Hand-lettering is one of those skills that is always in demand. Creating a masterpiece of typography can take a design from flab to fab. Designers use hand-lettering tools to develop fonts, print pieces and more.
When it comes to designing unique and professional looking hand-lettering items, you’ll need to figure out the best hand-lettering tools to use for the process. The tools to create a soft, fine font are going to be very different than those to create a graffiti-style background design.
Fortunately, there are many free hand-lettering tools you can turn to. Some are pens or markers. Others are digital versions that allow you to draw on your computer or mobile device. While some of the premium features of software might require a small fee, getting started with these free tools will work with nearly any budget imaginable. You’ll need a mix of both analog and digital tools to get creative.
Here are six of the top free hand-lettering tools — start with these and add more as you go along:
1. Kuretake Bimoji Brush Pen
Sometimes you just need to take a design to a piece of paper to see how it’s going to look. When that day comes, the right pen matters. This style of pen comes in different varieties, including fine and medium. It is a good tool to have in your design arsenal for the finer-detailed hand-lettering work you’ll run into.
The pen offers a rubber grip that allows you to do delicate lettering without worrying about the pen slipping from your grasp. The tip is felt, so it sweeps across the paper in fluid strokes. The ink for this pen is a water-based pigment, which gives the lettering a sort of Old-World look.
This pen would work well when designing a calligraphy-type font, or if you want to make a hand-lettered invitation design. Do some of the design work by hand, and then upload it to one of the apps mentioned below to do more detailed, refined work on the design.
2. Paper by 53
This hand-lettering app is available for iOS devices and comes with some basic tools to get you started. This sketching app allows you to create any style of lettering you’d like. When you zoom in, you can take the design down to the pixel level for a completely customized look. The standard version is free. However, if you want access to the premium features, such as cut-and-fill tools and the ability to paste ink between pages, you’ll need to upgrade to Paper Pro.
This type of tool is excellent for designing on the fly. With this app, if you get sudden inspiration, you can just pull out your phone or iPad and work on the design. While you can use it to design on the fly, it is also a benefit to have in your office when you need to add a special color, detail or take the design digital.
3. Crayola Marker
Sometimes, the most unique designs come from the simplest tools. A Crayola broad-tip marker may not be the first thing that comes to mind when working on hand-lettering, but markers allow you to complete a bold and beautiful design, scan it in and finish up the work digitally. Markers are excellent for beginner designers as well, because they are so versatile, colorful and fun.
This type of design technique will give your finished product some additional dimensions it might not have from a digital design only.
4. Fresh Paint Software
Windows has an app called Fresh Paint that allows you to create on a digital canvas. One of the key features of this software is that you can erase mistakes easily. The paint looks realistic, like brushstrokes on a canvas. All you need to do is swipe to share your design with a client or to show off what you can do. It’s available for both PC and mobile devices. You could easily pair it with a digital pen for ultimate lettering work that is both hand-drawn and digitally enhanced.
This type of design tool is a great addition to your hand-lettering tools kit because it combines analog and digital design.
5. Staedtler Lead Holder
A lead holder is a must for sketching out designs, and this one glides across the paper quickly and easily. Since you’ll be creating several versions to get your lettering just so, you’ll also love that this pencil is refillable. The cap has a removable sharpener so you can get the point of the lead as fine as you’d like. Depending upon the sharpness of the point, this pencil is a very versatile tool that can create very fine or heavy lines.
The advantage of having a nice lead pencil to use is the ability to get that hand-drawn, No. 2 pencil look with a lot more control than you have with a typical school-type pencil.
6. Calligraphy Ink
Have you experimented with calligraphy ink? You can either use a calligraphy pen or a very fine paintbrush to get a unique brushed look. This type of design works particularly well with fonts that are young and bold, for example. Imagine all the possibilities you can find with this style. You can also purchase the ink in a variety of different colors.
To create some of the most cutting-edge, amazing designs out there, you need to be open to using different types of hand-lettering tools and media to create your fonts. Hand-lettering is a creative endeavor. No two designs are exactly alike, and no two designers create the same results.
Imagine offering your clients something so customized they can’t find it anywhere else. You’ll realize increased job security with your clients, who will come to appreciate the unique creativity you bring to the table.
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About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.