The comeback of the lettering brush.

The comeback of the lettering brush.

It seems lately that there is a real interest in the ‘analog’ skill of hand lettering. Even though the digital design world’s best type designers are always improving the many styles and ligature options that today’s fonts can offer, there is always a need for something less refined, less clean and tidy—you know, real.

What has emerged, is a lot of digital backlash and the move towards the assembled and tactile, hand lettering is making sort of a comeback. It wasn’t until I did some digging into my own archives that I discovered quite a collection of projects that I had incorporated my lettering abilities.

One of the biggest hurdles to using hand lettered artwork, was getting into a usable and editable digital form. I have a great Heidelberg Linoscan 1450 flatbed scanner that captures the work well and makes it easy to bring the scan into Photoshop. From there the translation is pretty accurate when opening into Adobe Illustrator CS3 and using the tracing functions built into the software. These are left over from the old Adobe Streamline 4.0 days and finally rolled into Ai in CS2. They do take some fiddling around, but have definitely become a part of the process. The cut and paste work in Ai reminds me of the stat and copier days on hot press illustration board, but a whole lot quicker.

Part of the technique, is really taking advantage of the drama and effect that the hand done look brings to the work. I use anything from unusual paper stocks and surfaces to twigs to get the effect I’m looking for. Sure you could just scan your handwriting, but what do the different letterforms say about your message? Here are some distressed lettering examples.

The lettering can also be the main element in logo design with an all-type solution, setting the tone for the brand. These were done with a brush and ink on water color paper. To get more bleed, experiment with paper stocks with a rougher tooth to the finish.

In these examples, the lettering can be used as an accent element that breaks up design and adds some boldness or makes the look more personal. I find that sometimes, a marker has too smooth of an edge to the mark and either I change tools, or change substrates.

These logos have the brush or marker effect incorporated into the design itself. The rough edges of the letterforms are complemented with the geometric lines of the type or color field. Scale and magnification of the scanned image can have a dramatic effect on the look. Just remember when copier machines didn’t always copy that well. I actually know a couple of designers that keep the crappy copier around, just so they can get that distressed and rough look.

And finally, the brush work made its way into the logo mark in addition to the lettering design. The logo on the left is an example of several directions and techniques I used to capture the gnarled and old look to the grape vines the client wanted in their new logo. I tried anything from prismacolor pencil to ink blots.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of ways to incorporate hand lettering into your logo design work. A lot of it is just good old experimentation and a little time. I am glad to see that the more personal touches that makes graphic design a wonderful art form are embracing this trend. And I hope it’s here to stay, for a little while at least.