When Brush Lettering and Calligraphy are mentioned, you might envision script letterforms with gorgeous loops and swoops! While there is a distinct difference between the two when we look at the supplies needed to execute these two art processes, they are absolutely linked, due to the letter formation with a (mostly) continuous stroke.
Traditionally, Calligraphers use ink and a nib to achieve delicate forms and swashes — they use pressure as they write to achieve thick and thin swells of the ink. If you really want to geek out about Calligraphy, I highly recommend you viewing the work of Master Penman Society (there’s only 15 in the world currently!). The best Calligraphers have trained their hand to write those gorgeous words, seemingly with great ease, but it takes great precision and endless practice.
Brush Lettering (or technically Calligraphy) uses the same script letter formations, but instead of ink and a nib, a specialty marker pen is used. These brush pens ease up on the mess of drippy ink, and they introduce a flexible felt-tipped nib (the part that touches the paper) that mimics traditional hairline upstrokes and thick downstroke swells.
While styling is all across the board and depends on the artist, generally Brush Lettering is a more relaxed or expressive use of Calligraphy. With the ease of a marker as the tool, artists can border on illustrative with the strokes and lines.
Furthermore, if you’re interested in learning Calligraphy with cheap (but so effective!) markers, I have written an extensive blog article on Crayoligraphy: Calligraphy + Crayola Broad Line Markers — and there are even FREE digital downloads you can access! Kids love it, but it’s also a great way for us bigger kids to play and loosen up.
The best way to use this list of art supplies is as a resource — it’ll be here when you’re ready to come back to it, tackling another project that may require a different tool to Hand Letter with.
It may be somewhat odd, but I’ve included materials that I DO NOT recommend for Beginners! While they are not BAD materials per say, they are frustrating to work with if you’re new to Lettering. I explain my love-hate relationship with them below as well.
Some of these may be affiliate links — but I do stand by these materials due to their quality, yet affordable price points.
My go-to pens to start my Beginner Brush Lettering students off with! These are absolutely the first set of pens you should start Brush Lettering with, in my opinion — the flexible nib is teeny tiny, which is easier to control for Beginners, as opposed to the two marker brands I mention below. In this 2-pack, you can try handling both the soft and hard nibs to see which one feels most comfortable.
The same pen as described above, but in 10 different colors with the Hard brush tip, so you can get extra fancy with your projects.
Similar to the Fudenosuke pens above, the Pentel Fude has an awesome small nib for easy handling for Beginners. I do notice the ink is a bit cooler of a black than the Fudenosukes. When purchasing, please be cautious — Pentel has an almost identical Sign Pen that is NOT a Fude flexible tip! Many have made the mistake to purchase this rigid-tipped Sign Pen and have been disappointed when they try to make Calligraphy with it. The link I provided is for the correct Fude tip!
The same pen as described above, but in 12 different colors, so you can get extra fancy with your projects.
I simply MUST scream from the rooftops about this warning: DO NOT START BRUSH LETTERING WITH THESE MARKERS! I can’t tell you how many artists use these online, showing Beginners how to form letters, making it look super simple (spoiler: it’s not with these pens). Tons of people have fallen into that trap, myself included. The marker quality is not the problem — they are excellent tools for illustrators, and I use them in my sketchbook or when I make bold drawings. However, for a Beginner wanting to learn Calligraphy, the realllllllllly large and overly flexible tip will only add a level of frustration. If you’re making large lettering, or are a super-pro, they might be okay — but trust me and do not start with these, rather use any of the smaller tipped pens listed above.
Another trap I fell for, purchasing these expensive alcohol markers in order to Brush Letter with! It was a mistake, and I should have started with a smaller-tipped pen as described above. The Copic markers also bleed terribly through the page. They’re great markers for illustrators, especially those coloring graphic comic characters, but for Brush Lettering, I wouldn’t recommend them for Beginners at all.
If you’re looking for paper choices when doing Brush Lettering or Calligraphy, you can find my favorite paper supplies within my other blog article in this series, Art Supplies Series: Hand Lettering (Drawing & Sketching) Edition. There you’ll also find materials to help you with Hand Lettering in a more illustrative way, using ink pens or sketching tools, which is great way to take your Calligraphy skills to an artistic level!