Lettering tools

— An article about: - Tools

Quite a few of the articles so far were dealing with the digital side of lettering. But what of the tools I use before getting to the computer? Here’s a quick overview of those.

Pencil & eraser

Lettering tools - Pencils, notebook, tracing paper and tracing paper
My most trusted tools

Feels like lettering is all about fancy pens, but a simple pencil (lead holder actually) and eraser are the tools I use the most. With only these, I can go from rough thumbnail sketches to a clean drawing ready to be traced on the computer.

For specifics, I’ve come to really like the feel of Rotring’s Tikky lead holders. As an eraser, I find Tombow’s Mono Zero sharp rectangular shape really handy to go for precise areas.

A support to write on

Gotta make these pencil marks on something. Things usually start in my notebook, sometimes a spare sheet of printer paper, where I lay down rough sketches. From there, I build up the details iterating with tracing paper until I get a drawing clean enough for inking or digital tracing. At times the artwork needs to be transferred on a sheet of “nicer” paper and for this, a light table or carbon paper will come handy.

I prefer Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks to Moleskines. Their A5 format is slightly bigger and I find the ink doesn’t go through their pages as much (but maybe that’s just an impression). They’ve got a dotted version which is super useful getting things aligned properly from the early sketches.

Pens & markers

OK, fancy pens do have their use too. Left to right in the picture down below: Staedtler felt tip pens (various sizes), Pilot pocket brush pen (soft tip), Tombow Fudenosuke (soft & hard tip), Sharpie, Uni ball white pens, Kuretake Sumi no8 & 7, Pentel pocket brush pen, Pilot parallel pens (3.4 & 6mm). I mostly use them for two things.

Lettering tools - pen sample
A (small) army of pens.

First is inking the drawings before scanning when I want to keep a handmade feel. I started inking using felt tip pens, but I’ve grown to do most of my inking with Tombow Fudenosuke now (the blue one, with the hard tip). Took a bit of time to get a consistent stroke width, but I now find it handy to be able to vary it without changing pens. For super thin lines, I’ll still go back to a thin felt tip pen. And when I need really thick regular lines, a Sharpie marker does fine. For filling in big areas, the soft tip version of the Pilot pocket brush pen is ace.

The other one is calligraphy, which I do mainly as exploration before sketching (rather than to produce final designs). There is so just much choice for that, depending on the style you’re after:

  • brush pens for modern script calligraphy (my favs: Tombow Fudenosuke, Kuretake Sumi, Pentel brush pen).
  • parallel pens (or automatic pens) for blackletter
  • nib holder (with a nib) & ink for more classical & thin script calligraphy

Add a ruler of some sorts to draw straight lines, and that’s pretty much it. Out of the computer there’s plenty of other mediums to play with. Other artists are making inspiring experiments, whether it’s what they’re writing with or the support on which they draw. Anything goes really, and there’s a few things I’m looking forward to experiment with like chalk, paint, cut paper to name a few. Stay tuned, maybe there’ll be a few poping up in the artwork section soon!

Thought this list might be useful if you’re looking to start lettering and are wondering which tools to go for. If you have any question about it or anything else lettering related, feel free to drop me an email.