So you’ve decided you want to give this whole hand lettering thing a shot. Maybe you’ve been hoarding tutorials on Pinterest or getting heart eyes over all the pretty letters in you Instagram feed. You grab your paper, buy a fancy new marker, and get to work.
The problem? You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something looks off. Certainly not like the sample in your new lettering book, or in that blogger’s play by play pictures.
In short, your hand lettering kinda sucks.
The good news? You’re in the same boat as basically everyone who’s ever tried hand lettering, myself included!
Below, I’ve rounded up 10 of the most common mistakes people make in hand lettering and how to (easily!) fix them…
1. Skipping the basics
If you’ve ever heard my spiel about lettering, you know that I’m totally in the “just do it” camp. However, having an idea of the basics (like this post on getting started and terminology in the Letter Love Library) can go a long way in axing any problem areas before they even come up.
2. Cold hands
Ok, your hands don’t have to be physically warm, but the muscles should definitely be warmed up! Kick those shaky lines to the curb by doing some practice drills or doodles first to loosen up your hand. Nothing fancy required – just something to wake your hand muscles up before you start working on something you actually want to come out looking good.
3. Awkward spacing
Kerning, the space between letters, and leading, the space between lines, make a HUGE difference in how a word or quote looks. Whether too close together or too far apart, awkward spacing is bound to pop up in your work at some point. The fix is easy – move your letters! The key is to remember that just because letters are a similar style does not mean they need to be spaced exactly the same. Use your eyeballs, and if all else fails, turn the whole thing upside down and see if anything looks weird!
This one (and the next) is a bit of a two-parter. First, avoid the temptation to stretch your letters out when you want to make something taller (or wider, as you’ll read below). This throws your proportions out of whack and can make your letters look weird. Instead, redraw the letter to the proper height. Second, not all letters actually stop at the same height, even if they’re part of the same style “alphabet” or “font.” Letters with a curve, like C, G, O, and S, and letters with a point, like A, M, and W, usually need to extend above or below the baseline to look the same as all the other letters. Essentially – you just gotta eyeball it.
Like height, messing around with width can throw your letters off pretty quickly. Instead of just stretching them out, redraw the letter completely. Also keep in mind that not all letters have the same width. For example, W and M are both naturally wider than the rest of the alphabet, so don’t try to smush them into the same size space as, let’s say, an A or B.
Weight refers to the thickness of a stroke in a letter, and is one of the biggest mistakes I see with beginning letterers. The weight needs to be consistent from letter to letter in both size and orientation. Usually, this means adding weight to the downstroke, or part of the letter that goes down. It’s also good to keep in mind how realistic the thick and thin lines are in relation to each other. If you were using a real brush or brush marker, the light weight upstrokes and heavy weight downstrokes would be coming from the same place, so there wouldn’t be a crazy dramatic difference.
7. Inconsistent proportion
I’m all for playing with proportions (hello half of my Instagram feed!), but being completely inconsistent from letter to letter looks awkward and sloppy. Pick a proportion and stick with it. My favorite unusual (but consistent!) proportions are tall and skinny or short and wide.
8. Rough transitions
This is one I rarely see addressed but makes SUCH a big difference. It applies to any letter, really, but in this case I’m talking about faux calligraphy. You’ve drawn your cursive, added lines to amp up the weight, and colored in each letter, but it still looks meh. The reason is most likely in your transition from thick to thin lines. While it goes overlooked All The Time, it’s also a super easy fix! Simply go back and add a small curve to make the transition seem smoother and more natural.
9. Too much…everything
Details, flourishes, mixed fonts, you name it - sometimes less really is more. Adding too much can overwhelm the eye, make your words illegible, and look plain old weird. The fix? When in doubt, take it out.
10. Only one draft
The chances of you drawing something 110% perfectly the first time around are basically 0, so always, always, always, do drafts. Do one, do 4, do 100 – whatever floats your boat! Even when I’m drawing a quick sketch for Instagram, I still do at least 2 revisions to make sure everything is how I want it.
And there you have it – 10 of the most common mistakes in hand lettering and how you can start fixing them asap! Everyone’s made at least one of these on their hand lettering journey, so if you feel yourself shaking your head “YAS” at each one, don’t fret. Apply these fixes and you’ll be on your way to beautiful letters in no time!
See this quick fixes in action during the Letter Love Challenge - a totally FREE, 5 day challenge to help you up your lettering game through bite sized lettering goodness delivered straight to your inbox!