Lettering Basics: Brush Pens & Pen Pressure

Lettering Basics: Brush Pens & Pen Pressure
August 5, 2014 Daniel Palacios

How do you know when and where to add the proper amount of pressure when working with brush pens? This is a common question I’m sure most beginners starting out in hand lettering are curious about. I was definitely one of them. With no prior experience or assistance from a “real” instructor, I figured out how pen pressure works by practicing and watching videos on YouTube and Instagram.

The thing with pen pressure is that it varies from brush pen to brush pen. Not all pens are the same. The tip, or nib, as some call it, is often made up of different materials. Some are felt, synthetic or nylon and each one has its own uniqueness. These materials all have a different affect on the sensitivity and longevity of the brush tip. The soft ones require light pressure, while the hard tip pens need a decent amount in order to achieve a wide stroke. As you really get into it, your level of comfort with certain pens will increase over time. The key to becoming successful with brush pens depends on the amount of time you invest practicing. This post specifically focuses on some of the basic techniques I’ve encountered with brush pens and how to maintain consistent script lettering.

Start with the Fundamentals and Practice

First, get yourself some brush pens. I wrote a blog post about my favorite lettering tools if you don’t know which ones to start with. Try to get a good variety of pens to experiment with.

Next, start practicing with words that have repetitive up and down movement. For example, words like ’minimum’ and ‘aluminum,’ share a lot of the same letters and overall rhythm. This is a good exercise for understanding the basics of how pen pressure works and it will get you accustomed to the general movement. Using light pressure for the upstrokes and firm pressure for down strokes is the ideal approach. Doing this will generate thin strokes as you move upward and thicker strokes as you go down.

Guidelines are Your Friends

There are a couple of techniques I found to work for maintaining a consistent slant/angle when lettering scripts. One is using guidelines and the other is using your entire arm. Guidelines are pretty self-explanatory. They are there to visually guide the placement of your strokes without having to make the decision as you’re writing. You want to draw a baseline and a comfortable x-height. Then, come up with an angle you feel comfortable with. It doesn’t have to be precise or at a certain degree, just as long as you continue that angle throughout the entire word(s) you’re writing. Another option to consider if you’re looking to get away from drawing your own guides is to buy grid paper with pre-made guidelines. The disadvantage about doing this option is that you will have less control over the x-height and so on. Whatever works best for you is my recommendation.

Put Your Arm into It

If you’ve ever taken gesture or life drawing classes, then you might be familiar with using your whole arm instead of your wrist. The same concept behind gesture drawing can be applied to brush lettering. Using the entire movement of your arm rather than just your fingers and wrist, allows you to flow more naturally from one letter to the other. Forget about the way you normally write. You want to limit your fingers and wrist from generating the up and down movement and rely on your arm to do most of the guiding. By doing so, you can actually achieve a relatively smooth and consistent slant as you continuously write. This takes more practice to get used to, but you can start trying this technique at any point.

Make the Time and See the Results

The real secret to mastering a brush pen is no secret at all. It’s called practice and I can’t stress enough how crucial it will be to your progression. Take it from someone who started at ground zero just a couple of years ago. The most difficult part about all of this is not knowing where to begin and my goal with this post is to make it less intimidating so that you can spend more time developing a style of your own. Make sure to capture and share your progress regularly so that you can not only look back at your development, but so that others can see how far you’ve come. Who knows…you might inspire someone else.