You remember these artists because their unique styles of lettering set them apart. Their work stands out because their styles are so distinct.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have someone instantly recognize your work from just a photo? To stand out above the crowd and build an audience that loves your style?
If you want to develop your own unique lettering style, you’re going to have to dedicate a significant amount of time to creating work and practicing your lettering. Don’t panic if you haven’t found your own style yet, it’ll come.
However, there are are a few exercises you can do to help move you one step closer to finding your unique style. The following steps will help you know what types of lettering you like, diversify your sources of inspiration, and explore different ways to tweak your lettering.
Where to Begin – Know What You Like
If you don’t know what styles of lettering you like, you’ll never be able to figure out your own unique look and style. The best way to figure out what you like is by simply collecting images of lettering that strikes you and make notes on what exactly you like about it.
Your lettering is a sum of your experiences, including your style. Combining different elements you love from other people will help you find a style all your own without directly copying a style belonging to somebody else.
Knowing and studying the work of others helps us explore creative possibilities and expand our own lettering skills.
Collect Lettering That Strikes You
There’s a couple of ways you can go about this, but your mission should remain the same no matter how you decide to collect: keep track of different lettering from other artists that
Here are some ideas for how to ways to collect and analyze the work of others:
- Curate your own Private Pinterest board of lettering that you love. Use the caption section to record your notes on each lettering piece. My personal Typography Inspiration board is a great place to start looking for inspiration.
- Build a Physical Lettering Library. Print out each piece you find on a new sheet of paper. Use the rest of the paper to make notes on what you love about each piece.
- Keep a running document on your computer. Create a blank document using Microsoft Word or GoogleDocs, then copy/paste each new piece of lettering you want to keep track of. Type up any notes you might have below each image.
Make Notes on Exactly What You Like
The next time you find a new piece of lettering you really love, take a moment to reflect on what is it you love so much about it?
Chances are, there will be certain parts of the piece that speaks to you more than others. Figure out what those elements are and make note of them for later. Then, the next time you’re experiencing creative block or stumped for how to add interest to your own work, come back to your notes and experiment with a few of the different elements you’ve recorded in the past.
Here are some ideas for what elements to make notes on:
- Color Scheme and the way it’s applied
- Layout and Composition
Mixof Character Styles (Does the piece combine script and sans serif lettering? What about serif and script?)
- Contrast (Is there a lot of contrast between the thick and thin strokes?)
- What materials were used to make this?
- What was the intention behind the piece?
- Decorative Details (did the original artist use flourishing to balance out the composition? What about lines or borders, are they involved in some way?
- Letter/Word Spacing
After you’ve collected a few images of work you like and made notes on exactly what you like about them, start thinking about how you can incorporate the elements you love into creating a new piece all your own.
Exercises to Explore Style Variations
Try a New Pen
Sometimes all it takes to nail down your signature style is finding your perfect pen.
The bigger a pen’s tip the more thick and wide your lettering will be.
Smaller pens create skinny and thin letters.
Try a variety of pen types to see what works best for you.
Need tips on the best places to buy new pens?
Check out my post on Where to Find Dirt Cheap Lettering Supplies next!
Letter Upright or at a Slant
Most lettering artists letter with at least a little bit of a slant to their words. Traditional copperplate slant is 55 degrees, which is generally a good starting point for creating lettering that isn’t too slanted but also isn’t stiff and upright.
Here are some examples of how the look of your lettering can change just by adding a slant.
Upright Lettering is created with the lettering at a 90-degree angle and contains no slant.
A 55-Degree Slant is pretty standard for creating calligraphy and hand lettering.
Some calligraphers love the look of Extremely Slanted lettering because it can make the piece feel more romantic and airy.
Mix Up Your Letter Types
There are 3 main types of letterforms in hand lettering and typography: Script (the type of lettering we’ve been doing that includes swashes and connecting strokes), Serif Letters (has little feet at the end of each segment), and Sans Serif (letters without the little feet).
Try to mix the three styles in a pleasing way so that your lettering fills up all of the space on a single line.
Sans Serif and Script work well together and will frequently be seen used in the same lettering work.
Here are some examples of the same word written multiple times with each one including different types of letter styles.
Play With the Height and Style of Crossbars
If you’re using sans serif or serif lettering, you can use crossbar/bar placement to create a specific feeling or evoke time periods.
Low Crossbars evoke a Midcentury feel, while Higher Crossbars can be spotted in type from the Art Nouveau period.
That’s it for the best tips I have to help find your own unique lettering style. If you learned anything from this post, I hope it’s the importance of saving the work of others you like and making notes on exactly what elements you like about them.
Now go experiment with some of the quick changes outlined above and drop a comment below with your favorite tweak to try!
Looking for more hand lettering inspiration for upcoming projects? Check out some great ideas from other letterers in my post Lettering Artists Weigh In: Finding Lettering Inspiration!