Resources and Tools
First things first, tools do not make the artist or craftsmen. When I first started all I had was a HB pencil and a sheet of 40 gsm printers paper. Lesson number one: What you have at your disposal, use. The tools listed below won’t make you a better letterer quicker. Practice and patience will.
At the beginning I did, however, wonder what pens, pencils and tools the top tier lettering artists used for their work. Over the past two years I have gone through a lot of different kinds of tools and have narrowed it down to the ones I like to use and do use everyday.
Remember, this is not a guide of must have tools before you begin, this is just a list of what I have become comfortable using. The best tool for you will be the one you are comfortable with as well.
I also want to make it clear that I have no affiliation with any of these brands, they are getting recommended as they make quality products that I use daily and they are yet to let me down.
I am big fan of micron pens. They have a nice steady flow of ink delivery and very rarely splatter. I have a small collection of these, which I use for outlining and filling in the letters to make it easier to vector. I have a 0.1mm, 0.3mm and a 0.5mm for outlining and a 1mm for the fill.
This was the first pen I bought when I started and have sense become very familiar with it. If you don’t have one of these in your collection, get one now. They are so much fun to use. They are really good for more traditional calligraphy styles such as gothic or bold letters, but there are people out there who are using them for more modern styles as well.
Tombow Brush Pen
As you may have noticed, I don’t use a brush pen. I have however used the Tombow Brush Pen and it is a real treat to use. The nib is made of synthetic hairs, which means for beginners it makes it so much easier to control, especially through the transitions of thick and thin strokes. The ink flows nicely and doesn’t get stuck to the page (which is an issue for some of the brush pens out there).
Other Drawing Equipment
The eraser I am currently using is so old and worn out now that I can no longer see what brand it is. If I could I would be buying more, as it’s awesome. I did some research and have another easer that has been consistently been recommended and is now in my shopping cart waiting to be purchased – that is the Pentel Ain Regular Size Eraser, Black. I will report back once I have used it.
Lead Holder Sharpener
Sadly self-sharpening leads are yet to be invented, which means you need to give them a sharpen from time to time. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to use my lead holder sharpener as I kept snapping the leads. I finally found a YouTube video to show me. In saying that, this lead sharpener is so much better than any other one on the market.
Huion L4S Portable USB Interface LED Light Pad
I recently just acquired a Huion L4S Portable USB Interface LED Light Pad and it has completely changed my workflow. I used to sketch out one design at a time, then the same one again with the small improvements and then again and again. Before I knew it, I had drawn the same thing eight or nine times with the small changes each time taking up my entire day. Now, once I have the design I go straight to the Light Pad to trace, taking the parts that are needed and adding the changes as I go. It has streamlined the work and cut down this part of the process by hours.
At the moment I am using a Spirax A3 Sketch Book, which uses 110gsm paper, but any A3 sketchpad will do. It’s nothing fancy and was the cheapest when I first started so I bought 10 of them. A3 is a good size as you can flesh out an idea in full on a single page or get multiple drawings done without having to change pages.
Field Notes have become a staple tool for me. As the name suggests, they are the perfect size to take with you when you are on the move and are also a good size for sketching out the rough idea first before moving to A3 pad. I also use them for note taking at the beginning of a project and then the initial couple of sketches. This way I can see the goals right there in front of me as I work.
Adobe Photoshop CS5
Which is used for colour correction on photos and general touch ups before vectoring. Also gets used for the occasional trace on an image.
Adobe Illustrator CS5
Illustrator is my go to piece of software and very rarely gets closed between projects. I use it for live tracing, laying out the design and vectoring the hand drawn piece for mass production.
If I’m in a rush or just doing a quick post, my iPhone or iPad camera does the trick just fine. But if I’m going for something more high quality or plan on doing some long form filming then I use my Canon DS12671. It’s few years old now but there’s is absolutely nothing wrong with it and does the job absolutely fine.
Not technically computer stuff, but here it goes. I researched for ages before buying a tripod; I ended up with the Vanguard Alta Ca 204Agh Tripod with Gh-30 Pistol Grip Ball Head. It’s awesome. The best feature is that with its ball head grip it allows me to take vertically facing down video or photos, making it so much easier to edit or vector. Their are cheaper tripods out there that do the same things, but I have found that there quality just isn’t the same.
Hand to Type: Scripts, Hand-Lettering and Calligraphy by R. Klanten, J. Middendorp, H. Hellige
This is one of my favourites, the authors managed to talk to some of the biggest names in the business and get valuable insight into their process and show the results of their work. It is very cool to see the wide range of styles and works done by lettering artist from all over the world.
Ladies of Letterpress by Kseniya Thomas
Not a book strictly about lettering, more about how a collection of ladies in America are saving the letter press printing process. What they do inside the book is talk about the printing process and the work that it produces, which I love. By reading the how and then seeing the work they create, it’s no wonder that the letter press printer is making a come back.
Master Calligraphy – The Complete Guide to Hand Lettering by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls
This was the first book I ever bought that was all about lettering. The amount of detail it goes into is amazing. The wide range of styles continues to help me and something I refer back to almost weekly. If you’re interested in using a wide range of brushes, pens and nibs then this book is a must.
I’ll be doing a section in the future about other books I have read. Mostly they’re more about business, marketing and self growth rather then about lettering. Any other books I read about lettering will be added in the future.
Other Resources for Learning
Scotty Russel is one of the best humans out there. I am lucky enough to have had a few chats with over email and he has always been very generous with both his time and knowledge. Creating content like it’s no-one’s business, Scotty consistently pushes you to work hard and achieve more.
Sean McCabe of Seanwes is a content producing machine and I am guilty of consuming all of it. With a daily TV show, a weekly podcast and numerous blog post. I highly recommended his stuff. More importantly, before he made the shift to business he was a hand lettering artist and a very good one at that. He has a backlog of blog posts packed full of value plus the best lettering course currently on the market. I went through the master class, which has completely changed my outlook on lettering and business.