My hand-lettering roots are humble-- really humble! When I was "coming up" as a calligrapher, I didn't have access to the wealth of resources available now. It seems like everywhere I turn, I see Instagram demos, free tutorials, and Pinterest boards. The world of lettering is growing, and it's growing quickly. Digitizing is quickly becoming the next frontier for hand-lettering; it's the skill most wanted and needed by aspiring hand-letterers, and understandably so.

Photo by Every Little Beat Photography

Photo by Every Little Beat Photography

I'm incredibly grateful that I started out as an analog letterer. I taught workshops to others before I ever had a firm grasp on how to digitize. Don't get me wrong-- I still swoon over my favorite calligraphers and letterers, most of whom (no surprise here), started out as graphic designers. However, the experience of struggling through learning how to digitize my own lettering provided an amazing foundation for becoming a supporter and cheerleader of others wishing to learn and coming up against stumbling block after stumbling block. 

Why is digitizing important? Oh my goodness, the reasons are almost too many to name. Digitizing opens a wide door of opportunity and possibility for hand-letterers. You can be more efficient with your time, you can make wedding invitations and collateral, you can make cards and prints, you can manipulate the look, size, and color of your writing... the list goes on and on. I didn't realize how important digitizing was when I first started out, however, and truth be told, I dragged my heels. I dabbled in online courses, I attended an in-person class at a local art center, I asked multiple people to show me how to do things, I watched YouTube took me about a year and a half of experimentation before things finally "clicked" for me. You can say that I learned the hard way. 


Learning the hard way is sometimes inevitable, and there are always a few upsides. Here are a few reasons why I am glad I learned "the hard way":

  1.  I learned everything from the ground up. Instead of overwhelming my students with the most advanced techniques first, I realize the importance of starting really small. As a former teacher, starting with basic skills and building up to a challenge comes naturally to me.
  2. I have a birds-eye view of how incredibly important the skill of digitizing was in the development of my own creative business. In simple language, I know how much I was able to earn when I was analog-only, and I know how much money I am able to earn now that I am a full-time letterer. (Hint: There's a big difference.) This perspective has equipped me to help encourage other letterers to drop whatever they are doing and learn to use Photoshop as a bare minimum. (Enter the course that I created in partnership with the gals at Think Creative Collective: Becoming an Online Artist)
  3. I know what supplies are absolute must-haves, and which ones are less vital. This has allowed me to help my students invest smartly in the supplies that make sense for right now.

I am going to share on items one and two in future blogs, but the focus of this post is item three: the tools that are the most essential for digitizing hand lettering.  Be sure to read to the bottom so that you can access an expanded FREE resource with lots of helpful links and sources.


If you frequent Instagram posts and blogs about lettering and design, you might think that you have to invest in a fancy desktop Mac with a huge screen (or two) to be a legitimate hand-letterer. I learned Photoshop on a PC, and I eventually transitioned to a MacBook Air. I used what I had at the time, and someday soon, I may choose to invest in a large, fancy screen. For now, my laptop gives me the portability that my life and working style requires. 


I initially balked at the price of the Adobe Creative Cloud, and looking back, I was incredibly unaware at how quickly I would make back the measly $10-30 I have spent per month on the web-based application. There's a free download available here. Do yourself a favor. Get Photoshop and start getting acquainted with it ASAP! The online course that I created in partnership with Think Creative Collective takes you step by step through the need-to-know tools and resources of Photoshop. In time, if you want to make vectors (essentially...files that stretch out to any size without pixilating), you need to get yourself acquainted with Illustrator, too. Most stationers and graphic designers also use the design program InDesign. Baby steps, y'all! With Photoshop, you can make basic cards and prints, Instagram graphics, social media images, and more. 


No need to invest in anything fancy right away! For a long time, I used a desktop HP printer/scanner that could scan in black and color up to 1200 dpi (a high resolution). It cost me about $50 at Target, and I loved it very much, until the day my boyfriend accidentally dropped a screw down the back of it while lovingly hanging some shelves for my home office. Bless his heart. I now use a stand alone scanner and it works fairly similarly. If you don't invest in a scanner, you can take your art to a copy or print shop and have them scan it on to a jump drive for you, though a scanner is definitely worth the investment. 


When you are starting out, it's really important to make your analog art look as nice as possible so that your scan looks great, too. As you build your toolset, you can do much more to manipulate your lettering and make it shine under any circumstance. However, when you're starting out, go for thick, clean, dark lines, and really crisp edges in your lettering. One way to achieve this is to use paper that is suited for wet media. Any old copy paper will truly not suffice. You need something that will serve as a smooth surface for the tip of your marker or pen so that the lettering will be as fluid as possible. Try marker paper. The brand that I love the most is Canson. 


You can learn more about the pens and other tools I use for digitizing in the FREE guide that we put together for Becoming an Online Artist. Once you join the list to sign up for more information, you'll be sent the 20 Tools Best Suited for Digitizing Worksheet with links to all the best places to find these and other supplies.  You can also visit our Becoming an Online Artist page for more info--registration opens soon! 




What questions do you have about tools for lettering? I'm happy to help!