Between the ease of online ordering and a plethora of suggestions from places like Pinterest and Instagram, getting the right tools for hand lettering can get really overwhelming, really fast. This next installment of the #LetterLove Series dives right in to my personal favorite tools, from paper and pencils to fancy markers and pens and exactly how I use them to help you find the best stuff the first time around.
When I first started teaching myself lettering and calligraphy, I jumped on any recommendation I could find, scouring my favorite Instagram accounts, reading Amazon reviews like my life depended on it, and spending countless hours in the art store scribbling brush pens on their test pads. While that lead to a few of my current favorites (here’s looking at you, cult favorite Tombow dual brush!), many times it ended with what felt like a lot of wasted money. I can’t even begin to tell you how many markers, pens, and other lettering paraphernalia I’ve thrown out over the years, and greater still, how many tools have sat in my drawers completely unused because I wasn’t actually sure how to use them properly or just didn’t end up liking them.
One of my overarching goals at G&B is to make hand lettering accessible, easy, and fun, so that you can express your inner awesome with pretty letters without the overwhelm that often comes with learning a hobby as extensive as lettering. So naturally part of that is helping you cut through all the noise and make smart, educated decisions about where to spend your money.
And so, below I’ve rounded up all of my favorite lettering supplies (and exactly how I use them!):
My favorite paper to start with is the Rhodia dot pad (with their graph pad being a very close second). The paper is thin and smooth enough to support delicate brush markers while sturdy enough to withstand erasing. I love using Rhodia paper for my rough drafts since the dots (or lines in the case of graph) make measuring a breeze.
Another favorite is Canson marker paper. The price tag threw me at first (it’s usually in the $12-16 range), but it’s well worth the investment. Extra smooth and translucent enough to easily trace, marker paper is great for everything from thumbnails and rough drafts to final designs. If I could only use one type of paper, this would be it!
Mixed Media Paper
While most of my work ends up digitized in the computer, once in awhile I need to hand letter a physical print. My go-to paper for this is Strathmore mixed media paper (the 9x12 size, to be exact). Smooth and sturdy, it’s works for any pen, marker, or paint I need to use and has the heavy quality of an art print.
Did you notice a theme with my favorite papers?
It’s all about that smooth life.
Why does smooth matter so much? It really depends on your lettering tools of choice, but if you opt to use any kind of felt tip marker (which is 99% of what I use), a rough paper will slowly but surely tear those markers to shreds. I’ve thrown many an expensive marker out before realizing my paper was the problem.
That being said, if you’re just using pencil (like for a rough draft or thumbnails), even just regular ole computer paper will work just fine!
Paper might be the stage and markers the main players, but rulers, pencils, and erasers are the stage crew that make the show actually go on.
You can use any ruler for lettering, so don’t feel like you need to rush out to the store if you have one that works just fine, but my absolute favorite is a thin, clear graphing ruler I picked up on a whim from the architecture section at the art store once.
While you certainly don’t need something so intense, a clear ruler is definitely a plus in my book. Not only does it make measuring your lines much easier, but it can be used when actually drawing your letterforms as well.
Same goes for pencils. A lot of letterers have a particular favorite, and while I’m partial to my Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB pencil, any pencil will do. If you do get one from an art supply store, look for HB and you’ll be all set. Otherwise, dust off that handy #2 and get lettering!
The one thing I am extremely particular about is erasers. I alternate between kneaded rubber and my Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser, depending on the delicacy of the paper and type of ink that might be on the page.
If you take away one thing from this post, please let it be this – do NOT use the eraser that comes at the end of your pencil. I repeat, do NOT use the eraser that comes at the end of your pencil. Ever, ever, ever. Nothing ruins your hand lettered awesomeness like a big ugly streak, or worse, tear in the paper.
Pens & Markers
The three pens and markers I use the most (and by “the most” I mean 99.99% of the time) are the Pigma Micron, Tombow dual brush, and Faber-Castell big brush marker.
Pigma Micron Pen
I have the Pigma Micron pen in several sizes, but use the 005 and 03 the most regularly. Any time I need a thinner line, like in the floral design below, these are my number one choice. The pen writes smooth, comes in a variety of sizes (the 005 is CRAZY THIN!), and has a high quality ink.
Tombow Dual Brush
If you’ve ever looked at lettering supplies before, the words “Tombow dual brush” have probably come up. It’s a crowd favorite, and for good reason. Featuring both a small marker tip and a felt marker “brush,” this is the most versatile lettering tool you can own. They’re also a great price and come in a huuuuge variety of colors.
While I originally bought this marker for brush lettering, I ended up using it the most for hand lettering. The smaller marker is great for when you need a line thicker than a pen, while the brush side is perfect for filling in letters and adding that “faux calligraphy” look (both pictured below).
The two things to remember when using Tombow dual brushes:
- Just like a great pair of shoes, you need to wear this bad boy in. You’ll notice the longer you use it, the more pliable the brush gets. The more pliable the brush = the easier it is to use. In other words, don’t be concerned if it’s tricky to use when you first pull the cap off!
- The easiest way to use these with faux calligraphy is to first draw your letters with the marker tip, and then use the brush to add thickness to your downstrokes. The trick to making this look more “brush calligraphy” and less “faux calligraphy” is to then use the marker tip to tweak the ends where the brush marker meets the regular marker line. A lot of times, people just add the thickness and think they’re done, but the unusual angles don’t actually mimic the smoothness of a brush.
Big Brush Marker
A newfound favorite of mine is the Faber Castell big brush marker. I originally bought one years ago, when I first started lettering and calligraphy and basically raided the art store. Not realizing that, like the Tombow (and really, any brush marker), it needed to be worn in before it would give me that easy brushy look, I tossed it aside all those years ago.
This past year, however, I grabbed it out of the drawer while hunting for something significantly thicker than the Tombow marker. And just like that, I was smitten.
It’s now my go-to whenever I’m doing script or sans serif styles (like in the pictures below) that I don’t plan on turning into calligraphy. I absolutely love this marker, although I will say that it took a WHILE to break it in the way I wanted and I’ve noticed that it gets torn up pretty easily.
Extras + Fun Bits
An unusual lettering supply but favorite nonetheless – a measuring/cutting mat. I actually picked this up from Joann’s because my parents were concerned I’d ruin my new furniture with paint from all my mugs, but I’ve found it makes a huge difference in how quickly I can layout my lettering designs.
Another fun extra that’s more calligraphy than lettering (but still super fun) – the Pentel aquabrush. This one was pretty intimidating for awhile, but once I started treating it like a brush and not a marker, it became a super fun toy. Featuring rubbery bristles and a squeezable well of water (or ink, if that floats your boat), it’s like a marker/brush hybrid that’s really fun to play around with. Plus, it makes getting beautiful watercolor letters a breeze compared to a real paint brush.
The thing to remember with these supplies is that they’re my favorites, and while I wholeheartedly recommend them to everyone I meet and have been using most of them every day for years, it’s completely natural if they’re not your favorites too! It wasn’t until this past year that I realized that it’s totally A-OK for me to like things other letterers hate to use, and to hate supplies other letterers swear by (I’m looking at you, Copic markers…).
Use this as a starting point, or even just a general guide, but keep your eye out for supplies that give you all the heart eyes! Just remember to keep these main points in mind:
Look for paper that is smooth to the touch – the smoother, the better.
When in doubt, remember that expensive pens and markers are (almost) always worth the money. Be smart, but don’t be turned off by a higher price tag. At the same time, outside of Crayola, most cheap markers you find at the art store won’t give you the high quality you want.
If you invest in one “art” supply, make it a good eraser.
Are any of these tools you love to use?! If not, what’s one of your faves? Share in the comments below…