How To Make 3D Hand-Lettering 1/3 - Drawing the Lettering

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How To Make 3D Hand-Lettering 1/3 - Drawing the Lettering

Who said you needed some fancy 3D program to add dimension to your lettering? There are great ways to create 3D effect in 2D just with your pencil. If done well, it can revive the simplest style. It's a formidable way to make it stand out.

In this three-parter series, we'll first see how to prepare your lettering to make it 3D. In the second part, we'll tackle how to draw the effect in itself and finally, we'll go through how we can reinforce it with shading.

Picking the right style

Virtually every style can be a good candidate to be made 3D, but not all of them will be suited for the same technique. A blocky and angular lettering style (capital serif, for example) is more suited for what I call a block or a gold bar effect, that shows the edges and enhances the sturdiness of the letters. On the other hand, a cursive lettering piece will often be better suited for a tube effect, that makes it look fluid and dynamic.

Of course there are no rules, but always try to keep your goals in mind when you pick a style or an effect. Are you willing to create a strong, sturdy look? Or should it be more fun and playful?

A clean line work for a better effect

The golden rule when you want to make 3D lettering is to start with a clean base. You will be adding dimension based on the structure of the letters, so you'd better make sure it's solid or you'll have a hard time drawing it, and the result won't be up to your expectations.

A good 3D lettering starts with a 2D piece with some weight. A great way to start is by drawing single-line letters. It will be the spine around which you'll add weight. As you draw, make sure you leave enough space around each letter. Don't be scared to leave more than what would normally be necessary, so you don't get stuck when you add weight later.

Drawing the weight around the spine.
Drawing the weight around the spine.

I literally use the single-stroke as a spine: I leave it at the exact center of my letters, and add the weight all around it. I simply follow it on each side, and then connect the strokes where necessary. This process can be a bit more delicate with complex letters such as the "R" or the "S", and it definitely requires some practice. Take your time, and start over if necessary.

Overlapped or merged?

Depending on the effect you want to create, you'll have to pick between overlapping or merging the letters' strokes.

Overlapped is when the strokes are going above and below one another. It creates a feeling of spontaneity, speed and it looks like it's suspended in the moment. It will require more shading later on to reinforce the overlapping effect.

The strokes of this lettering piece are overlapping.
The strokes of this lettering piece are overlapping.

Merged is when strokes are fused into one another. It creates a feeling of sturdiness and stability.

The strokes of this lettering piece are merged.
The strokes of this lettering piece are merged.

Whatever you choose, the easiest way to go is to draw all the necessary construction lines, and then erase what you don't need. I always draw as many construction lines as possible to make it easier for me to create a solid structure, without thinking of the final look. When I'm done, and I'm comfortable with my drawing, I use my Tombow Mono Zero precision eraser to remove unnecessary lines.

Once you're done, I strongly suggest you scan your drawing, print it at bigger scale, and redraw it with tracing paper or a light table. Working on a bigger base will allow you to be more comfortable to add detail later on.

Next week, we'll pick the right effect for your lettering, and we'll see how to apply it on your existing drawing whatever style you chose!

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