24 brush lettering tips and techniques

Five leading illustrators on how to create brilliant brush stroke lettering - including what brushes to use, where to find inspiration, dry eraser and acrylic paint techniques, and how to paint onto an object.


Ink splatters and imperfections can be a nice addition to brush lettering but I would always advise creating a page of isolated ink splatters to scan in and add them digitally on a separate layer so that you can move them about and rescale them the way you want.

Don’t be tempted to just splatter over commercial lettering that you are happy with because inevitably, you can’t really control where and how the splatters land  and also, clients can often ask you to adjust or remove details which is harder to do if they are part of the actual lettering.

Alison Carmichael (UK)

I love the unpredictability of working by hand. The styles of mark that can be achieved whilst experimenting with different tools and surfaces is really personal and totally limitless. It’s often the 'happy accidents' which are the most interesting creations.

Alison Carmichael (UK)


I work a lot with ink or liquid acrylic (which is a bit heavier) and various sized soft brushes. To achieve different results, you can work on either a coarse surface like rough watercolour paper to achieve a very broken edge with tonnes of texture and grit or if you work on a shiny card surface, you can achieve a really sharp edged, streaky liquid mark with a lot of fluidity.  

The personality of the lettering can be really useful in trying to convey a 'different tone of voice’ to the words being written.

Alison Carmichael (UK)

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[Many of the images shown here relate to when] I was asked to design a headline for a new Kawasaki Vintage Classic design of motorbike. The brief was to create something really energetic with attitude and True Biker spirit.

I started with just the words “True Spirit” and played about with different surfaces and brushes. I decided to do something that looks really spontaneous and effortless and almost slightly greasy.

Alison Carmichael (UK)


A typical advertising or branding brief will usually be accompanied by some reference material which will help steer the direction. If I am being asked to design a headline, I will use the format provided to establish the hierarchy of the words and line breaks and do some initial quick thumbnail sketches to ensure that client is happy with the layout. I will usually be given a test period to play about with some different style ideas which I will send over to the agency for comments.

Based on the outcome, I then draw up a neater version of one or two routes. If the style of lettering is something more spontaneously hand written – as opposed to hand drawn – then I tend to go straight to artwork. This is because apart from the initial sketch layouts, you may as well just go for it and see what happens. That type of work is easier to correct by quickly re-writing it.

Alison Carmichael (UK)


I want my type to feel effortless and spontaneous, which I achieve by writing the words over and over if necessary – until I get it right. By 'right' I don't mean not sloppy – just a feeling that it sits on the page in an okay way.

Here I used Dr. Ph Martin’s Concentrated Watercolour and a synthetic watercolour brush. Then quickly – before the paint dried – I dripped in a few drops of red acrylic ink, using the bottle’s pipette.

You never know how two different kinds of ink mixes, but that's a part of the process I really love. Very often this results in a mess but every once in the wild magic happens.

Stina Persson (Sweden – Stina is represented by Jelly in the UK)

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When doing hand-painted type my medium of choice is India ink and a big, cheap Chinese brush.

Here I mixed a thinner brush using less in for 'think and then completely saturated the poor brush with ink for the word 'big'. The biggest challenge here was to leave the drawing on the table to dry, as moving it or putting it on the floor – like I usually do – would cause the ink to run and change the layout.

Stina Persson (Sweden)


I have lots of fun when writing. I use brushes that I beat up as I like the unexpected lines they create. I dip the brush every other letter but let it dry up a bit to live a bit of a dry brush feeling.

I very often listen to music while doing this and end up writing lines I pick up form the music. It is definitely more play than work and something I do in between commercial work or as a warm up, before starting a big project.

Stina Persson (Sweden)


I listen to BBC World Service, and this piece was inspired by Trump’s reaction to Kim Jong-il’s nuclear testing. I wrote a bunch of these while listening to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. I filmed it for Instagram and tried timing the words to the lyrics.

I love the ink used here, it’s a new discovery for me and it creates wonderful hues. It is from Rohrer & Klingner at I especially love their Leipziger Schwarz no 707 ink. It is black, but also so much more, and can be diluted with water too for lighter shades.

Stina Persson (Sweden)

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I sometimes add cut paper to the writing. I find it works especially well with black ink – German drawing ink in this case – and bits of brightly coloured paper. I think it adds playfulness or – in this case – hope.

This was used as a sign for the Women’s March in Stockholm this January, which made pink an obvious choice.

Stina Persson (Sweden)


I find that bigger brushes are great for script writing.

When working on script lettering it is a good idea to warm up your hand doing swirls on circles first. It really makes a difference!

Stina Persson (Sweden)


To create a blotchy line, I first load a pretty thick brush with ink. I hold it more lightly than usual for the thinner lines and then press hard where I think a blob or thicker line would work.

You can always go back and thicken certain lines too.

Stina Persson (Sweden)

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Handwritten lettering comes in millions of different shapes and forms. Before you get going you need to figure out what kind of natural style your own handwriting is.

For me, it's always important to look for something new - something that is my own. When I look for inspiration I tend to find myself looking at architectural structures and browsing Unsplash. Nature with its unpredictability, and architecture with its clean shapes, are my main inspirational source.

Krisjanis Mezulis (Latvia)


You don't need expensive fude pens (a type of brush pen typically used for Japanese calligraphy). If you want a decent looking handwritten brush font you can create one using simple synthetic brushes from an artist store. I have created fonts using brushes even found in household stores.

Try drawing letters with the brushes you already have, and if the result is not what you want, then buy different ones. I use simple synthetic brushes that I bought in one of my local artist stores.

Krisjanis Mezulis (Latvia)


After you’ve decided on a style you want, strive for consistency. All the letters need to look alike. They have to be siblings; otherwise it will look weird when some of the letters stand out from the crowd.

Krisjanis Mezulis (Latvia)

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Good and clear consistency makes a typeface work fluidly and affects its readability massively. 

Krisjanis Mezulis (Latvia)


The composition begins by sketching out the lettering work with pencil and then overlaying using a sharp edge and a soft rounded paintbrush with acrylic paint. When applying the brush stroke, the pressure used ranged from slow and steady to fast owing, depending on the detail I was trying to encapsulate. 

Through experimenting I managed to find a sweet spot that shows the brush strokes with beautiful detail and offering a level of intricacy that gives the depth and interest.

Craig Black (UK)


These details, perhaps not obvious at first, can be explored under closer observation. This is much like what we’ve done for the contemporary west coast American wine label and packaging seen here. We wanted to present the brand through simple, bold, hand rendered typography.

Craig Black (UK)

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Creating this texture is actually a physical process - not digital. I use a dry-erase marker on a dry-erase white board, which creates a dry effect. I then meticulously and carefully cut away at the lettering using a small eraser and my finger.

Craig Black (UK)


There is a small window of about one to two minutes after the type is drawn to create the texture because if left too long, the design starts to dry and crack - preventing the nice ‘smudging’ effect. It’s all about trial and error.

Craig Black (UK)


I then take it a step further by taking a photo of the design, importing it into Photoshop and then playing with levels to get it just right. This technique has been applied in various projects of mine such as Glug 17 - The Global Goals (seen here) and Pissed Modernism.

Craig Black (UK)

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Hand lettering is all about energy and deceptive detail. That can be achieved by subtlety or raw power. It depends on the brief or the intended use of the words. 

In this instance, Dr. Martens handed me a set of oxblood boots, with an accompanying box to customise. I wanted to bring an aesthetic that made the viewer feel like someone had broken into the warehouse and attacked these under pressure, sweating over a police arrival that could happen at any moment. But chaotic compositions are hard to make and simplicity is anything but its namesake.

It's important that the spacing between letters, fonts and around words is just as considered as the placement of the words themselves. By using several fonts and many supporting paint textures, it was essential I did not overkill with too much diversity. 

Ben Tallon (UK)


Notice how the various words interact with one another, but rarely clash. Working directly onto the product, the margin for error is tiny. This is a balance of instinctive layout and considered approach.

On the image heavy parts of the boots, it's important that the words are secondary. Consider the functionality of the word in conjunction with image. Hierarchy is crucial.

Spray font here is consciously crude, like an angry teenager has defaced a bus shelter. It allows the brush lettering to feel more professional despite its energy.

Ben Tallon (UK)


Texture is vital. I get one shot with the brush lettering. If you return to correct, it loses fluidity and power, the two core drivers here. It takes time to develop a symbiotic relationship with your brushes and the paint. 

Speed, direction of stroke, pressure on the brush, character consistency and amount of paint used are just a few of the aspects that hand lettering will live and die by.

Ben Tallon (UK)

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