Hand lettering styles: Block lettering tutorial

If you're new to hand lettering, the hardest place to start is when you're facing a blank sheet of paper or a new notebook. Besides some conventional tricks to get past the mental hurdle (like skipping the first page of a new notebook or making a messy doodle or squiggle to get started on a page), the most important thing is to start drawing.

The other difficult task is deciding what hand lettering style to practice first. Lettering artist Sean McCabe recommends choosing a font and practice creating each letterform over and over again until it gets committed to muscle memory.

In contrast, I like to loosely learn a font in order to figure out how pieces of letters are connected to each other in different ways, and then sticking with a few basic lettering styles that I have in my mental repertoire.

Click through to learn how to create block letters! Easy block hand lettering tutorial to try - get started with lettering and hand typography

In this mini series I'm going to share a few of my favorite hand lettering styles, some tips on how to get started with each, as well as a few examples. This first post is all about block lettering.

Getting Started with the Block Lettering Style

The beauty of a block hand lettering style is that you don't have to outline your letters perfectly from scratch. (Click to tweet!) If you're using a pencil, you can start with the overall structure of the letters and then later go around and ink or darken the outermost edges.

Drawing a five-pointed star is a similar process. It's much easier to draw straight lines through the star and then erase the construction lines later than to draw the star 100% freehand.

Block lettering tutorial - star example - construction lines make everything easier
Block lettering tutorial - star example - construction lines make everything easier

There are a couple of rules when working with this hand lettering style:

  • Keep all parts of the letter the same thickness.
  • Remember that each letter is comprised of straight lines, ellipses, or straight lines that turn into ellipses. The shapes are simple and most letters are based off of pieces of letters like O, L, A, and B.
  • Guidelines are your friends: sketch out at least a top and bottom to save time.
  • Because block lettering is extremely readable, you can have the most fun with fill styles and arrangement and still keep your message intact.

As I mentioned above, most letters are based off of similar shapes from OLA and B. Below, you can see how AB, and C are very different, but essentially C is based off of an O, and you can draw a D like a B with one hump.

Block letters are built off of each other with similar pieces
Block letters are built off of each other with similar pieces

You can see how E is just like L in this example below. Don't be scared to sketch your letter pieces and refine your edges later. This word below hardly looks finished, but it cleans up nicely towards the end.

To get started, draw your top and bottom guidelines with pencil.

Then begin to create each letter with pencil, making sure the lines are uniform widths apart for each thickness of the letters. Make connections with points so things line up correctly (like with the A) and don't worry about overlapping guidelines. You'll see how the E has an extra vertical guideline so that the two terminals end at the same place.

Pencil sketch first
Pencil sketch first

After you're done, outline the letter with a pen. My preferred letter outlining tools are the Sakura Micron or Sakura Pigma Graphics. (You can read more about lettering pens and tools here.)

Again, don't worry about drawing straight through the letters; since we're filling the letters in with ink these guidelines will disappear.

Outline the letter with a pen
Outline the letter with a pen

Go ahead and fill in your letters. Working with a broad tip like the Graphic 3 will help you fill letters faster.

Fill letters with black ink. Broad tip marker will make this faster
Fill letters with black ink. Broad tip marker will make this faster

Once your ink dries, erase your guidelines.

Gently erase guidelines
Gently erase guidelines

You'll see how there are some smudges or places where the pen went past the original line. You can clean those up in Photoshop or leave them as-is. This is a learning game, and your hand will become more steady as you practice.

Fix smudges and errors in Photoshop. Clean up corners with a fine tip pen
Fix smudges and errors in Photoshop. Clean up corners with a fine tip pen

The other thing to mention here is you can clean up and sharpen your corners with a finer line pen. I've done that above with the Micron 01.

I encourage you to pick random words to start with and just keep practicing. While my technique is far from perfect and is "quirky" to say the least, you can see I've come a long way in 5 months.

Examples of Block Lettering Styles

Because block lettering is inherently simple, there are some fun things you can do with it, whether it's a unique shading style:

Happy Friday!

A photo posted by Jennifer Coyle (@jnnfrcyl) on

Playing around with these ridiculously skinny Copic multi liners

A photo posted by Jennifer Coyle (@jnnfrcyl) on

… or arranging the letters in unique ways:

Like I've never seen the sky before. #lettering #handlettering

A photo posted by Jennifer Coyle (@jnnfrcyl) on

Hand lettering starter kit. New post on jnnfrcyl.com/blog

A photo posted by Jennifer Coyle (@jnnfrcyl) on

So, get sketching and have fun with it! I'd love for you to comment with photos or tweet me with your progress.

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