Hand Lettering: Finding Your Own Style

One of the questions I’m asked on a regular basis about hand lettering is, “How do I find my own style?” At first, I wasn’t sure how to answer, other than, “over time, you just…do.” But, I realized that’s not at all helpful! So, I thought it was time to sit down and come up with something that would really help you discover your own unique lettering style. Here goes!

Hand Lettering: Finding Your Own Style

First, we need to define what makes up our style. Although there is definitely a “correct” technique to brush lettering {thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes}, everyone’s lettering is unique, just like our handwriting. While your style may have reflections of other artists…more about that later…ultimately it should be distinctly your own. My hope is that when someone who knows my work is browsing the great wide web and come across one of my lettered designs, it would be instantly recognizable as mine.

In order to develop a style, we first have to figure out what the pieces are. What I’ve concluded is that your lettering style is basically a combination of the decisions you make in the following five categories.

The thing that will differentiate your style more than any other component is the way in which you choose to form your letters. All (good) brush lettering will have thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes, but there are an infinite number of ways to write any given letter. In fact, there are practice sheets all over the internet for various ways to form an A, a B, etc. Of course you might experiment with different shapes sometimes, but in general, you will have a particular way you like to write each letter.

Take, for example, the letter “b” in my illustration below. Notice how whether I’m writing a normal or a more embellished “b,” I always start by moving my pen upward? The third example, where the tail begins by going down first, then back up, is something you wouldn’t see in my work because that’s just not how I write my “b.”

Does that make sense? Take a look at these “r”s. No matter what design I’m creating, if I’m using brush lettering, my lowercase “r” will always have a loop on the left side, because I like the look of it. If you see an “r” without a loop like the one on the right, it isn’t my lettering.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing the second type of “r” or starting your “b” differently than I do, it’s all a matter of preference. Over time as you practice letter shapes, you’ll find that you like certain things better than others and you’ll end up with a default alphabet. Although you might sometimes embellish your letters or do something different because of a particular design, in general your style will be composed of your own favorite version of every letter. 

STYLE HOMEWORK: On a sheet of sketch paper, write each letter of the alphabet in brush technique.

Don’t think too hard about it, just write. This will show you what your muscle memory is for each letter. Look at the letters and see if you like the way they’re styled. If not, explore some practice sheets and tutorials and look on Pinterest to see other ways you could style them. Then, on a new sheet of paper, write your own ideal lettered alphabet with each letter just the way you like it as a resource. When you create a design, practice forming the letters that way so that the new shapes become your muscle memory.

When we write, whether we think about it consciously or not, we give a particular slant to our words. The way we hold our paper and pen affects this, as well as whether we are right or left-handed. Some artists write straight up and down, while others slant more or less in either direction. I tend to slant my words just slightly to the right like the first example below. My actual everyday cursive handwriting tends to slant much farther to the right than my lettering style does.

As with our letter shapes, there is no “right” or “wrong” to how much slant someone’s lettering has. It’s all a matter of the artist’s preference and habits.

STYLE HOMEWORK: Take a look at something you have lettered to see what type of slant you naturally apply.

If you find that you like the look of designs with more or less slant, you can teach yourself to write that way. Often, the easiest thing to do is to change the way you position your paper/iPad. Play around with it until you find something that’s comfortable and that appeals to you.

When we talk about “bounce” in reference to lettering, we’re referring to whether or not all the letters in our word sit on a straight baseline.

In our normal writing, as well as typing, all of the letters line up next to each other like neat little soldiers, all standing on the same line. Some letters, like “g” or “y” have a little tail called a descender that goes farther down, but you can still tell that all the letters are neatly aligned in a row. You can absolutely hand letter in this way too, keeping your letters perfectly aligned and straight. Some artists, though, prefer to add bounce by letting some of the letters in a word drift slightly higher or lower than others.  Take a look at the examples below. In the first example, the letters are all lined up without bounce. In the second, you see a bit of bounce. The first letter is on a baseline, the second letter drifts up higher, and the third comes down just a bit below the original line. The final example has a much larger range of bounce. I usually fall somewhere in the middle, using enough bounce to keep it interesting but not as much as some artists do.

STYLE HOMEWORK: Letter your full name on a sheet of sketch/scrap paper.

Now, take a look at how your letters line up. Are they straight, or do they bounce freely around the page? If you started by looking for lined paper or drawing a pencil line with a straight edge, chances are that your style is going to have no bounce! Which is totally awesome, by the way…remember there’s no right or wrong to style. If you’re lazy like me and don’t want to worry about whether your words are straight or not, a little bit of bounce is the perfect solution. If you like the look of bounce lettering but aren’t sure exactly how to do it, check out this Beginner Bounce Lettering tutorial and give it a try, then decide what look you like best.

When we write, we automatically leave a certain amount of space in between our letters. It’s not always precisely the same; that’s one difference between something done by hand and a typed font, but in general it’s pretty uniform. Otherwise, our words would look awfully strange! What many folks don’t realize is that by leaving more or less space between our letters, we can drastically change the way our lettering looks. In the example below, I used the same letter shapes, the same slant, and the same pen for all three words, but they look totally different. In the first one, I used my own natural amount of spacing. In the second, I increased the space between the letters, and in the third example I decreased it.


As with all of the other elements, each of the three amounts of spacing is “correct.” It’s a matter of how you like your writing to look. Some artists prefer their words to be compact, while others love to elongate words for an elegant appearance. As long as you keep the spacing consistent within the word, you can leave as much or as little as you like.

STYLE HOMEWORK: Write the word “write” on your sketch paper. Which of my examples does your word most closely resemble?

Now, try writing it with more or less space between your letters. You’ll find that you really have to think about it to change your spacing, because it’s an ingrained habit. Do you like one of the other looks better? Experiment until you find something that looks and feels great.

The final piece of the style puzzle has to do with the contrast between the up and down strokes in your lettering. We know that upstrokes are thin while downstrokes are thick, but the amount of contrast between your thick and thin lines can completely change the look of your lettering. Look at the three examples below. The letter shapes, slant, bounce, and spacing are all consistent, but I used a different size brush for each one.

The amount of contrast actually has more to do with what tools you use than anything else. If your favorite marker to use is the Tombow Dual Brush Pen, your work likely looks more like the bottom example because the marker tips are large. If your default lettering tool is the Tombow Fudenosuke or Pentel Sign Pen, you probably find that your lettering looks more like the example in the middle. Your favorite tools will determine your contrast simply based on the size and flexibility of the brush tip. You do have some artistic control, though, when it comes to how much pressure you apply. The harder you press, the thicker the line, and the lighter the touch, the thinner your upstroke will be.

STYLE HOMEWORK: Gather three to five different types of markers and use them to write the same word.

Look at the difference in how the word looks even when nothing else about your style changes. Which look do you like best? Which tools allow you to create that look?

These are the five pieces of the puzzle to creating your own lettering style:


Your own unique combination of these five things will define your style and set it apart from anyone else’s.

As you’re developing your style, you’ll definitely want to look at other artists’ work on Pinterest, blogs, Instagram, and anywhere else you can to see all kinds of examples. As you do, you’ll find certain things you like better than others, and things you want to emulate in your own lettering. You certainly don’t want to be an exact copy of another artist, but chances are, your style will have traces of the people you learn from and admire. In mine, I see certain shadows of my first “teacher,” Dawn Nicole, as well as other lettering friends whose work I love.

As you look at examples, the next step is to try everything! Set aside a sketchbook just for playing around with new flourishes, fonts, and techniques. See what works and what doesn’t. As you do, you’ll start to find yourself gravitating toward a certain style.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with! I’d love to hear if you find these tips and homework assignments helpful. Let me know in our special Amy Latta & Friends Facebook group and show us your style!

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Hand Lettering: Finding Your Own Style

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  1. Thank you so much for the information. I’m barely learning and not so interested in mywn style yet, as I’m getting the basics down first. I do follow several people and notice how they write and will consider my style later. It’s nice to know the dufferences.

  2. This is so helpful! I’ve been lettering for over a year, and am recently getting frustrated that I don’t have my own “style” yet. But I’m going to sit down and do these exercises right now, and I’m optimistic that they will help tremendously! Thanks! 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for this blog! Practicing and practicing! I’ve “lettered” since school days but just feel like really getting to where I’d like to be. Your blog is very useful! Thanks!

  4. Great post about a very important topic! Defining your own style gets more and more important.
    Your style is great – it’s somehow clean but still a little bouncy. 🙂
    My advice for finding your own style: Stop thinking about your style. 😉 Do some fast letterings (with old brush pens) and be somehow creative. Often this shows up some individual styling, too.

  5. I am currently using Tombow Fudenushuke Brush pen and I am completely new to calligraphy but would love to learn it. Can you please tell me how to use Tombow Fudenushuke Brush pen? Because this pen has a kinda hard nib(would we say that?) and then I tried to press hard which resulted in making the nib create bizarre strokes. Believe me, I seriously don’t know what to do next!

    1. Hi, Ally,
      What do you mean by bizarre strokes? If you apply pressure (a reasonable amount) to the pen, the tip should produce thick, dark lines, compared to the line you get if you release the pressure. If you look at my Beginner Brush Lettering series or in one of my books, you’ll see examples of what the lines should look like.

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