In this tutorial we will go through the process of creating a hand lettering digital print. We will start with a concept and learn how to illustrate your design, digitize, and print. Along the way you will learn lettering tips and principles that will help you grow and make your skills stronger. This tutorial is for beginners and experienced artists alike who want to dive deeper into the art of hand lettering and commercial art.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
To follow along from start to finish, here are the supplies you'll need:
- 2B pencil or mechanical pencil
- Copy paper
- Tracing paper
- Ink markers – I recommend Microns
- Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator
Step 2: Rough Sketches
For this tutorial we’re going to draw the same phrase over and over but it’s entirely up to you to decide what your phrase should say. You are more than welcome to use the same phrase as me, which is “Hey, Beautiful”.
Just like most lettering projects, conceptualization and brainstorming are the key for creating a unique design. Start out by quickly sketching out ideas and developing small thumbnail sketches. Give yourself the freedom to play with different lettering styles, shapes and compositions.
Don’t worry so much about being perfect, at this stage we are only experimenting and getting familiar with the letterforms. Take your time to explore typographic styles such as Roman type, brush script, and even your natural handwriting.
Step 3: Refining your Sketch
Revisit your sketches and select one of those that you think is best. Replicate what you had in the thumbnail but draw it bigger this time, filling up an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper.
Once you’ve got the large-scale lettering, we are going to use it to make decisions and improve your design. Be prepared to refine, refine and refine your work using layers of tracing paper.
Hint: Tracing paper allows you to draw over your initial sketch without having to start over from scratch each time you make adjustments.
Place a new sheet of tracing paper over your sketch and redraw your design. Take this time to refine the letterforms that need adjustments. At this stage, we’re trying to fine-tune the letterforms, kerning, negative space, ligatures, weight and overall composition. Continue this process until completion.
Take a look at what you have created so far.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How do you feel about about your design?
- Are you getting closer to the result you want?
- Are your letterforms consistent?
- Does your lettering flow together?
- Is your design well balanced and composition working fluidly?
Remember, creating a good lettering piece takes patience and most artists never get it right the first time. Don’t feel bad if you need to repeat this step a few times, the amazing results will show at the end.
As you can see in my sketch, I made several adjustments to my design. I continuously paid attention to the consistency of weight in the letterforms, kerning, and balance. I worked on creating a natural rhythm and ways to make the lettering feel organic. At the end, I introduced additional swatches for an unique look.
Step 4: Inking your Final Sketch
We are in the final drawing stage. Grab your ink pens and a nice clean sheet of tracing paper, start by tracing the outline of your sketch and then fill it all in. Make sure to go slowly and keep it true to your original design. We will be using this inked sketch as our base for vectoring.
Step 5: Digitizing
This next part is going to get a bit technical. We will go over some techniques to digitize your hand lettering. This process requires Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator.
1. Scan your hand lettered sketch at 400DPI, black and white. Save as TIFF or JPG.
2. Open your scanned image in Photoshop. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and pull in your whites and blacks, so you can really see your lettering.
3. Save your edited image
4. Open Adobe illustrator and create a new document. Make it big, I like working at 6000pt by 4000pt. This is going to help you really zoom in and take care of all the tiny details. Set up your document to work in CMYK color mode (standard for printing).
5. Place your scanned image into Illustrator and lower the image's opacity. Go to Window > Transparency > Opacity 50%. Name this layer "Scan" then, lock it. It should look like this:
6. Create a new layer and name it vector. We will be using this layer to create our vector lettering. Go to your Tools Panel > Set a Black Stroke and No Fill > click on the Pen Tool and Start Tracing your lettering. Place anchor points on the extreme points of the letterforms, drag out your Bezier handles horizontally and vertically.
Hint: By carefully placing your points and Bezier handles, the vector will stay clean, your curves will be smooth and the easiest it is going to be to edit and adjust your work.
Once you're finished tracing your lettering, it’s time to add colors and prepare your work for print, let’s get to it!
7. With the selection tool, Select All Letterforms > Go to Window > Pathfinder > Unite. By doing this, your lettering becomes a one solid vector shape.
Give your design placeholder colors. For me, I used dark gray as my background and white for my lettering. Save your work.
Step 5: Adding Color
Now that the lettering is done it’s time to consider color. Open your color picker and create a few color palettes for your design. Have fun playing with different color swatches, tones and shades. Remember that color is very essential to communicate emotions and work well with different lettering styles.
Replace your placeholder colors with your new cool color palette. Note how much sophistication color brings to your work.
Step 6: Prepare your Work for Print
Now that your lettering is complete, you are ready to make custom prints! Create a new print document in Illustrator. This time your Artboard should match the size of your print. I will be creating small letter sized prints, so my document is set to 8.5in X 11in with a 0.25in bleed. Copy and paste your final vector into the new document, scale and adjust as needed. Take your time to take care of the final details.
Go to File > Save As > Format > Adobe PDF. We will be sending this file to print.
Step 7: Printing
Contact your local or favorite print shop about your project and send over your files for professional printing. The number of prints and type of paper is entirely up to you.
In my case, I contacted Printful and made small run of digital prints. The prints were created using an Epson Stylus Pro 7900 printed on letter size Heavyweight matte paper. I love how they turned out!
And that's it! I hope this tutorial has helped and inspired you to create a unique hand lettering print. If you have any questions at all, feel free to comment below and I’ll be able to help you out.
P,S.—If you enjoyed this hand lettering guide, please share with your friends and followers. I highly appreciate it!
Leo Gomez Studio