"Faux" calligraphy or hand-lettering is the art of turning your own handwriting into beautiful calligraphy—and because it does not rely on pen pressure, angle, or special tools, it is a great place for the beginner to start! Whether you're a veteran hand-letterer or you just started practicing yesterday, here are five mistakes hand-letterers usually make. By fixing these five items, you'll be well on your way to perfect hand-lettering in no time.
Mistake 1: Inconsistency in Slant
I often recommend that beginners not add any slant to their letters to start—meaning, don't try to incorporate italics. But even when you're sticking to an upright style, I often see inconsistencies in this area; some letters come out slanted, and others perfectly upright. You don't want some of your letters or words to effectively be in italics, and the rest to be upright! Pick one angle, and stick to it. What's the best way to do this? Grab some graph paper or lettering practice paper that has vertical guides as well as horizontal guides. If you're heading straight for italics, you'll need slanted practice paper. Fortunately, I have some for you! You can download and print some practice paper for free at the bottom of this page.
Mistake 2: Inconsistency in Width
Of course, the example in the picture is wildly exaggerated, but you can see that the first hump on my "M" is huge compared to the second hump. First and foremost, both humps should be around the same size (unless you are doing it for stylistic reasons, but I recommend learning the rule before practicing the exception). Second, if you're working with grid paper or my practice paper, your "M" shouldn't actually take up two whole squares so that it's twice as wide as your lowercase "A" or "E." But, it also shouldn't be squished into only one square either—it should be somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, the "M" and the "W" are the only two letters in the alphabet that do this!
Mistake 3: Inconsistent Spacing
You'll notice in the example that the "S" and the "A" have so much more room to breathe than the last three letters, "PLE". Even if you manage to get your letters consistent in width and overcome Mistake 2, if you've got inconsistent spaces between letters, your design will look off. In typography, the space between letters is called "kerning," and this can be a tricky skill to learn, because letters fit together differently depending on their combination. For instance, because the right side of a lower-case "S" ends up intruding more into "A's" space, so those two letters actually will need more space between them than between other letters. The more you practice, though, the better you'll be able to get a feel for this art.⠀
There is also a fun, game-ified way to learn how to space letters, called Kern Type. It may be a little dorky, but there's no more fun way to learn this skill!
Mistake 4: Inconsistency in Height
Are you noticing a pattern here? I always warn my workshop attendees that they are going to get sick of hearing the word "inconsistent!"
When part of a letter ascends above the general height of the rest of the letters, that is called an ascender; the "L" in “sample” has an ascender. When part of a letter descends below the general height of the rest of the letters, that is called a descender; the letter "P" in “sample” has a descender. I should mention that, in typography, it's slightly more complicated than this, but for our purposes the shorter explanation works.
Make sure you don’t have an ascender or descender that goes way higher or lower the rest of the letters. Note that "P" only goes one square below the rest of the letters. “L,” on the other hand, extends two whole squares above the rest of the letters. Keep them proportional—at least while you are beginning. More advanced hand-letterers and calligraphers break this rule a lot, but the difference is, they do it on purpose! And they're breaking the rule intentionally and—you can probably guess it—they're also breaking the rule consistently. You'll notice in professional pieces that if one ascender is massive, there's probably other ascenders or descenders nearby that are also really big, which helps create balance.
Mistake 5: Disappearing Loops
If you don’t create a little extra room on letters that have loops—like “H” and “E”—their features will disappear when you add in depth later, as demonstrated by the second word in the picture. If you create your "E's" with just a plain old cursive loop, you may not be able to read it later on. To make yours more defined, stop and transition into a regular non-cursive “e"—just like you would if you were printing rather than writing in cursive.
Practice Paper Download
These practice sheets can be printed on any kind of letter-sized paper (8.5in x 11in), so they will work for any kind of lettering you want to practice, whether hand-lettering or "faux calligraphy," brush pen lettering, dip pen and ink calligraphy, or even watercolor brush calligraphy!
Files are for one user only. You may print the file as many times as you'd like, but for personal use only. This product may not be sold or gifted, either in print or digital form; however, feel free to share this blog post with your friends!
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