Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Lettering for Kids (or Beginner Mamas!)

A few weeks ago I posted a little video on Instagram of my school-aged kids doing some lettering -- and was flooded with requests for tips and resources!

The truth is that I put some books on the shelf, suggested it for a free time activity, made the materials available, and invited them to play around or make fancy titles for their notebook work.

They took me up on the suggestion and came up with their own approach to easing into lettering with markers. It involved some steps I wouldn't have thought of including but that worked perfectly for beginners. Even my (very detail-oriented and careful) kindergartener has been able to dive in!

And this isn't just a girly activity; my boys are right at the table as well. I have some suggestions below of more boyish alphabets and resources.

All that to say: this isn't an exhaustive list by any means. I'm just breaking down the round-about way this "skill" has taken root in our home.

(Psst: mamas who are dying to learn lettering, this post is for you too! Consider this a quick-start guide for yourself, and your kids will be joining you at the table in no time.)

What You Need


For what I'm suggesting below, you don't necessarily need a brush tip marker because you are drawing in the downstrokes rather than creating them with the marker's brush. A nice set of washable Crayolas would be just fine!

My kids have been using Pitt brush pens because they like the size and the vibrant colors. The tips are nice and flexible but they're sturdy enough to stand up to kid use.

If you DO want a proper brush pen that's easy to use, we like the Tombows best. They're double-tipped, so you can use them for all kinds of lettering, brush or otherwise.

If you don't have double-tipped, it's nice to have some thin markers for flourishes and for smaller lettering. Staedtler's Triplus markers are lovely -- bright, smooth, very little bleeding -- and are a favorite for the older kids but are too thin for littles to use without breaking. The Pentel Paper Mate Flair pens (medium point is more durable for kids) or Sharpie ultra-fine tips are great options also.

Side note: in all of these cases, I have found it valuable to set some ground rules for marker use with children. Especially with these nicer markers, you're going to want to build good habits of using, capping, and putting away. We only use these at the table, and it's a 5yo+ activity here. I make using these a privilege that can be revoked.

Another note: if you use erasable pens a lot (like we do), those would work fine also. As would Gelly Roll pens -- we love those! You just have to watch out for smearing the gel ink when you're doing the faux calligraphy part.

(By the way, if you are going to add watercolor to decorate your piece, be sure to use waterproof markers! Many of these brands are waterproof, but a few are not.)


These can all be used on regular printer paper. And the printer paper actually works best, because you are able to trace through it, which I mention below. We keep a paper underneath our work in case there is bleed-through.

Later, we moved onto watercolor cards and cardstock to be able to embellish with paints.

Sample Alphabets.

My kids started with these two books:

Lettering for Beginners is the one I'll be referencing. (You'll see some photos of the inside below as I describe the steps.) It doesn't provide much instruction at all. It's very bare bones. BUT it's great for the method I outline below, where you really are looking for words to copy. And it's cheap!  A great place to start for younger kids.

If you DO want thorough instruction, I really like Brush Pen Lettering. Very detailed with lots of great tips. It is more advanced and I probably would only use it with older students.

Like I describe below, at one point in this process, I gathered several different sample alphabets for my kids to use. You can Google lettering alphabets and find free printables. Pinterest is another good place to look. 

I also have a few old books on my shelf from when I was a kid that have boyish alphabets in them: The Calligraphy Book and The Lettering Book.  

Inside The Calligraphy Book:

Inside The Lettering Book:

I like The Lettering Book best because it has lots more sample fonts that the other. But as I said, I chose these because we already owned them. I'm guessing there are lots of books like this on the market right now as well!  Vincent has used these for many of his notebook headings and now Xavier is enjoying working from them too.

The Cruz Kids' Steps to Starting Lettering

1. Tracing words from book.

This step gave them practice using the markers and getting familiar with some general characteristics of calligraphy fonts: larger downstrokes, slimmer upstrokes. They got a sense of making each downstroke the same width for uniformity. They got to play around with flourishes and embellishments. They got the feeling of those swooping curves. Doing it this way, they get to jump right into making pretty things rather than practicing letter after letter, which I don't think my early elementary kids would have been as interested in doing. This they asked to do every afternoon.


2. Tracing words from printed page.

Once they had exhausted the pre-printed words in the book, they wanted to do words of their choice: their names, friends' names, favorite phrases, etc.

I found a few similar fonts free online, downloaded them, and showed them how to type what they wanted in that font and print to be the same size as the words they had been working with.  They then traced to their heart's delight. :)

3. Copying words.

Soon I noticed they weren't tracing any more -- they had gotten confident and were just using the model to copy the words. This allowed them to copy right into a notebook or onto thicker stationery paper (like for a penpal). Copying is easier than tracing once you get the hang of writing in this way and so is a natural progression.


4. Working with the full alphabet.

The book I mentioned above has a page of uppercase and lowercase letters, and soon they were using this page to practice writing the letters they wanted to learn. They made their own practice pages and had fun trying to make a "perfect c" and so on. I also printed out for them some alphabets from online to play around with too.

5. Using full alphabet to write words and phrases of choice.

They had learned how to join letters from the copywork they had done before, so now they were able to use the sample alphabets to build their own words and phrases rather than printing them first. Again, this is a timesaver, so it's a natural progression.


6. Writing without looking at the alphabet model.

Once they figured out how to properly form the letters, they no longer needed the model in front of them and could write from their minds or from a book. This is the stage my kids are experimenting with right now.

Vincent's recent history notebook headings

Where to Go from Here?

There are many more steps toward lettering that are doable for kids:

Experiment with different alphabets -- an endless activity!
Learn about layouts and sketchnotaking.
Try different borders, flourishes, and other accompaniments.
Decorate monochrome work with watercolor.
Try different applications.

And for an older child:

Use brush markers, watercolor paintbrushes, or other brush lettering implements in their proper way: with full downstrokes rather than "filling in" the downstrokes later on. (This saves time and is the obvious next step when you have brush markers on hand.)
Transition to a fountain pen or calligraphy pen to do more traditional line work.

About that last option: a motivated student might enjoy jumping right into some practice worksheets. The Postman's Knock is a fantastic place to purchase calligraphy printables. She starts with a tracing approach, faux calligraphy -- kinda like I outlined above. Then she moves into how to use a calligraphy pen for the same effect. So her packages would be a good bridge for an interested student who is ready for real calligraphy. There are other sites like it as well.


This new interest in our home has sent me on a search for various calligraphy books that can be used with kids! I have several en route and will review them in a Part II this summer, once we have had a chance to try them out. I'll also be updating on what steps my kids decide to take next! My girls already finished their first comissioned piece -- some watercolored word art for Grandma's guest room. ;)

Do your kids enjoy lettering? Any favorite resources?

(Many of the links above are Amazon Affiliate links. That means I get a kickback from Amazon when you click over and shop -- without either of us doing anything special! :) Thanks for your support.)


  1. Celeste, thanks for sharing this all! You make things seem so manageable to use and make learning hand lettering seem achievable. :) I look forward to using some of these resources!
    Have you guys ever used "Christian" hand lettering type books?

    1. We haven't yet! But I think Scripture letetering is such a lovely practice. I also would love to have my kids do some favorite quotes of the saints to hang in our home. So many applications! :)

  2. Gorgeous, thank you Celeste for being an endless source of inspiration to me. You have really pulled my home school to the next level. Many many sincere thanks

  3. Just lovely as always and inspiring!

  4. This is incredible Celeste! Thanks for the tips!