Anyone who can write can learn to letter. No unusual talent is needed. Those who invest sufficient time in learning the five fundamental steps presented in this chapter will master a craft that is highly enjoyable as a hobby and rich in opportunities. It is much easier to become an expert letterer if, at the very outset, you concentrate on knowing the tools and how to use them. Hold your pen properly, make your strokes correctly and you'll be off to a good start.


The two most popular style pens and their use are style "B" to meet the demand for single stroke round Gothics and style "C" developed to duplicate the work of the Italian handcut read pens used in designing the graceful roman and italic alphabets.

b. ;The best pens are equipped with triple reservoir ink retainers. The ink is fed to the auxiliary reservoir above the tip as it is used. This also acts as an automatic check to prevent blots by spreading the ink evenly over the entire surface, thus insuring perfect strokes at any speed.

c. ;The best way to handle any tool is to become familiar with its limitations as well as its good points. Choose the size and style pen for each of the two principal alphabets. Don't try to form letters with the wrong pen or brush. You'll only waste time and effort. Every letterer's kit should include two or more red sable show-card brushes, sizes 10, 12 and 14, to take care of letters too large for the pens. The use of a T-square, ruler, and compass in drawing some letters is necessary. The T-square or ruler is always recommended for guide lines. Letters that are ruled look mechanical and are a poor substitute for hand work.

Ink Are Important

Without the proper inks it is difficult to get the best results from any pen. Thin, watery inks or heavy, gummy, sticky masses never produce good results. Most standard brands of water-proof black drawing ink can be used for lettering purposes. When good inks are not available, opaque colors will be found more practical for show-card work than the transparent colored inks. Show-card colors prepared for brush use will work satisfactorily in pens when thinned to a free-flowing consistency with this solution : water, 9 ounces; alcohol, 1 ounce; mucilage, 1 ounce; and a few drops of glycerine. Show-card colors must be kept well stirred. They should flow easily from your pen. Don't prepare large quantities. They work best when freshly mixed. When using white or opaque show-card colors or opaque inks, brush pens occasionally with a wet tooth-brush to prevent the feeder from clogging. Crusted pens should be scraped or brushed clean before using.

Fundamental Strokes

Before you think about making your first stroke, get into the proper position. Do not lean on your pen or workboard. Sit erect. Hold your pen or brush correctly. This is extremely important (fig. 192). When you know how to hold your pen you are ready to practice your first strokes. The fundamental strokes in lettering are: down stroke, that is, toward you; horizontal stroke, left to right in most cases. But you will soon become adept with the right-to-left stroke which must be used frequently. Practice the exercises (fig. 193). Don't contract your fingers. Your arm and hand should be relaxed and comfortable, yet firm enough to give you clean, straight lines. You cannot do these exercises too often. They are the fundamental movements in all show-card work. Practice them again. You will be surprised at the progress you can make.

Pen Lettering A Gothic Alphabet

With the strokes of the above exercise, you can form any of the letters in the Gothic alphabet illustrated (fig. 194). Use a pen with a round, turned-up point which will make a line of uniform width regardless of the direction of the stroke. Start with the alphabet at the top. Practice the individual letters between guide lines an inch apart. Then try combining capitals and small, or lower case, letters.

Pen Lettering A Gothic Alphabet

Figure 192.

To do this, draw a third guide line about half way between the first two and use it to establish the height of the lower case letters.

The character of this alphabet can be changed by adding seriphs (the small cross bars or tails) and by altering the slant and proportions of the individual letters as shown in the same illustration. Slanted letters are known as italics and are frequently used for emphasis or for variety.

Brush Lettering A Roman Alphabet

Roman is one of our oldest and most widely used alphabets. As roman letters became standardized and were adapted to printing, the most noticeable change was the spur, or seriph, added to the terminals, increasing their legibility and beauty.

The single-stroke roman illustrated can be done with a pen, but for instructional purposes brush lettering is indicated (figs. 195 and 196). Note that the square-tipped brush is manipulated at different angles to produce strokes of varying width. Generally, each letter is started at the top, and the brush is drawn toward you by the action of the fingers alone. The correct motion requires practice and skill, but is well worth mastering. An alternate method of producing heavy letters is to outline them lightly in pencil, then ink them in with either pen or brush.

Now practice words and group them as they would appear on a show card. Round out the circular letters. Never crowd a word unnecessarily. When you can produce these letters with a brush, try them proportionately smaller with a pen. Then make a few simple posters with this alphabet. Pictures may be original designs or illustrations clipped from magazines. If you use the latter, add a few touches of color to take away the "stuck on" effect. Rubber cement, if available, is best for pasting.