Hand lettering guides are something you can use when you first start lettering, or they can be introduced early on into your lettering journey. They help to keep your lettering level, and evenly sized. So lets get started with the basics of hand lettering guides.
A guide is made up of a series of lines, the lines all have different names and positions on the guide.
The bottom of all letters except g, j, p, q, and y usually sit on what is known as the ‘Baseline’. By taking advantage of the ‘Baseline’ your lettering is more likely to end up in a straight line, rather than if you just drew it out freehand.
Another line that features within a hand lettering guide is the ‘Cap Height’, this line marks where the top of capital letters should be. If you were creating some lettering that was made up of just capital letters, using the ‘Cap Height’ line would help to keep the top of your letters level.
Next there is the ‘X Height’ line. This line appears between the ‘Baseline’ and the ‘Cap Height’ line, and where you position it is entirely up to you. Where you position any of the guide lines is your choice, just remember to allow enough room to make your letters readable though. The ‘X Height’ line as the name suggests marks where the top of an ‘x’ would be on your guide. The ‘X Height’ line usually sets the height of any lowercase letters that you might be drawing. In some cases you will find the top of certain letters will fall slightly above or below this line, due to the way they are formed. For example it is common to draw an ‘o’ so it overlaps both the ‘Baseline’ and ‘X Height’ line ever so slightly, to give the illusion that it is of the same size as other lowercase letters.
These three lines ‘Baseline’, ‘Cap Height’ and ‘X Height’ all make up a basic hand lettering guide, and we could just stop at that. There are two other lines that can be used within a guide. The ‘Descender’ line which sits below the ‘Baseline’ is used to mark where the bottom of letters that overlap the ‘Baseline’ sit. As already mentioned the ‘Baseline’ excluded letters such as g, j, p, q and y. This is because in a lot of circumstances the bottom of these letters all fall lower than the ‘Baseline’, so they sit on the ‘Descender’ line.
The final line to use on a guide is the known as the ‘Ascender’. You can probably guess what the purpose of this line is based on the ‘Descender’ line. The ‘Ascender’ line marks where the top of letters sit when they overlap the ‘Cap Height’ line. This doesn’t always occur very often but it is worth being aware of. Sometimes you might get the dot of the letter ‘i’ that falls on the ‘Ascender’ line. You might also draw letters such as b, d, f, h, k, l, and t so that they reach past the ‘Cap Height’, and up to the ‘Ascender’ line.
Guides can be very helpful when you are a beginner at hand lettering, over time and with practice you will often get an eye for drawing straight lines, or know when your lettering sizes are off without the use of guides. They are also just guides, so are not something you need to strictly follow and can be something to experiment with.