A labor of letters.

I’ve been getting questions about my lettering process lately and decided to jot down a few notes. Methods vary wildly depending on many factors, including style, timeline, and intended medium, to name a few. With all that in mind, here’s a watered-down version of my personal process.

Sketch, trim, and refine.
This phase is all about broad strokes and working from general to specific. I cover as much ground as possible and as quickly as possible to ensure I have a solid foundation before proceeding. Never wimp out on sketching.

Now its time to trim the fat and distill the bulk into a few potential winners before putting anything in front of the client—this will usually be around 2–3 options. I prefer to include the client early in the process to get a temperature check before going too deep. This puts more of their dollars into the finished project, not the cutting room floor. Lastly, it should go without saying I never show the client anything I don’t believe in myself. No exceptions.

With potential bangers in hand, present the work to the client. From there, we agree on a single direction and the necessary revisions to move the project forward.

Refine (again) and finalize.
Get out the elbow grease because this is where the details really start to show their ugly heads. Proceed to refine the design per client revisions—the amount of revisions depends on the project’s scope. At this stage, the work is typically created in a vector format (depending on media) for final delivery, pending client approval.

Wahoo! The client signed off with a tear of joy in their eye. Now it’s time to button up the files and kick over the final assets.

Style and treatment.

There are many ways to discuss how lettering looks, but a couple of terms I use regularly are style and treatment.

Think of style as a high-level view of the letterforms. A good example of this will be if the lettering is intended to be plump and funky or slim and elegant. Another example would be if the desired lettering should be a script, serif, or sans serif. The style choice is extremely important and builds the foundation for the end result.

Though less structural, the treatment of letterforms can greatly impact the appearance and success of the end result. A good example of this would be if the letters looked two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Another example would be texture and if the surface of the letters is intended to be glossy or matte. These decisions are made at the beginning of a project and can greatly affect the amount of time it takes to produce the end result.

Well, there you have it, the watered-down version of my personal lettering process. Nothing fancy. And it goes without saying that each project will bring unique challenges and solutions. The process can and should adapt to yield the best results for the project and scope.

Tools of the trade.

Digital tools.
Though digital, every project starts with a sketch before reaching the computer. From there, the tedious process of making ultra-clean vector files can begin. Here are some of my favorite digital tools:

iPad Pro [with textured surface]
Adobe Creative Suite
Astute Graphics

Analog tools.
Digital is nice, but there is nothing like the soul you get from analog, especially when it comes to textures. Most, if not all, of my digital brushes, are made from analog scans of physical mediums. The process takes longer, but the results always have that extra visual juice. Here are some of my repeat offenders from the analog landscape:

India ink
Fluid acrylics

Cold-press watercolor paper

Pens & Brushes:
Brush pens [Pentel Pocket Brush]
Micron pens [usually 08]
Graphite clutch [6 mm]
Rotring 800 [0.5 mm]
Fat-ass Crayola felt markers
Lettering quills

Epson flatbed film scanner