I get asked a lot of questions about brush lettering, the supplies I use, and tips to get started. I wanted to make a one stop shop resource for all of you. If there’s anything you would like to see added to this page- hit me up with requests!
If you are looking at which supplies will help you improve your lettering the most- it’s not going to be a specific marker or ink- it’s instruction.
This is a collection of my answers to all those FAQs on lettering supplies. It’s LONG you guys. But it’s so full of good information on the tools I use and love (and ones I’ve heard great things about). This means markers, inks, brushes, watercolor, paper, and other misc tools.
If you’re just getting started or if you love to letter but want to learn a bit more about what is out there for supplies (and what those supplies actually do!)- this is for you. No fancy pants terms, just dead simple language for normal people.
You can jump to these sections by clicking the links below:
I’ve put a photo of each pen in use/ what it creates. None of these examples are edited, just straight from the pen. *I’ve included some affiliate links in here (no cost to you), you can read more about that in my policies here. To help you find the exact product I am referring to, I’ve linked to the product page for both US and Canadian stores.
TOMBOW DUAL BRUSH PEN
- One of my favourites is the Tombow Dual Brush Pen. I get these things in bulk because they rock. This is the listing I always order from (or from USA) – I order the 6 pack because it works out to be the cheapest.
- The ‘dual’ refers to being two sided, you can see in the photo the other end is a thinner bullet nib which is great for adding a name or date underneath a piece. Or doodles, if that’s your thing.
- They come in SO many colours, I’m just boring and always choose the black. They seem to be a bit more affordable if you get your colors in color sets, my favourite is probably the galaxy set (Canada / USA).
- These markers are water based, which means you can use them with water for an almost watercolor look.
- The tip on this one is a larger brush tip with a medium firmness.
- A nice affordable option to practice with is a good ol’ Crayola. They’re not actually a brush pen, but they’re great to practice with as they respond to heavy pressure in the same way a brush pen does. If you have kiddos, now you know you can colour with them and get your practice in. The classic Crayola markers (Canada / USA) work great, but they also have ‘Super Tip’ markers (Canada / USA) which are awesome as well. The tips are almost unbreakable and are great for lettering with heavier pressure.
- Tombow Fude pens. These are harder tips, much smaller than the dual brush pen. I find this pen less forgiving but I totally love it. It allows me to do much smaller pieces, like place cards without crowding. I order these off Amazon and I always go for the soft tip (USA / Canada) HOWEVER, I’ve recently spotted a few threads where letterers suggest the hard tip (USA / Canada) for beginners (even over dual brush pens!). So maybe that’ll be your jam.
- In the past I would have warned against the Pitt Faber and Castel brush pens (Canada / USA). They’re available everywhere locally which makes it tempting, but for the price you can get almost two Tombows and I promise, if you’re beginning you’ll be much happier with those. Even though I’ve been lettering for a few years, I often break these tips and I find they run out of ink pretty quickly. I gave you an example of them anyways if you’re brand loyal to them (I know many artists LOVE Pitt).
- Plus, when I pulled this pen out to demo it for this resource… it was actually pretty nice to use. Maybe you just need to master not breaking tips before moving to this one.
- Studio G brush pens. If you’re looking for a cost effective, easy to find alternative- Michaels carries these in lots of different colours, including beautiful metallics (this is the silver). Sorry, no link available in Canada (only available in store-in a tower near the front) but here it is in the US.
- Koi Coloring Brushes by Sakura Color (Canada / USA) are wonderful for variety of color. They’re wonderful to work with- not to stiff, not to floppy. But they’re pricy. If you love color, they’re worth looking into but if you stick with black like I tend to, I’d opt for something more affordable.
Brush Lettering- with real brush tips:
- A round paint brush and ink. This is currently my FAVE way to letter. I’m loving it. Just dip your paintbrush in your ink pot and go. And just so you know… I added that splatter after the fact, that it’s not that messy normally ;)
- The Pentel Aquash (USA / Canada). There are three different sizes of these, I have all three and love them. The small one is best for smaller pieces (it’s my most used), I use the big one for poster size pieces. These are meant to be used with watercolour paints and filled with water which I do, but I also have some filled with my ink. You squeeze the soft body to control how much ink comes out as you’re writing. They are a true brush tip (like a paint brush) so they can’t be ‘broken’ which is a total score if you like to use lots of pressure or have a tendency to break tips this also gives a great brush effect with voids in the ink strokes.
- I recently tested out a Pentel Color Brush (Canada / USA) which is almost identical to the Pentel Aquash but they’re pre-filled with color. They have the same need to squeeze to control pressure, which I do like. But I love that I can refill my Aquash brushes with any color I want when I get bored. So I haven’t ordered one of these yet even though I love ’em.
- Koi Sakura (Canada / USA) has a very similar refillable tank brush. I haven’t tried it myself but it looks almost identical in function (I’ve watched a few videos of it) if you’d like to try something different!
- INK! There are so many different kinds of ink you can use. I live by Higgins Eternal Black Ink (Canada / USA), that’s what you’ve seen in both the Aquash and Ink and Brush photos. If you’re looking for something darker and more opaque, India Ink (Canada / USA) is your friend- it’s a super bold black.
- White ink! Did you know there was such a thing? I love the look of it, but the one I have is ‘meh’. I have Speedball Super Pigmented Acrylic (Canada / USA) and it’s been clumpy since the day I bought it. I LOVE my other Dr Martins Bombay inks (Canada / USA) so I have that white on my list for next.
- Watercolors. There’s a few different ways you can do those but here’s what I recommend. These instructions are not pro… at all. But they’re what work for me. I’ll work on getting video tutorials for these up in the future!
- Tubes of watercolor. When I’m using a brush and sticking to one color- this is the way I usually go. For the purpose of lettering- you can pretty much go with any brand. I buy just the black tube- my fave is Winsor and Newton (Canada / USA) instead of a full kit. I’ve used store brands and higher quality brands and unless you’re blending, I’m sure you’ll be happy with a store brand. I premix these by adding some paint to a pallet or small cup, then I add the water (use less than you think you’ll need). I ‘pick up’ or dip where the two mix for a nice rich color that wears to a lighter shade.
- Solid Watercolors. Y’know… those little pucks you used in elementary school. Aquash with water works great on solids. A nice cheat if you’re just starting is to ‘pull’ the colour onto a blending surface, pallet, or piece of plastic first by adding water (basically make your watercolor ‘ink’), then it’s easy to dip and keep lettering/ blending. My favourite watercolors are the Kuretake Gansai Tambe– I ordered this 36 color set (Canada / USA) which you can see in the photo above (and the one with the Aquash).
- Liqud watercolor– did you know this was a thing? I didn’t, but now I’m loving it for ease! I have one of my Aquash pens filled with the stuff permanently. It’s basically premixed watercolor in a pigment (I have teal). This is my ‘cheaters’ blending. It’s SO easy. You can just pick up a color (I used a maroon for this example below) with your liquid watercolor filled Aquash and it will blend out for you. Ummmm genius. The one I have currently is Artists Loft which is a Michaels brand. Again- I can’t link to Michaels product in Canada but here it is for the USA.
Other rad brush pens (no photos):
- I have used the Sharpie Brush Pens (Canada / USA) in a variety of colors (I just don’t currently have one to make an example for you all). They’re pretty awesome and as a bonus, they’re easy to track down locally BUT I find they let out a lot of ink (as Sharpies do) so aren’t great for standard paper due to bleed and they run out pretty quickly.
- I am so eager to try these ones- I’ve heard nothing but great reviews of Artline ETX Brush Stix (only sold on Amazon USA) for beginners and advanced users. Plus they look like legos and come in sweet colors. I watched a video a while back that shows with more pressure an almost ombre effect is created with one pen. Rad? I think so.
- I’ve had the Pentel Touch Sign (Canada / USA) recommended to me many times. I’ve only used this pen briefly, and it’s a much tougher tip (like the Tombow Fude Hard).
- Copic markers (Canada / USA) are seriously raved about in some of the groups I’m in, but the hefty price point as kept me from trying them. Out of all the markers, I think they come in the most colours and are alcohol based so great for blending. What’s unique about them is they’re refillable and have replaceable nibs.
- I have a friend that just purchased a Pentel Pocket Brush pen (Canada / USA) and she loves it… but the thing is dang expensive compared to some of the other options I’ve used. It’s a true brush and it’s refillable. But I like my Aquash filled with ink for 1/3 the price. I do have to say though… this pen is beautiful.
Paper to letter on:
There are SO many different papers you could choose! I’d say try ’em out and see what works for you. Just stay away from super absorbent papers (especially cotton)- you just wont get as smooth and rich of lines as you’re hoping for. These are the papers I use:
- Standard printer paper. Okay, so seriously… you’re going to go through a lot of paper. If you are practicing (which is how you get better) then you’ll be whipping through pages like nothin’. Most of the time… standard printer paper will work just fine for brush lettering with markers. The smoother, the better- laser printer is what I typically like for this.
- Cardstock… when I’m planning to scan something in- especially if I’m going to digitize to black and white or a graphic overlay… cardstock is my go to. I buy it by the ream to use in my printer- so I never run out. It’s so smooth so it’s perfect for marker lettering. I’ve also used it for watercolor when practicing, but it’s really better for markers.
- Marker paper. This is the*best* for lettering with brush markers. It’s super smooth and lovely to letter on but it’s definitely more expensive than standard printer cardstock. My favourite brand (it’s available at Michaels so I can run out and grab it) is Canson- the XL pads (Canada / USA).
- Mixed media paper is what I ‘splurge’ on the most. Why? It can be used for pretty much anything. It’s a nice texture so looks a bit fancier. So I can use it for my liquid ink brush work (y’know… ink and brush & Aquash with ink… my fave ways to letter) as well as markers (BUT it is a bit rough so isn’t easy on the markers- I usually use it with a true brush). I’ve even used watercolor on it (fine for lettering, I wouldn’t use it for watercolor art though. This is the paper I use when I’m making lettering art for my home OR to send custom pieces I’ve been commissioned on. I really stand by it! My two usual brands are Canson XL pads (Canada / USA) or Artist Loft– Michaels’ store brand.
- Watercolor Paper makes a world of difference if you’ll be using watercolor! It holds much more water which allows better blending of the paint and that smooth, pooled look you love. Watercolor paper can get pricy really fast if you go for high quality paper. BUT if you’re planning to use it for watercolor lettering and not detailed art… you can get away with ‘student’ quality or what you find in large pads at craft stores. I almost exclusively buy Canson XL Watercolor pads (Canada / USA).
- Tracing Paper is SO helpful when you’re working towards a composition. This is the one I’ve been using lately (Canada / USA), but there are lots of great ones. This is one of the questions I got in my workshop, so I’m planning to do a video tutorial for this. Basically, tracing paper is semi transparent. You can lay it over any lettering you’ve done and letter over it to practice certain letters or phrases, and it’s awesome for playing with scale or flourishes. Where do they look good? That ‘Y’ doesn’t look quite right? Use tracing paper to adjust until you’re happy.
- Rhodia Dot Pads (Canada / USA) are super smooth paper (perfect for markers) with a grid of light dots for guides. These are great for lining up your lettering to make sure your composition is straight/level (something I SO struggle with!). They really are wonderful, but they can be a bit pricy for everyday use, so I save it for a phrase I really want to nail down. While I’m stingy with it… some of the ‘pros’ I follow seem to live by them.
- Graph Paper is kind of like my poor mans dot pad. Yes- I’m talking about the stuff you used in math glass in 10th grade. It’s dirt cheap, easy to find, and this stuff (Canada / USA) is pretty smooth for markers. I generally use pencil on graph paper to line up a design before using tracing paper to change things up. But honestly… I only do this if I am working on something really special. I’m a fan of wing’in it ;)
There’s a few other things that you can have in your ‘arsenal’ that will make lettering easier or better. Here’s a few of my preferences:
- Pencil. Basic? Yes. Needed? Heck yes. I see some letterers that mock up every single piece in pencil first. I don’t all the time. I’m much too lazy. But I absolutely do this for pieces I am working on variations for. You want one that doesn’t etch the paper and erases easy. I always use my Tombow Mono Pencil and love it- it just doesn’t have an eraser on it BUT these ones (Canada / USA) have the sweetest erasers that let you get into tight nooks and crannies- and they’re replaceable. They’re meant for drawing, but they’re rad for lettering too.
- Eraser. Again, pretty basic. You can try any kind but some are better than others. I have a Tombow Sand Eraser that even works on pen smudges!. I’ve read that this Papermate Black Pearl (Canada / USA) eraser is what dreams are made of, erasing cleanly and shavings ball up for easy clean up.
- Ruler. For composition and staying in line if you’re not using graph paper or a dot pad. I had always used a standard ruler but have ordered a Helix T-Square (Canada/ USA) after reading Dawn Nicole’s recommendations. I’ve wanted a square for a while and ordered one for myself!
- Laser Level. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t bought this yet. It’s cheap and amazing for lining letters and lines without pencil. And if you’re lettering signs or mirrors for weddings? This guy would have saved me hours on lettering seating charts!
YOU MADE IT! That was so much information, you all. If it was TOO much information for you to digest right now… I suggest you save this! PIN IT and come back to it when you’re looking for your next brush pen to try out.
But if you’re looking for more advice on how to actually use these brush pens, I want to point you in the direction of this freebie!