- Sketch out your design first. Experienced sign painters will often reach a point where they omit this step entirely, but this is a crucial part of the process for lettering beginners. Starting with paper and pencil gives you a no-pressure practice area where erasing is easy. Sketching your design here will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the motions that your particular lettering option demands, which translates to better results on your real attempt. Sketching on paper also lets you see how your idea looks outside of your head, giving you one more chance to change your mind, and leaving one more opportunity for last-minute inspiration to strike.
- Give yourself more space than you need to start with. When you first lay out your lettering, be sure to leave extra space between letters. This extra breathing room will help take some of the pressure off of a perfect first attempt, allowing you to gradually “flesh out” the letters instead of trying to nail the spacing and design all in one shot. Leaving a bit of extra space will also give you the option of adding sides, shadows, and outlining to give your letters a sense of dimension.
- Consider using transfer paper for smaller designs. Used often for quilting and sewing, specialty paper creates an erasable line when traced, which allows you to create a basic guide for your lettering attempt. Cut a piece of transfer paper to the size of your design, then lay it face-down against the medium. Place the paper sketch of the design on top and tape it in place. Next, trace firmly with a pencil to “activate” the transfer paper. Once the transfer paper is removed, you’ll have a beautiful outline, and your lettering project will be as easy as coloring inside the lines!
- Get a liner brush as soon as possible. If you’re tried lettering without a liner brush before, prepare to be amazed at the degree to which your signs will improve once you’ve got the right equipment. A liner brush has long and flexible bristles that taper to a point when wet, and its small size makes it incredibly versatile for all kinds of lettering applications.
- Beginners should aim for long, smooth, and light strokes with small brushes. Long strokes are almost always going to get you better results than short, dabbing ones, making it much easier to achieve smooth, steady lines. Rather than bulking up your lettering with short “filler” strokes, go over them again with the same long motions, adding stroke width to your lettering until it’s reached the right size. It’s generally a better idea to use multiple strokes with a smaller brush for beginners, because the big-brush alternative means nailing it perfectly on your first pass. Smaller brushes let you be more precise and adjust for any wobble, while also giving you plenty of opportunity to correct any mistakes – especially if you’ve given yourself more space than you need, as mentioned earlier. As a final note on your stroke style, remember not to push too hard. Your brush should glide across the medium rather than pressing into it. Too much pressure will widen your line, which defeats the purpose of choosing a smaller brush to begin with!
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