14 Jan 2016

Intro to Brush Lettering (Plus, a free drills worksheet!)

Brush pens are a favorite medium among lettering artists for their ability to quickly achieve high contrast letters, and mimic the look of standard calligraphy with less mess. The best artists make beautiful brush lettering look like a piece of cake, when in fact, hours of practice have gone into honing their skills.

What are Brush Pens?


Brush pens are markers with a tapered, brush-like tip, though most don’t have bristles. They are usually made of felt, but those with bristles are made of natural or synthetic hair. The felt tips provide the advantage of being firmer than brushes, so they’re great for learning brush lettering! Plus, they’re an easy, more portable alternative to standard calligraphy tools.

Brush pens have a lot of versatility. With one pen, you can achieve a very fine line, a very thick line, and everything in between. All you have to do is vary the pressure. 

As of late, I’ve been favoring Tombow brush pens. They’re a bit flexible, so they have a slightly higher learning curve than many other brush pens. If you’re not comfortable working with them yet, or have other brush pens on hand, the drills below can be used with any pen! A comparison of brush pens could (and trust me, it will!) fill an entire post.

How the Heck Do I Start?

Brush Lettering Example

Just like you shouldn’t try to learn to draw by immediately attempting a complex figure, you shouldn’t try to learn brush lettering by drawing lengthy words or quotes. You’ll get frustrated and waste precious ink! It’s important to start with the fundamentals, and get to know this sometimes tricky tool. 

We’ve gone over exercises for improving your sketching, and similarly, there are exercises that are extremely useful for learning all of the different strokes necessary for building an alphabet in brush lettering. Drills are the perfect way to learn what grip and pressure works best for you.

The most important thing to remember is when to apply pressure and when to let up. Just like calligraphy upstrokes and downstrokes, when your pen is moving down, apply more pressure. When your pen is moving up or to the right, ease up on the pressure.

Drills, Drills, Drills!


I’ve created a free printable download that contains 3 pages of brush lettering drills. Each drill stroke will help you learn a different movement critical to building an alphabet. Once you’ve gone through the worksheets a couple times (you can print once, and put plain paper on top of it to reuse the examples and guidelines), start experimenting with how different words connect!

Download the Drills Worksheet

Here are the strokes in the drill sheet, and what they’ll help you learn:

  • Full Pressure Strokes: Learn how much pressure you need to get the thickness you want for your downstrokes
  • Light Pressure Strokes: Learn how much pressure you need to get the thinness you want for your upstrokes
  • Zig zag: Practice going back and forth from thick to thin with no transition
  • Lowercase u’s: These lay the baseline for u’s, w’s, and y’s
  • Combination Stroke: Practice going back and forth from thick to thin with a gradual transition
  • Lowercase m’s: These lay the baseline for m’s, n’s, p’s, b’s, and h’s
  • O’s: These lay the baseline for o’s, a’s, q’s, and d’s
  • Loops: These will help with the loops of h’s, k’s, l’s, f’s, and b’s
  • Entry Stroke: These will help you transition between letters.
  • Minimum: Begin to see how different strokes connect together and string together many of the strokes above. 

These are the same drills I relied on when I was first starting out, and I still use to warm up every single time I practice brush lettering, especially when I’m trying out a new pen. They’re a wonderful way to quickly get a feel for the pressure and grip you need, which will vary by pen (mine certainly does).

Download the Drills Worksheet

I’d love to see your progress as you work on your brush lettering skills! Post a photo on Instagram and use the hashtag #ShareLettering. 

What brush lettering technique do you struggle with most? I can’t seem to work on my o’s enough! They’re always a bit wonkier than I’d like.