There’s no denying hand lettering is a huge trend. It’s on book and magazine covers, coffee cups and billboards, and, of course, in abundance as inspirational – or satirical – Instagram posts. And whether it’s calligraphy-style or bubble fonts, hand lettering can be taught, practised and perfected. Wondering how to get started in hand lettering? We asked talented illustrator and letterer Kate Pullen – known for her bright, fun designs – to show us how it’s done. 

Gradient Brush Lettering with Tombow Brush Pens

Make an impact with your hand lettering by using Tombow brush pens.

A couple of Tombow brush pens are the perfect thing to get you started on your hand lettering journey. They feature a fine nib at one end for lines or details and a clever brush nib at the other for paint-like creating. Use them for fluid writing styles.

To begin, rule a line in pencil to help guide your letters (I like to have this on an angle but that’s a personal preference). You can remove it when the ink is dry. Then, choose two colours that are similar, as well as a metallic fine liner. 

Start with the brush tip of your lighter colour to write the word. All of the downstrokes are heavier and therefore thicker, and all of the upstrokes are lighter and therefore thinner. This is how we achieve the thicks and thins within each word. I use my baseline as a guide, but I like the letters to ‘bounce’ around that line. This means that the bottom of each letter is often sitting at a different height to those around it. This is a stylistic choice, and I think adds movement and interest to a piece.

The Tombow pens automatically create a bit of a gradient in the stroke of each line, because the ink comes out thicker when you first put the pen on the page. But now we’re going to create an even stronger gradient. With your slightly darker colour, fill in the top of each letter. This can be messy rather than too neat, because we want it to look natural (not like a separate block of colour). If you don’t have a slightly darker pen, you could even use the same initial colour and go over the top of each letter to add a second layer with more depth.

To create some interest I have used a metallic fine liner to add small embellishments around the word. These help frame it, but don’t take away from the main piece of lettering. 

Copperplate Calligraphy with a Pentel Brush Pen

Work on your copperplate calligraphy with Pentel brush pens.

Unlike Tombow or Ecoline pens, a Pentel is much finer and therefore more suited to smaller and more delicate letters, such as in copperplate calligraphy. This is at its most beautiful when it's consistent. I find it helpful to draw two guidelines: one is the ‘baseline’ and the other marks the ‘x-height’ (the height of a standard letter, for example, the letter ‘x’). In between these two lines will sit the main crux of each letter. 

Sometimes it’s also helpful to draw some vertical, angled lines, to ensure that the slant of the letters remains consistent. If you’re new to using a brush pen, it’s smart to write out the word in pencil first to give you a guide.

Don’t be tempted to race through the word. It works well when you get a bit of a flow going, but at the start you might feel a bit shaky, especially on the upstrokes. This is totally normal and will improve with practice. 

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Beautiful Brush Lettering with Ecoline Markers

Ecoline is a popular brand of markers for hand lettering and calligraphy projects.

Each brush pen will produce a different look. Which tool you use comes down to the style you’re trying to achieve – and your personal preference! These Ecoline markers have a more fluid liquid in them than the Tombow or the Pentel, so they come out like watercolours. There’s an opportunity to blend colours and create a more ‘painted’ effect. With this style, we’re also looking at making the letters softer and more rounded, rather than the angular lines of the Tombow style, above.

Like with the Tombow and Pentel brushes, you place greater weight on any downstrokes, and almost lift your hand so only the tip of the pen is touching on any upstrokes. This can feel pretty foreign at first, but muscle memory kicks in the more that you do it. And, because we naturally put more weight on the start of the stroke, more ink is going to come out of the pen, and therefore we get a darker colour that gradually lightens as we bring the pen down the page. Have a play with this to see what effects you can create.

You might even like to introduce a secondary colour to see how the two might interact. Try two colours on one letter, or do one half of the word in a light purple and the second half in a darker purple, creating a gradient not just within each letter but across the whole word as well. 

To create more depth with this piece, I’ve used a metallic gold pen to create a shadow. Imagining a light source shining from the top right of the page, this would mean that a shadow would be cast to the left and down toward the bottom of the word. With that in mind, I drew in a single line to create this shadow, to the left and bottom of each letter.

Fun Block Lettering With Sharpies and Fineliners

You can even use Sharpie markers and fineliners for hand lettering and calligraphy projects.

You don’t always have to use colour to create fun lettering. In fact, having just black and white can result in interesting patterns, contrasts and shadows. This time we’re going to create some bouncy block letters, keeping everything uppercase and the letter outlines nice and straight. Because we want this word to look like it’s bouncing on the page, we don’t want the letters to all sit on the same baseline or tilt in the same direction. We will angle each letter slightly differently.

For this technique, I definitely start with pencil, carefully mapping out each letter. You want to try to ensure there is equal space between each one, so that it looks consistent. After you have written your main word, create a box shadow behind each letter. An easy way to tackle this is to simply redraw the letters slightly down and to the left or right. Then, join the corners, so the top left of the bottom H will join the top left of the top H, and so on. 

After the pencil sketch is done, I use a very fine permanent marker, because I want the lettering to be really bold. I trace over all my lines so I have the skeleton of the lettering done. Now, to create more depth, I add some shadows and texture to the bottom of each letter. Think about the sun shining down and creating a shadow: the bottom of each letter is going to be the darkest because it’s not getting any sun.

I also wanted to add some extra details by drawing a thinner line (using a fineliner) inside the middle of each letter. This is called an ‘inline’. Then I added some embellishments to create more interest before, finally, I drew a dark shadow beneath each of the letters, to make them appear as if they’re floating off the ground. 

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Monoline Lettering with a Metallic Sharpie

Cool hand lettering ideas include using a metallic pen on black paper. 

For this piece we’re going to switch it up and use black paper, because it helps the metallic marker really pop. I have used a silver marker but there are lots of different options to choose from. This style is called ‘monoline’ lettering because the weight of each part of the letters is all the same, unlike brush lettering where there are thicks and thins.

Again I start by ruling my lines. I also do a pencil sketch to make sure my spacing and positioning on the page is okay. My tip? Keep the pencil marks light because it doesn’t always erase as well from black paper.

Next, we grab the metallic Sharpie and trace over our lines. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s no brush nib on this pen, so you don’t have to worry about the pressure your hand is putting on the page. The lines should have a consistent thickness throughout. Because the phrase is ‘Let’s party’, I want to make this feel like a celebration – so I added stars, a burst above ‘party’ and a good ol’ party hat! 

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‘Juicy’ Lettering with the Crayola Signature Pen

Have fun with hand lettering with Crayola Signature pens.

I wanted to create something fun and a little different with these Crayola Signature pens. What’s especially great about these is that they have a small brush pen on one end and then a fine-tip on the other in a slightly lighter colour. So they create lots of options to play with! 

To start, I pencilled in my two lines as guides – one for the baseline and one to mark the x-height. For this piece I also wanted to pencil in the lettering, and there was a bit of erasing and redrawing to make sure I got every letter looking right. There’s a beautiful consistency with this style, a lovely flow, and what we’re aiming for is to create letters with thicker bases and curved edges. This gives it a kind of retro feel and creates something that’s really friendly and approachable. 

I chose the word ‘Summer’ as the letters ‘u’, ‘m’ and ‘m’ all sit together nicely; they all have similar strokes and angles. I also wanted to make the most out of my two-toned pen, so I penciled in some waves at the bottom of each letter. Colouring in with these markers can be a little tricky, as you can often see the streaks of where you’ve already coloured. But I decided to use that to my advantage, as the streaks helped reinforce that idea of waves within the letters. Have a play creating different textures or shades with each of the pens. 

A quick tip: before colouring in each letter I erased my pencil sketch slightly, enough that I could still see the outline but faint enough that it disappeared underneath the marker. Otherwise, you won’t be able to rub out the pencil line once the marker has gone over the top. 

Bubble Lettering with Prismacolor Pencils

An easy hand lettering technique is to colour in bubble lettering with Prismacolor pencils.

Prismacolor pencils are beautiful to work with and there are so many shades to choose from. For this word, I’ve chosen five colours that are quite close together. I wanted to create ‘bubble’ lettering and so first drew each of the letters in pencil. I kind of imagine that each letter is made out of a series of long balloons – like those ones used at birthday parties to make balloon animals.

Then I begin to add colour: starting with the lightest colour, I create a circle somewhere in the centre of each letter. I’m only pressing lightly on the pencil and colouring in using circles and arcs – these strokes of the pencil will help emphasise the curved nature of each letter.

I then make my way through each of the colours, going from light to dark and building circles around each previous colour. When this process has been finished once, I go back to my lightest colour and repeat, this time adding a little more pressure and beginning to blend each of the colours together. Have fun trying this with different colour combinations, and maybe experiment with where you place each letter’s ‘centre’. 

What To Try

This article was originally published in 2021 and has been updated.