4 Ways to Improve Your Lettering

If you want unique, custom letters, there’s really nothing better than hand lettering. It’s both a fun activity and a great design skill to have, so read and learn how to incorporate hand-drawn letters into your posters!

1. Learn the rules of letter construction and relation.

Lettering is a lot more relaxed than both typography and calligraphy, but you still need to keep your letters legible and evenly spaced. 

Always start with the skeleton of the letters and only then add dimension to it. A solid foundation like that will help you keep your letters proportional and harmonious. And remember: optical size trumps technical size! No matter the style, all letters can be boiled down to a few basic shapes: the rectangle, the triangle, the circle. If you have all these at the exact same height, the circle and the triangle appear smaller than the rectangle because of the way the shape weight is distributed. To make the letters look the same size, you need to extend the triangles and circles beyond the invisible baselines, like so:

(source: Google Fonts)
Here’s the link to the image: https://fonts.gstatic.com/s/img/knowledge/glossary/terms/overshoot/images/thumbnail_439626857.svg

This practice, called the overshoot, originates from type design, where it’s a crucial step in font creation. While lettering is more lax about rules, the overshoot is still something to keep in mind when drawing your ABCs. 

2. Composition is everything.

(Fine, nearly everything). The general public won’t care, or know, about letterforms or flourishes, but anyone will be able to see it when the layout just doesn’t work. 

Your lettering should be read as a cohesive single entity and not a random collection of elements, and it should be integrated with the poster’s central image in a way that makes the two more than the sum of their parts. Of course, you can always just slap the letters on top of the image, but it’s much more fun to shoot for a more seamless fit (forgive me for using my own poster as an example here):

3. Illustrate with your letters.

If you want to go a step further, you can turn to illustrative lettering and have two things — the image and the text — for the price of one. Lettering a word in a way that reflects its meaning (like making “slime” look slimy) is a common design school exercise that can result in fun, memorable artworks:

(Left: Cherie Chapman. Right: ASYLUMseventy7)

4. Experiment with traditional media.

Let your tools do half the work! The choice of media can really influence the final look of the piece: a brush will look different from a marker, which in turn will look different from a paper cutout. 

So raid a local art supply store and get down to creating!

grrrenadine

My name is Maria Ku, and I am an artist, an animal shelter volunteer, and a horror aficionado. I work as a graphic designer in the IT industry — doing everything from web promos to merch — but my passion is freelance illustration. I've worked a number of movie festivals and done client work for The Washington Post, VICE, Notion, Amber Lotus Publishing, and Group Greeting. I love the PosterSpy community, and I write biweekly art-related articles for the PosterSpy newsletter. Oh, and one final thing: I am available for commissions!


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