learn lettering

6 Easy Ways to Improve Your Lettering Layout

When it comes to hand lettering, it doesn’t take long to go from total newbie to lettering maven. With enough practice, you might even see improvement from day to day. Through in some added relaxation and easy access to great tools, and you’ve got a new hobby that’s getting more and more popular every day. But what happens when you’ve been pouring your heart into your lettering but still can’t seem to shake that “I just started this” look? The answer, more likely than not, lies in your layout. I’ve been teaching both lettering and calligraphy for about 4 years now, and layout and spacing are always the biggest issues that instantly catch my eye. While it does take some time to develop an eye for good layout, I’ve rounded up some quick + easy ways to jumpstart the process:


Be mindful of your white space

I want to start this one off by saying, “White space is your friend. You want white space.”  Repeat that one a few times before you keep going, because it really is that important. Now, the key to a good layout is having just the right amount of white space. Like Goldilocks level. Not too much, but not too little. The “too much” is usually where beginners fall on the spectrum, and it can doom your design without you even realizing it.


Play with hierarchy

When you’re not used to getting creative with layouts, the natural reaction is to place words on on top of the other. This works, but only for certain combinations. For example, check out the two images below. The one on the left has words that are all about the same size. They take up the same amount of space both vertically and horizontally. The image on the right, however, has a mix of shorter and longer words and lots of extra space. It’s not necessarily a bad design, but it doesn’t look as nice as it could.

When I move the words around so that they’re not stacked, that extra space disappears and the quote looks much more balanced.


Mix it up

Another way to take up more space is to change the size of the words themselves. Using the same quote from the example above, look at how I’m able to fill in that extra space by playing with the size of each word.

You can also mix up the style of letters. *Pro tip: Keep this to about 1-3 styles and make sure they are all very different types of letters
A third option – add flourishes, filigree, banners, or other little doodles to even everything out.


Stay Centered

Chances are you want your design to be front and center. There’s the “wing it on a hundred drafts until you get it right” version, which works, BUT I promise there are more efficient ways. One way that I use is to guesstimate the center of my word and work out from there. (I’ve also seen letterers start with the first and last letter on the edges and fill it in – it just depends on whether or not your design is going all the way to the edges or working from the center). The trick here is to find the center of the actual word, not just the middle letter. Not all letters are created equally, so an O won’t account for the same amount as an I.

Another option is to use a transparent medium that lets you move around your words from draft to draft. This is what I always use when I’m drawing a smaller quote or logo for a client. My personal favorite – Canson Marker Paper. It’s just transparent enough that I can see my pencilled design underneath, but still opaque enough that I can use it on it’s own.



When in doubt, draw it out

Sectioning off where each word will go with boxes or other shapes is a great way to see your layout before you even start lettering. This is especially useful if you’re working on a surface like wood or a chalkboard where multiple drafts isn’t an option.


Always start with thumbnails

You find a quote you love and immediately get to work. You draft, draw, and ink, but then take a step back and can’t quite shake why it feels a little off. Thumbnails, while sometimes cumbersome, are a great way to skip the uncertainty and make the most of your time. Even when you have a set design in mind, I always encourage sketching out at least a few thumbnails first. You’d be surprised at how many times I go into a project imagining one design and after a few thumbnails find something I like so much more. Plus, they’re a great way to get those creative juices flowing now that you know the first 5 tips for improving your layout!

And there you have it – 6 easy ways to improve your lettering layout! Do you have any layout + spacing tips you’d love to share?! Add them to the comments below!