I've read dozens of blog posts about what supplies are best when learning to letter. DOZENS. It's an approachable topic for bloggers, but it's also an important one.
Here's why you should read my post: I'll tell you how you can get started for under $25.
Just to be clear - we're talking about brush lettering in this post. I'll post soon about faux lettering and why I love it, too!
To top off all the fun, there's another perk - I live in Canada! So with the lower cost of goods in the US, American readers will probably be able to purchase this list for around $15!
I've decided to break up this blog into a few different sections: pens, paper and other. Here we go!
The most important thing when learning calligraphy is the pen. Although you can easily start with any old pencil you have lying around the house, I understand the appeal of picking up a brush pen, so you can feel like a calligrapher immediately. The thing is, when many people (including myself) start lettering, they see Instagrammers using these big, gorgeous, juicy Tombow brush pens and immediately think they need to buy some. DON'T! This was my first mistake. If you're anything like me, you will likely find them unapproachable and abandon the hobby.
Don't get me wrong - I love Tombows and they are probably one of my favourite pens now that I've been lettering for a while, but they aren't the best for beginners.
Instead, let's start with something smaller. Since I live in Canada, shipping is darn expensive. If you're like me, and you can't fathom spending $5 on shipping for a pen that costs less than that, it can take months - and I mean months - for supplies to arrive. This is why I recommend that the first pen you buy is a Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen from Michaels Canada, pictured. Double-check that you've bought the sparkly one and that it says "brush tip" on the top of the packaging. I've had friends accidentally buy the fine-liner!
If you live in the US (or elsewhere) and it's not as tough to get pens shipped to you, a lot of calligraphers recommend the Tombow Fudenosuke. The hard tip is great, but the soft tip is easier for a beginner. I love those pens as well, but the Pentel is easier to get in Canada.
At Michaels, the Pentel Fude costs about $6. BUT - Michaels always has coupons online if you look for them. So, if we budget using the typical 40% off coupon, let's call this one at $3.50.
Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen (Michaels Canada): $3.50
Okay, next. If you read my previous blog post, you would know that I'm a teacher in British Columbia. I run a calligraphy club at my school and my students are obsessed with classic Crayola markers. These pens are seriously THE EASIEST to use! They're perfect for practicing thin upstrokes because they have a good base and don't create super shaky lines. When I say classic Crayolas, I'm seriously talking about the felt pens listed on your grade 3 school supplies list. I've included a picture just in case you're not sure which ones I'm talking about. Let's say you buy a pack of 10 from Walmart. They run at just under $4 and you get lots of great colours.
Classic Crayola Markers (Walmart Canada): $4.00
That's it! Those are all the pens I suggest you begin with. I'm going to release a post soon on what to buy when you're ready to move out of "beginner mode," but these are seriously all the pens I suggest you buy to start.
This is where lettering gets a bit more expensive. When I began lettering, I didn't even consider using something other than regular printer paper. The problem was, it wrecked my pens. Immediately. And it was devastating. If you don't use the correct paper, your pens will have a very short lifespan. The roughness of regular printer paper will eat at and fray the tips of your fragile brush pens.
I have three different paper suggestions, based on where you live and what you're looking for.
- My number one recommendation is what I use for my calligraphy club: Domtar First Choice Premium Laser Paper from Staples Canada. Make sure you get the 32lb. I have posed all the links to the supplies I recommend at the bottom of this blog post. I highly recommend this paper; I went to Staples the first time looking for the HP version, but a customer service rep told me this was the exact same paper - but half the price! To top it off, it's actually the same paper they use at their print centre for good quality laser printing. You get a whole pack of 500 for only $17! This paper is smooth, thick and pens flow over it nicely. My only complaint is that it's all separated (as in, not in a notebook format).
- If you're looking for something in that notebook format, Rhodia pads are quite popular among calligraphers. If you're a fellow Canadian, they're super expensive to order online (and the shipping is, yet again, an issue). BUT! BUT! BUT! I have found two different places where you can get them here. The first is at Opus, the art store. I live in the Okanagan, and the closest Opus is in Kelowna. The only problem is that my local store only usually carries small pads, which, to me, is a bit of a waste of money, since they're already quite expensive to begin with. The other place I've found them is DeSerres. Again, location can be a problem for Canadians. The closest store to me is in Vancouver - 4 hours away. That said, they do carry a large selection of blank, lined and dotted Rhodia pads. I usually pick up a pad when I'm down there. Many beginning letterers like the dotted Rhodia pads because they help you write straight, without taking away from the appearance of your work - so that's a huge plus for this paper. The paper is a bit thinner, but the quality is very good, so there isn't much in the way of bleeding. A larger-style pad will cost you about $11 at DeSerres for 80 sheets. If location isn't an issue for you, and if you want something bound, Rhodia might be a good option for you!
- Finally, Michael's Canada carries the brand Canson, which makes high quality marker paper. This is the first type of paper I tried after I realized I was ruining my pens. It's a nice mix of bound and un-bound paper. You can easily rip pages out if you want to wok on projects, or you can leave it in scrapbook form. Many calligraphers recommend this paper first, but I find it's a bit too thin for my liking. It's not super absorbent, which is nice, but if you have juicy pens like new Tombows or Ecolines, the paper will wrinkle and won't hold up well because of the excess liquid. It can even crinkle up with classic Crayolas. In addition, you can only write on one side of the paper because of they way the other side is coated. That said, it's easily accessible because you can find it at Michaels, and it's easy to carry around with you because it's bound. A pack of it will run you about $20 (closer to $10 if you have a coupon) and you get 100 sheets.
So...there you have it: my three favourite options for paper. Like I mentioned above, the Domtar paper from Staples is my first choice (haha - get it??). It's a bit more expensive to start, but you get a thicker paper, and you get five times as much.
Domtar First Choice Premium Laser Paper (Staples Canada): $17.00
Practice makes perfect. Seriously. But it's hard to practice unless you actually have things to practice with. I've included a few links at the bottom of this blog post for free practice sheets you can download for practicing your basics. I'm hoping to create some too - I'll edit this post when I do!
It's tough to start lettering words right away; you need to practice thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes; you need to know how the letters are shaped; you need to start working on transitions. Then, after time, the words and phrases will come. I personally really like Tombow's practice sheets; they're the ones I use with my calligraphy club, though The Pigeon Letters and Dawn Nicole Designs make some good ones too.
Practice Sheets (various locations): FREE!
AAAND THAT'S IT, FOLKS! Too re-cap, all you need is some good paper, some cheap(ish) pens and some practice sheets, which you can print out on your own.
- Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen (Michaels Canada): $3.50
- Classic Crayola Markers (Walmart Canada): $4.00
- Domtar First Choice Premium Laser Paper (Staples Canada): $17.00
- Practice Sheets (various locations): FREE!
I've linked the resources I discussed below!
- https://www.amazon.ca/Pentel-Touch-Black-Stroke-SES15C/dp/B00818S6CC/ref=pd_sim_229_5?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=QN8HTF21D5JTVK6B3ZDZ - I couldn't find the link to the Michael's Canada page for this pen, so here is the Amazon link. See my picture above for packaging details if you do decide to get it from Michaels!
Disclaimer: none of the photos in this post were taken by me. I do not claim any intellectual property.