It is really easy to go down a black hole of lettering and calligraphy videos on Instagram.
They’re soothing to watch with even strokes and simple loops that result in the most beautiful words. If you’re ready to try your hand at lettering, you’re going to need the right tools: brush pens and proper paper. Okay, and some practice.
Brush pens are exactly what they sound like — a combination of a paintbrush and a pen. They come in many different styles, but their defining features are that they are reminiscent of a paintbrush, but are already loaded with pigment so you don’t have to mix your own colors or get messy with paint.
Applying different levels of pressure is how you change the effect of your stroke — applying more pressure will cause the pen to flare, creating a broad stroke, while using less pressure will allow calligraphers, colorers, and lettering artists to make short, fine strokes.
Calligraphy and hand lettering isn't all they're used for — brush pens can be adapted to fit lots of other art forms, including coloring books, because you can create different textures, patterns and blend fairly easily.
Before you pick up a brush pen, take some time to familiarize yourself with all the different options. There are a lot! And each comes with a different effect. Because brush pens come in so many styles and colors, you probably won’t find yourself bored with them anytime soon. Even when you master one technique there seems to be another way you can infuse creativity into a project with a brush pen.
There are a few characteristics that will set brush pens apart:
- Ink flow: This will define whether the ink is more wet or more dry. Depending on the ink flow, you can create a whole bunch of effects with the pen. Drier pens will create a more textured, and sometimes distressed, look, while wet pens will make your art saturated.
- Nib style: There are three main types of brush pen nibs: felt tips, nylon tips, and synthetic hair. You may want to start with felt tip, as those are the easiest to learn with and more common (think Crayola markers!).
- Elasticity: Tips come in different elasticities. A firmer elasticity will mean you can get a bolder effect with the pen. Synthetic tips tend to have good elasticity, meaning they will quickly return to their shape when you use pressure.
- Size of the tip: This will also change the outcome of your lettering. A small tip will result in fine lines while a broad tip translates to bold strokes.
A few favorite brush pens artists swear by:
You really don’t have to have a big budget to get a good brush pen. In fact, broad line Crayola markers make for a good starting tool. The fat felt tip makes both thick and thin lines easy to master.
The Tombow Dual Brush Pens are another good option that come in packs of colors and have both a fine and flexible tip, perfect for lettering.
We also love all the colors — and the flexible nylon nib — of the Koi Coloring Brush Pens.
If you're looking for a felt-tipped pen that's perfect for coloring books, try the Fudebiyori Brush Pens.
Take your time
Brush pens are not for fast artwork. You’ll need to take your time with lettering to get the best result. Even artists experienced with calligraphy move pretty slowly with brush pens, so if you think you’re working unusually slow, you’re probably not.
Many videos you may see online are likely sped up two to 10 times the original speed because a video of lettering would actually take forever!
It may help to do some warm up exercises when using brush pens for lettering. Making circles, loops and big curves over a clean sheet of paper will help get your brain and hand ready for some serious artwork.
“Like every other exercise routine, we need to warm up to get our body used to the new movements and start creating some muscle memory in our arms,” says lettering artist Alejandro Solórzano.
Use multiple strokes
Getting the hang of lettering with brush pens will take some time. Once you’ve slowed down, try making multiple strokes. Really pay attention to how you’d naturally write a word. Lettering with brush pens are no different. It’ll help with even lettering and making everything look coherent.
This is what trips up a lot of brush pen beginners. The final product looks so effortless and fluid that it almost doesn’t seem like you’d want to pick up your pen multiple times. Focusing on each stroke will help the whole word or picture really come together.
Solorzano recommends even writing out the directions with a pencil so you can see how you’ll create the strokes. For example, writing the letter M equates to a stroke up, then down, then up and then down — four movements in all.
Experiment with angles
Part of the beauty of brush pens is that it’s all about movement. Experiment with holding your pen at different angles to achieve different effects. Likewise, make sure you have a firm grip on your pen. Try moving your entire arm instead of just your hand.
“When holding your markers, try to hold it close to the nib and keep the angle of the pen tip around a 45° angle,” says Solórzano. “This will give you the right inclination of your letters and will be easier to get your thin and thick strokes without a lot of hand pressure.”
Lastly, brush pens take a lot of practice! Like any tool there are a lot of techniques, so enjoy the process and take your time. Do some tracing or refining before you commit to your final draft if you’re lettering. If you’re using brush pens for art, take the time to explore what the pen can do to fill in color.
It’s also important to remember the whole point of brush pens is to be original and different.
“Remember, we are not looking for the perfect handwriting style, we are looking to express and communicate our message, so here’s where you can have fun exploring different lettering styles, textures or even play with your thick and thin strokes,” says Solórzano.