Applying smooth, bump and wobble free edges to your lettering can sometimes be difficult. Smooth edges are not always a necessity as they can sometimes make lettering look a little less hand made, and that might not be the appearance you are going for. However on occasion you might want your lettering to look like it has been vectored, or maybe you want it to look like it’s been brush lettered when you’ve actually drawn it. This is when being able to apply really smooth edges to your lettering can help, and can be a useful skill to have in your toolset for when you need it.
When I had only been lettering a few months I found it near impossible to apply smooth edges to a whole piece of lettering. On most occasions I would get a couple of letter edges smooth but then there would be some that had really noticeable wobbles. Anything with a large curved swash was guaranteed to go bumpy, as I wasn’t able to keep the pen steady for the whole length of the swash.
Over time I’ve been practicing making my letter edges smoother and smoother, I’ve made plenty of mistakes whilst I’ve practiced but I’ve also learnt some helpful things from my experiences too. The following are five tips that you can easily implement, and that I hope will help you in achieving those near perfect smooth edges. There’s also a bonus tip too.
1 . Use smooth paper and a smooth surface to work on
By using smooth paper there will be less bumps (teeth) for your pen to travel over as you ink on top of your pencil outlines. The more toothy the paper the more little pits in the paper there will be which can knock your lines off course. Make sure your work surface is smooth too. If you’re working at a wooden desk and it has dents and chips or even a woodgrain that you can feel you’re going to have a hard time keeping your pen wobble free. The same goes for eraser / rubber debris, if you have small pieces left on your desk or work area from erasing / rubbing out it only takes one piece under your lettering work, and you can find yourself with wobbles in your outlines as you move your pen over the paper. I’ve had eraser / rubber debris left under my work before and it’s sadly sent my pen off course on a number of occasions, now I give my work area a brush over with my hand to make sure it’s clear of tiny obstacles!
2. Choose an ink pen with a very fine tip
A pen with a really fine tip can make all the difference. My go to pen is a Sakura Micron 005m fine-line pen, it gives a very very thin line and does not soak and spread out (bleed) into most paper all that much. The advantage to this is if you do find yourself wobble a little on an edge, you can just extend your letter edge ever so slightly, smoothing out the wobble and only extending the thickness of your letter by a fraction of a millimetre if you’re careful with the coverup. If you were to use this technique with a thicker pen it would be more noticeable if you extended the thickness of a letter, as the results could mean an additional millimetre or two.
3. Work on a small section at a time
As I mentioned above when trying to ink the outline of swashes in the past I’d always end up with wobbly lines. This was because I was trying to tackle the swash as a whole. By breaking a letter up into smaller sections it firstly makes inking edges and outlines feel a little less intimidating, as you know you only need to keep a steady hand for a couple of seconds at a time instead of much longer. This tends to make you feel more relaxed, then aiding you in keeping a steady hand. Secondly by working in smaller sections slowing things down becomes a bit easier which can lead to better control over your pen.
4. Hold your pen fairly close to the tip
There are a number of different ways to hold a pen, and the different ways you hold it can produce different results. If you’re wanting to accurately target a specific point on your page, for example the pencil outline of your lettering you’ll have a higher chance of hitting the right spot if you’re holding your pen quite close to the tip. By holding your pen quite close to the tip you’re able to line it up much more accurately as there’s not much distance between your hand and the paper, providing more control. If you place a pencil cross on a piece of paper and hold a pen at the opposite end to the tip, then try to put a dot in the middle of the cross you should find it significantly more challenging than if you did the same holding the pen close to the tip. The more control you have over the pen, the more accurate you can make your edges.
5. Fill any negative space inside your letters first
This tip is a bit of a psychological one, and applying it to my own way of working has helped me a lot. I developed the technique I’m about to describe based on a fear of empty space. I’d draw out my lettering, I’d have a pencil outline ready to ink over and I would start to panic. Not only was there all this empty white space outside my lettering outline but inside of it too, and it felt like there was more room for things to go wrong. It’s actually quite difficult to describe, but with there being so much emptiness inside of the letters as well as out I worried I’d make bigger mistakes and more obvious wobbles, and by worrying it would usually encourage more mistakes to happen. After getting a bit frustrated with feeling like this I decided to block in the inside of my letters with ink, just leaving a small white border around the inside edge of the letters. This made a huge difference as it felt like there was less space for me to go wrong in, if I wobbled with the pen there would be less space for it to fill and so the wobble would be smaller or non existent. It also made outlining letters easier, as in most cases the blocked in shape inside of a letter would match the same shape as the outline, so it can make a good reference point for getting curves or angles right when outlining. Perhaps this is something only I’ve experienced, or perhaps you’ve found the same thing too.
6. (Bonus) Try not to ink over the same area too many times
Just incase by this point I’m completely alone in feeling intimidated by a lot of empty space I don’t want you to feel robbed of a tip, so here’s a bonus one. The more you ink over an area the more ink soaks in and the more likely it is to spread out on the page (bleed) beyond your outline, it can also start to damage the paper too where it gets very soft. If you find you need to tidy an area up or cover up a wobble or two, it’s often worth waiting until the previous ink you’ve laid down has dried as this will help a little. It’s always worth stopping and thinking if you have a feeling you’re going to need maybe four or more strokes to get an outline how you want it. You might end up regretting the outcome if the pen ink does spread too much, this usually leads to a cycle of thickening the letter to cover the bleed. Sometimes it’s better to just leave the letter without any adjustment. I have made the mistake of applying too much ink to a letter more times than I can count.
These tips should be easy to put into action straight away and many don’t require a lot of effort, just a little thought here and there.
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