Brush Lettering 101: Tools

30th May, 2017

Brush Lettering Tools

Ooh, I could talk about brush lettering all day. It's my favourite type of lettering because it looks so flowy, romantic and effortless.

There are oh so many ways you can use brush lettering - here are a few lovely examples!

Brush Lettering 1 By LoveSupplyCo

Brush Lettering 2 By Jenny Highsmith

Brush Lettering 3 By A Fabulous Fete

In this article I'll go over my favourite brush lettering tools - pens & brushes, ink and paper.

Next week's second instalment will cover how to actually start lettering with your tools!

Let's get right into it, shall we?

The biggest challenge with lettering tools is deciding between the plethora of available options.

There are already so many hurdles to trying something new; don't make this one of them! Although I'm going to recommend a couple of tools below, if there's another brand or variety more readily available where you are - go for it!

If you have a brush or a pen at home that you've never tried, start with that.

If you're in a store and can't decide, ask the salesperson, or close your eyes and randomly pick one.

Take the path of least resistance.

The worst thing that can happen is you won't like using the tool, so you will have built your knowledge base about what works for you and what doesn't, which will help you make a more informed decision when you buy your second brush.

With that said, here are a few recommendations of tools which I love:

Pen with brush nib / brush pen / traditional brush?

1 Pens with Brush Nibs

If you're going to buy your first brush lettering tool, I recommend you get one of these!

Pens with brush nibs are the simplest, most compact, and least messy of the three types of tools. You don’t need to buy any ink, or worry about it spilling in your bag. They also give you a lot of control over the look of your lettering.

The main downside, for me, is that they run out fairly quickly.

Tombow Dual Brush Pen

I include these because I’ve seen so much hype about these pens, and I must admit… I don't love them! The black colour is so lightly pigmented it’s almost a grey, and the bristles can splay inconsistently, making it hard to control the consistency of your letters!

I know they're very popular, and I think they'd be great if you were using them in a bullet journal or a Moleskine, as they won't bleed through the paper.

But for final pieces, I think the other two pens below are much better options.

Tools - Tombow

Copic Sketch

The ink in these is crazy pigmented (which is great for final pieces, but if you want to letter in a Moleskine, it’ll bleed through multiple pages), they come in every colour imaginable, and making a huge thick / thin contrast is easy.

(As you can see in the image below, the ink in my pen is running out! Time to buy a refill!)

Tools - Copic Sketch

Windsor and Newton Brush Marker

If I could go back in time, this is what I’d buy for my first brush pen!

I’ve only had the pleasure of using the purple brush marker, but… my goodness, it’s beautiful.

It’s very, very similar to the Copic Sketch. When trying to pinpoint why I like the W&N pen better, the only explanation I have is that it feels more luxurious to use!

The ink is scrumptiously thick - which can be a downside, especially if you're using it in a journal or on printer paper. It's lovely for use on thicker paper.

The bristles are so, so soft. And I suspect that it may last longer than the Copic as well - I’ve lettered hundreds of place cards with this purple marker and it’s going strong!

Tools - Windsor and Newton Brush Marker

2 Brush pens

I feel like there are different definitions of brush pens, depending on who you ask. For the purpose of this article, I'm considering brush pens to be the refillable kind, as below.

I love brush pens.

They're so easy to use, and create such smooth beautiful letters without much effort. They also make it easy to create dramatic contrasts between thick and thin lines. You can either fill them up with ink & water, or simply dip the nib into ink.

The only downside I’ve found is that they’re high maintenance - they need to be cleaned thoroughly, after every use.

How to Clean a Brush Pen

Remember that dipping the nib in ink will leave less mess than if you filled the whole brush with ink!

To clean:

1 Take the top part of the pen off and rinse it thoroughly with water.

2 Place the tip in a mug of water for a couple of days.

3 Remove from the water and press the nib down on a clean towel. If it doesn't run clear, put it back in the water and try again in another day.

Tools - Brush Pen Cleaning

Pentel Aquash Brush

I recommend this one as the second brush you buy!

These are my very favourite brush pens! They come in large, medium and small sizes, all of which are great. Whenever I go to make a brush lettering piece, I gravitate towards these. They’re so, so smooth, and their bristles stay in shape for years.

Tools - Pentel Aquash Brush

Jasart Aqua Brush Pen

The other option in the image above, the Jasart brush pen, is quite nice as well, but doesn’t give as much contrast between thick and thin as the Pentel Aquash does.

Tools - Jasart Aqua Brush Pen

3 Traditional brushes

If you love messy, grungy-looking lettering, try a brush.

You can buy these from any art store, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. Since the bristles are be more likely to spread and separate when you're lettering, it's easy to create splatters and rough edges.

Also, because their bristles can be all different shapes (just like makeup brushes), they will each create a unique effect.

Personally, I don't love using brushes, as I find it difficult to create consistent letter widths - brush pens give me more control over the final product. If I'm feeling messy and free, though, brushes are really fun to play with.

If you're thinking of buying one, I suggest trying all the samples you can find in the store to see what suits you. Feel the bristles to make sure they're flexible and soft, and think about the size of the brush compared with the size of the lettering pieces you want to make.

I wish I had specific examples of traditional brushes I absolutely love, but the truth is, I haven't found any yet! Here are the ones I do have, to give you a couple of examples. I'm not sure what their names are, so I've lettered part of the alphabet with each:

Tools - Traditional Brush 1

Ink

If you’re using a pen with a brush nib, no need to worry about this step!

I use Art Spectrum black ink.

It's the only black ink I've ever tried for lettering. It's inexpensive, highly pigmented and smooth - I've never felt the need to try another!

Ink

I use a ceramic ink well to hold my ink, but there's no need to purchase anything special. Any small container will work perfectly well - jar lids are especially good. Just don't use any ink containers for food storage afterwards!

My biggest ink tip:

Add a few drops of water to your ink. Rather than diluting the pigment a little water actually makes the ink blacker (I don't understand how it works either)! Also, water helps the ink not to dry out and clump, especially in warmer weather.

Paper

It's important to have two types: paper for practice, and paper for final pieces.

1 Paper for Practice

I like to use plain old printer paper - cheap and easy to source.

If your brush or pen's ink is very pigmented, you may find that printer paper isn't quite right for you.

The colour may bleed and run, creating little spiderwebs running out of your letters. If this is the case, I recommend using a bleedproof marker pad like this one. It may seem counterintuitive, because the pages are thinner than printer paper, but they're designed to be super smooth so any line you draw will remain in place.

2 Paper for Final Pieces

This is the kind of paper which looks as beautiful as the lettering on it! Arches watercolour paper is by far the best I've ever used. It's so thick and textured, and no matter how much ink I lay on it, it doesn't warp. The only downside is its price, which is why I recommend only using it for final pieces.

Arches Watercolour Paper

Look for these features in whatever card you buy:

1 Acid free - this means that the paper won't yellow over time.

2 ~300+ gsm - 'gsm' stands for 'grams per square metre', and in general, the heavier the better. Always feel the paper before you buy it to make sure it's the right amount of flexible

3 Textured / smooth - textured and smooth card obviously look different, but they're also different to work with! When you're just getting started, I recommend choosing smoother card. If the paper is very textured, it can make your lettering look bumpy as you're having to letter over ridges and hollows.

Where can I buy these supplies?

I buy my lettering supplies at Eckersley’s, for the following reasons:

1 It’s the most specialised and professional art store near me (they’re all around Australia, but the one in Brisbane is near the City Botanical Gardens)

2 The salespeople are artists, and know their stuff. They’re always helpful and have great recommendations.

3 They stock everything I need for lettering - I don’t need to go to 3 different art shops to buy pens / paper / ink / etc. Stores like Riot or similar, on the other hand, will sometimes have one or two things I need, but rarely all of them.

If you don’t have an Eckersley’s near you, I recommend researching art stores in your area and visiting a couple in person. Sure, you could buy everything online, but you’ll learn a lot more by making a trip into the store, especially if you’re just getting into lettering and aren’t sure exactly what you want.

Eckersley's Image from Shorthand Social

I hope you found this a helpful introduction to brush lettering!

Stay tuned for next week's article, where I'll talk through the 'how' of brush lettering, helping you to actually put pen to paper.

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