One of the most painstaking things about setting up a piece to hand-letter is drawing all of your guides. If you want to make something that you'll be able to hang on your wall, you'll have to do a lot of measuring and drawing lines in pencil before you even start lettering. Even the most freewheeling calligraphers do the work of finding the center of the page and balancing the letters around it. If you want to add a wreath, all bets are off; you'll have to bust out your old-school drawing compass, or do some serious measuring. For any average hand-letterer, a lot of time is spent drawing in grids and guides just to erase later.
I've developed a simple solution for this, which I personally have found incredibly useful, and I want to share it with you! First, I'll show you how to use my tool, and at the bottom of the page, you'll have the opportunity to download it for free. Hopefully, by using my method for setting up your guides, you'll spend more time lettering and less time measuring and drawing lines with your ruler. This is also what I use for my lettering workshops—with limited time, we can't spend half the workshop just getting our pages ready to letter!
What You'll Need
- Graphite paper/carbon transfer paper (can also be found at Hobby Lobby or Michael's)
- My 8x10 Lettering Guide PDF, printed on regular letter-size paper (free download at bottom of page)
- 8.5"x11" cardstock or paper, whatever you want to hang on your wall
- binder clips or paper clips
1. Layer the Paper
Bottom: Cardstock, or whatever you're lettering on
Middle: the graphite paper
Top: Lettering Guide
2. Arrange & Clip
Pick up all three sheets, and tap on the table on the bottom and side edges (doesn't matter which). The goal here is to make sure two of your edges line up, and verify that your cardstock and Lettering Guide line up perfectly. Most graphite paper comes in larger sizes, so this will probably mean that the graphite will stick out beyond the other two layers. Then, clip to secure! I used two clips.
4. Trace the Relevant Guides
I cannot stress this enough: TRACE LIGHTLY! Transfer paper is actually surprisingly sensitive. You need to be able to easily erase the transferred graphite markings later. If you don't feel confident, try different pressures on a test sheet first!
Some people recommend tracing with a stylus, or without using the lead on your mechanical pencil. I find it far more helpful to know where I've already traced, plus it's a far more natural drawing experience.
- Trace the outside edge, so that you know where to cut your letter-size sheet down to an 8x10 size, to fit in a frame.
- Add a dot in the very center of the page.
- Trace the crosshairs, which show the vertical and horizontal centers of the page.
- If you're doing a wreath or other circular ornament, use the blue circle guides. Decide how big the wreath will be and how far away from your text you want it to be. Then, trace the corresponding circle. You can trace just one line, or if you want to have a center line and two outside boundaries for your wreath to keep it symmetrical, you can do that too!
- Decide how small or large you need your grid to be, and trace the grid guides accordingly. The green lines are a larger grid; the gray lines are a smaller grid. You can always do a mixture, using a smaller grid wherever you know you'll have text.
5. Check Your Progress
Flip the Lettering Guide and the graphite paper away to see your paper to check your progress. Re-draw any lines that are too faint. Add any lines you might need. Note my thumb print! :) That's how sensitive the graphite paper is, and how easily it transfers!
Some lettering tips:
- Start in pencil, and erase erase erase! You'll make lots of mistakes. Words will turn out wonky. Don't lose hope! Re-draw. Love your pencil and your eraser more for it.
- Always start lettering in the center of your page and work outward and upward! Even start in the middle of a word to know that it will be centered.
What do you think?
Leave me some comments and feedback! I can't wait to hear your thoughts. And if you use the Lettering Guide, take a picture and share it on social media! I'd love to see your work. Also, the guide is only available for 8x10 pieces, but if love to have guides for other art sizes (4x6, 5x7), let me know!
6. Letter Away!
Let your ink dry completely (this should only take a few seconds, but I usually wait a few minutes just to play it safe). Then, erase your guides!
Sign up with your email address, and you'll receive a link to download your free 8x10 Lettering Guide PDF. I pledge not to inundate your inbox with emails, and to frequently come bearing gifts!