Hand Lettering Tools and Apps

Hand Lettering Tools - Digital Apps

Ever since I started my hand lettering project, I seem to get asked these types of questions a bit: How do you do your hand lettering? and Which apps do you use for your hand lettering project?

That’s why I thought it’s probably time to blog about it, so I can start pointing folks to this blog post.

Now, the quick answer to the first question:

Hand Lettering Tools: Analog and Digital

Since this is primarily a learning experience for me, rather than a showcase, I am still finding my ‘voice’ in practicing hand lettering. That’s why I use a combination of analog and digital tools.

Having said that, I do use digital more, partly because it’s quicker and simpler to use. And, I can play around without worrying about ruining good materials.

When I work with analog tools, I find that I love using mixed media. But then, that is my natural mode. Some useful tools to have: papers (plain and coloured), black pens (different sizes), calligraphy pen, watercolours, ephemera, white pens, lead and coloured pencils, sketchbook, coloured markers, etc.

I have also found it very useful to read books and online articles about creative hand lettering. You can find some of my recommended resources at the end of this post.

Once I am done, I take a photo or a scan of my finished work. Sometimes, I adjust using software like Photoshop Elements or Picasa.

Now, on to the rest of the digital tools:

Digital Apps for Hand Lettering

There are many apps that you can choose from, when it comes to doing digital art. And, I have downloaded, used, and abandoned a number of them. Some of them are still useful as digital art making tools, but don’t necessarily fit in to doing hand lettering the way I want it.

Just like in my analog approach, I like doing a bit of mixed media work with my digital hand lettering, so to me, this is important in digital art apps that I use.

1. Paper by 53

Paper by 53 is an iOS app that works well on an iPad. It’s a bit pricey, even though you can download the app for free. To get the full benefit of this app, you really do need to purchase the in-app features like additional “brushes” and the mixing tray. The total price goes up to almost AU $10 for the full deal.

If the price doesn’t make you balk, then you can get ready for a lot of fun digital hand lettering and sketching using this app. It’s very reactive and has a “real” feel to it – especially as you work on layers and combinations. The ‘brushes’ are: calligraphy pen, drawing pen, pencil, marker, and watercolour brush.

2. Noteshelf

Just like Paper, Noteshelf is a good iOS app for digital hand lettering on the iPad. Again, quite pricey at AU $6.49. It has three main ‘brushes’: The calligraphy pen, the pencil, and the ballpoint pen, plus the highlighter/pen.

While it doesn’t create the same feel as Paper, Noteshelf has a few additional features that Paper doesn’t have. For example, you can easily import images in to the pages. So, you can use a digital collage-type approach. Also, you can choose different types of paper, so you can give your hand lettering and sketching projects different backgrounds.

3. Fresh Paint

Fresh Paint is a cool Windows 8 app that comes free. With different brushes, it mimics a real painting environment, such as: oil or acrylic, pastels, and pencils. It’s great for when you want to create that opaque, bold look in your hand lettering.

While you can use a mouse to operate this app, it works especially well on a touchscreen device.

4. ArtRage

ArtRage is probably one of my favourite all-round digital art making tool. While it’s not fully optimized for digital hand lettering per se, it’s still a great tool when you want to achieve a certain look for hand lettering using proper layers. Just like Noteshelf, you can import images in to the program. There are several mark-making tools (brushes) – pens, pencils, spray paint, watercolours, oils… Yes, the whole gamut. Including “stamps” and other mark-makers. ArtRage is available on both Windows and Mac platforms.

Some Useful Hand Lettering Resources

Bottomline: To get better with hand lettering, we just need to practice and keep at it!

If you have other tools that you would like to recommend for hand lettering, please feel free to recommend them in the comments section below. Happy hand lettering!

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  1. says

    Thanks for this great app reviews Shai! I am just trying to decide which one I would like to try out. I have also been working with iFontmaker since your recent post about type design – thought it would be really helpful for days when I can’t write so well. Looking forward to more hand letter from you!
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  2. says

    Paper, by 53 is a great app for unleashing your inner artist. I enjoy kicking back on the coach and doodling with.

    Another one that is similar to Paper that I’ve been enjoying is Art Set, by LOFIPI. It’s very realistic and has an advanced set of tools, with paints, pencils, crayons, pastels, graphite, markers, and more. It even has an eraser, sponge, tissue and a dish of water. It’s 99 cents in the iTunes app store.
    Vincent recently posted..Getting Social with the QR CubeMy Profile

    • says

      Oooh… That sounds interesting, Vincent! I’ll have to check it out (might be another app that ends up in my ever growing collection :)). Thanks for the recommendation!