your house!

Today I wanted to give you a very basic overview on handlettering. Handlettering is a very popular way to add the verses in an artistic way to your journaling bible pages, address envelopes, or even create pieces to give to friends and family as gifts!

Before we start, I want you to remember something. We are use to writing a certain way our entire lives. Just think of how long you’ve been writing. Probably since you were about 5! That is YEARS of practice to get to where you are today in terms of how you write. You probably don’t even think about it anymore. With that in mind, remember that it will take some practice to get to a place that you’re happy with when it comes to handlettering as well because we’re going to do our best to make our hands make letters in ways that they’re not use to. At first it probably won’t look the way you want. Don’t let that discourage you! I am confident that with practice you can do it. 

TIP 1: DRAW the letters, don’t write them.

If you just write the words, your normal handwriting will be sneaky and try to peek through the letters you’re making. A great way to practice drawing lettering instead of writing them is to look at different computer fonts and practice drawing them. 

TIP 2: Try printing words out in fonts you like and tracing them.

That way you can get a feel of the shapes of letters and all the different ways they can look, work and move together. When you feel like you’re confident with that, you can try drawing them from just looking at the letters without tracing them. Eventually, the more you practice your muscles will start to remember what you’re doing and it will become a lot easier to draw the letters instead of writing them.

Now, I want to to go over some tips for practicing without tracing. 

TIP 3: Practice with a guide sheet. 

You can download one here without slanted guides and one here with slanted guides. (You can use graph paper to help you with this as well as the guide sheets.)

The reason I recommend a guide sheet is so you can make sure your letters are the same height and also have the same angle as you’re practicing. If you practice incorrectly, you’ll get in the habit of making letters the incorrect way.

One thing that makes handlettering look "beginner" is when your letters are angled in different directions. I have an example of that below. The guide sheet with slanted guides helps you avoid this.

On the left, you can see that the letters are angled in different directions. When you draw a line from the angle of the letter, you don’t want them to cross. You want them to be as parallel as possible.

Basically, hand lettering is mimicking pointed pen and brush pen calligraphy. Below I have some really quick videos and images showing you what brush lettering looks like and then how that translates into hand lettering.

**This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase products through these Amazon links, it won't cost any extra but it will give me a few extra bucks to buy some more pens. 😋**

The first pen that I use is a brush pen (specifically the Pentel Sign pen with brush tip). It has a flexible tip so when you put pressure on down strokes it makes them thicker. The video below shows you what I mean by a flexible tip. Notice how I put pressure when I go down and release the pressure as I go up.

These next videos are to give you an idea what brush pen calligraphy looks like and then what the same letters/words look like when you handletter them. The first line I am using the pen that I showed you in the first video. For the second line, I’m just using a regular pen.

Notice when I used the brush pen, the down strokes on the letters are thicker. I achieved this by applying more pressure to the pen like I showed you in the first video. The upstrokes are thinner. This is when I stopped applying pressure to the pen and made that stroke lightly up. So, that leads us to tip 4...


The reason I wanted to show you the brush pen was so you would know exactly why the downstrokes are thick and the upstrokes are thin. When I did the hand lettered version, first I wrote the word then I “manually" add a thickness to the down strokes and color them in on each letter. 

So, that’s it! Write your words, go back and make the down strokes thicker. It’s pretty simple! 😃 

TIP 5: Try holding your pen differently.

When I first started hand lettering, I held my pen the same as when I would write and I wasn’t really satisfied with my results. 

So, I started trying different ways of holding my pen and I found that it DID effect how I was able to draw my letters and after I got use to it, it actually made hand lettering (and drawing) EASIER!

I wanted to show you how I normally hold the pen when I write and how I hold it when I hand letter.

This first image above is how I have held my pen my whole life. I’m a tight fisted, death grip writer, y’all. And I push down HARD. I have had to completely change this with hand lettering. 

In this next picture, notice how I’m holding the pencil with a lot lighter grasp. I’m not even really grasping the pencil, but it’s kind of laying on the side of my knuckle. My index finger is lightly laying on top of the pencil and my thumb is lightly placed on the side. 

Here are a few things I realized when I started holding my pen differently. When I lighten my grip if have found that I have more control over what my letters look like by flexing my fingers and wrist to make the shapes.

  1. When I’m holding my pen like I “normally do” I can’t draw the letters correctly because my natural handwriting seems to want to be in control instead of me.
  2. I also found that when my hand is gripping the pen so tight, I can't make good motions to shape the letters. All of my letters were short and fat and I didn’t have a good range of motion in my fingers to change the shapes.
  3. And last, this is pretty much the only way I have found that works for me when I want to do brush lettering or dip pen calligraphy, so I wanted to get in the habit of holding my pen this way. For the future, you might want to get into this habit, too. ;) 
A side note: If you’re having issues with your lines being shaky when you go back over your sketches in ink (at the risk of sounding contradictory) try holding your pen tighter, maybe even your regular way of holding your pen.

A lot of the time when I’m going over my sketches in ink, I hold the pen tighter because I feel like  I can hold it more steady that way.
But, this is important, I DON’T press down hard when I put pen to paper, I ONLY tighten my grip.

Holding your pen isn’t a science. What works for me might not work for you. Especially if you’re not a death gripper like I am. However, I do think that holding your pen differently, whether it’s exactly like I do or not, might help you draw the letters instead of writing the words. 
As with anything, I encourage you to experiment and find what works for you! :)

Please remember that if you don’t want to do handlettering to add words to your bible pages, you don’t have to! You can always get stickers or stamps to spell the words out. Handlettering is NOT a necessity for creating art in your bible, but it’s always an option. :)

I hope you found these tips helpful! I would absolutely love to see your progress! If you would like to share, tag me in your posts @neelysphoto!

If you would like even more tips and practice pages, I have created a Beginner's Guide to Hand Lettering that you can purchase from my Etsy shop here!


  1. Neely’s Tips on every detail of her how-to are spot on and so clearly explained. The tips are helpful for both faux calligraphy and “real” calligraphy, from the consistent angle of each letter to make the whole look professional to the way you hold the pen in a more relaxed fashion to the pressure on the up and down strokes, etc, etc. Thank you, Neely, for your willingness to share this very doable art form and make so many people happy that they CAN do this too!


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