Let’s cut to the chase — you’re here because you’re interested in the art of Hand Lettering, a technique of illustrating or drawing letterforms, to make interesting typographic work with energy and personality! But with every beginner’s journey learning a new medium or technique, there’s resistance because of a hurdle — the getting started part is scary with all the unknown.
I see you, Friend! I’ve been there! When I started learning about Hand Lettering back in 2015 (as an escape from the Excel documents at my day job), I had a million questions before I even really began. Most of the questions were about supplies — what exactly did all these amazing artists I saw online use to achieve these flawless letters?
As someone with experience in the Lettering world, with a ton of hours logged using every tool imaginable, I will say that Hand Lettering is luckily an inexpensive art form that does not require much. Honest! In fact, I’d argue that all you need to get started drawing out the curves and lines of the letters is a drawing tool (pencil, pen, etc) and a piece of paper (it could even be a scrap envelope from your junk mail).
Really, your biggest challenge right now will NOT be supplies. I’ve seen Beginners really struggle with learning because they are afraid to make mistakes! Just the simple act of putting pencil to paper becomes hard, usually because they’ve seen other artists seemingly do it with ease.
Listen. Beginners are awful at the start. Your early artwork will be PAINFUL to look out years in the future, almost laughable. However, if we reframe this shame and embarrassment to be a positive thought — can’t we agree that you SHOULD get better over time? Your art is meant to grow and change and develop and GET BETTER! Try to lean into this stage and expect cruddy work.
I’ll be honest — the tools I recommend below aren’t important. What’s important right now is your mindset and ability to start Hand Lettering with what you’ve got. I encourage you to explore with the grungy materials you have at home, but when you’re ready to make a little bit of an investment, read further to see my personal favorite ones!
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.
For sketching out my Lettering ideas and practice, this relatively inexpensive copy paper is my absolute favorite.. The large ream of 500 pages lasts forever! The surface of the paper is so slick and smooth (which is important to keep the tips of your pens from fraying), and the paper weight is a thick 32 lb. that feels substantial and doesn’t rip. It’s weird, but students always comment on the copies I hand them on this paper, saying it feels so nice and smooth!
This tracing paper is a sleek vellum, which is a bit thicker and shinier than your average tracing paper. I recommend this for working through sketching phases, laying it over a sketch to refine a new version. However, one of my favorite ways to use it with my beginner Lettering students is to lay it on top of my lettering practice sheets — the student will then trace the letterforms directly on the tracing paper, and it doesn’t ruin the practice sheets underneath!
Bristol paper is a great mixed media paper to use many art materials with, including paint pens and ink. I normally use this or a hot press watercolor paper (which is more expensive typically) for final client projects that need a quality thick stock. Strathmore is a great brand that I’ve trusted all through my art career, and this 9×12 book of 20 sheets is just what I need to withstand my materials for Hand Lettering.
Okay, this is excellent quality paper with a satin finish, so your writing instrument glides across like butta! When I began Calligraphy, everyone I knew was using the expensive Rhodia brand, so I shelled out a buncha money to purchase the grid, lined, dotted, AND plain white pads (because I was excited). They are still sitting on my shelf, mostly unused. In my experience, the HP Premium 32 brand I mentioned above is just as good (if not better). I would avoid purchasing a Rhodia pad as a Beginner — you just don’t need it!
Okay, earlier I stated that you should begin your Hand Lettering journey with whatever pencil you have lying around — and it’s true, I stand by that! However, one day at Blick, I treated myself to this Mechanical Pencil, and I will say it’s hands-down my favorite tool to draw with because the weighted metal feels good in my hand. The fact that you always have a sharp point and don’t have to erase with it is AWESOME, and I find the HB .7mm lead is a good medium darkness for crisp lines.
As a child of an artist, I always had these big white plastic erasers to use in our home, and I didn’t know they were special! White block erasers are simply the best — they don’t rip the paper, erase lines perfectly, and never leave marks. This pack has 10, because everyone will be begging to use yours, you’ll want to share.
Eraser pens are such a great tool to use for getting in the teeny tiny areas! It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered these clickable pens for erasing, and I wish I was aware of their existence in college. This 2-pack has a teeny round tip and a square tip, and they both handle fine erasing excellently.
It’s true, I don’t own a pack of Blackwings, and there ARE a lot of artists who adore them. I’ve tried writing with one before, and I wasn’t impressed — and with a crazy expensive price tag, I’m glad I never shelled over the cash! I’ve heard that artists refine their Hand Lettering sketches with a Blackwing pencil to darken for digital scanning. I don’t personally scan a lot of my Lettering art, but if I needed to, I’d just use ink pens to darken the lines. It’s personal preference — but for Beginners, I’d skip these fancy schmancy pencils with a big ticket price.
I’ve used these technical pens as an art student for many, many years, and Microns do set the standard in pen and ink drawing! They are archival and waterproof, and won’t fade with age, and they dry pretty quickly. I like this pack because they come in a variety of sizes, but for Lettering, I typically work with the larger sizes 03, 05, and 08.
Okay, I really like my Microns, so when I heard that Peggy Dean of The Pigeon Letters was designing a new version of technical inking pens, I was intrigued and HAD to try them. Were they any good? YEP. I was stunned at how the slight curve to the edge of the nib really made a difference when drawing my Lettering. I tend to hold my instrument at an angle — the Microns would tend to skip on me because of this, while Peggy’s pens do not. They too are archival and waterproof, but admittedly with something extra special to them!
I purchased this pack of pens for a super-special writing instrument at home for my bullet journaling and list-taking. Eventually I realized that I enjoyed sketching in my sketchbook with these super fine pens — they glide just right with a super skinny line. But when my kids and husband started stealing these when I wasn’t looking, it became obvious that they are just a good all-around sketching and writing pen.
Sharpies. My kids have them, teachers use them, they’re pretty cheap — and yet, I’m always buying these Ultra Fine Point black ones because I’m surprised how much I use them for Lettering! While you do have to watch your paper selection with Sharpies due to slight bleeding, these dependable markers work on so many different surfaces — not just for Lettering on paper!
If you’d like to learn more about all types of supplies that I recommend through the years I’ve been creating as an artist, I continue to discuss my fave materials in the following blog articles:
Art Supplies Series: Brush Lettering & Calligraphy Edition
Art Supplies Series: Paint & Chalk Lettering
And if you’re interested in my favorite tools for Digital Illustration, or perhaps even the reading materials I enjoy, check out Ren’s Recommended Tools & Supplies resource list on my website.
There most likely will be more to this Art Supplies Series as I continue to teach the things I love, including painting and working with technology, so stay tuned for more!
As always, reach out with any questions about supplies — I’m happy to be completely transparent about my making process.