Tools for Lettering

Lettering artists often get asked what tools they use. First off, this is not the same as asking, “How do you work?” That’s a very different question. I can use the same tools as someone else in a completely different way and get drastically different results. Tools don’t make a maker.

That said, here’s what I use (and a bit on how I use it and why).

Moleskine hardbound blank notebook, 5×8.
This is small enough for me to easily carry around if I need (it’s really like a security blanket, actually), but large enough to get workably sized drawings done. It’s hardbound so it doesn’t get easily bent up or messed up in my backpack. The pages are thick enough that I can use certain inks and it won’t bleed through or show through on the back as much or as easily as with other notebooks. It’s blank because I like the freedom. Lines are distracting, dots are constraining. My grid is in my head and it changes based on need. Blank is best for me.

Stadtler 2mm lead holder with 2H lead.
I like the lead holder because I don’t have to sharpen as often as with other pencils, I can change out the lead, I’m not wasting trees, and when I do sharpen it, the lead pointer gets point so fine it can prick my finger (for those really fine lines). I like the harder 2H lead because 1) it’s lighter, which makes it easier to ink over, and 2) it erases easier and doesn’t smudge.

Stadtler 0.1 pigment liner.
It’s like a Micron, but I just like it better. It feels smoother on the paper to me. Really, I could use microns or pilots or myriad other pens that do the same thing (which I stockpile, and have used), but for some reason I just like the Stadtler. (Unconscious brand loyalty perhaps? That’s a valid reason too, I think.) Stadtler, like other brands, puts out multiple sizes of pigment liner, as well as fatter illustration pens.

Brass 6 inch ruler with both metric and imperial.
I got a brass ruler with a set of protractors and other tools for geometry in middle school. It had a great heft to it, and had both centimeters and inches. I had that ruler for 25 years, and accidentally left it somewhere, never to see it again. I thought I might weep. I finally found another equivalent sold by Appointed. It was not easy to find. I’ve become so used to working with this thing. It fits in my pocket, works great as a straight edge, is the right scale for my Moleskine, and has both centimeters and inches, which is great for working at different scales and for scaling up smaller works. My favorite tool.

Pentel Art brush.
I used this on the recommendation of Laura Worthington at a brush lettering workshop with her and Debbie Sementelli. It works great. I’ve tried Tombows, but they feel stiff to me. There’s something about having bristles rather than felt that works more naturally.

Tombow brush pen.
Now, having said what I said above about the Tombow, I still use it for filling in when inking. It works just fine for that without being as messy as the Pentel Art brush or bleeding through the paper as badly as some other markers.

Dbmeier Light box.
I can’t gush enough about this thing. If you ever want a light pad that’s thin, light, and portable, this is it. Light tables are awesome. When I need to make additions to work but I don’t want to risk screwing up what I’ve already done, I can trace with another piece of paper and put it all together on the computer later. Now, I have an Art-o-Graph Light Pad, and it’s very effective, but also huge. It’s a permanent fixture. But I work out of the office… a lot. So having a portable light pad is great. The Dbmeier light pad is small enough to fit in my backpack, is super lightweight, incredibly thin, plugs in via USB so I can power it with an outlet or my laptop, runs on LEDs so it doesn’t overheat, and it has three light settings.

Canoscan LiDe 210 scanner.
It’s a good scanner and does the job without breaking the bank. When in need I can use my iPhone to just take a picture, but I prefer the precision of scanning when I want to digitize my work.

Wacom Intuos Pro, medium tablet.
LiveTrace in Adobe Illustrator will only get you so far. It does the job if you like the rough, hand lettered look. But for more precision, it’s nice to be able to digitally trace with a stylus. I also use this for “watercolor” painting in Photoshop. It’s not my go to i/o choice, though, and I know it is for others.

MacBook Pro.
All the rest of the things are done here on the laptop. I don’t even have an iMac or other larger screen device. This does the job, and I can work at the coffee shop (which may be the deciding factor).

Adobe Creative Cloud.
Best subscription service you’ll ever have. Ever. I’ve been using the Adobe suites since… well since some of these programs weren’t even Adobe, or Macromedia for that matter. Best tools for creatives. Hands down.

I typically work in Illustrator. I often vectorize with the trackpad on my laptop, much to the horror of other designers I’ve met. To each their own. I design for print in InDesign. I work with photos in Photoshop, of course. I enjoy the community aspect of finding color inspiration with Adobe Color. And Typekit has saved my butt while souring fonts for client projects on multiple occasions.

FontLab Studio 5.
For making fonts I use what had been the industry standard for years. (Glyphs is arguably vying for that position.) It was the first software I purchased for creating fonts, and as such I’m used to it. Plus it does all the things, even if the interface is a bit… wanting. However, I’ve been assured that FontLab Studio 6 is right around the corner. 😉

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This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I’ll add to it as I see the need, and will gladly answer questions about specific tools for specific purposes.






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