Lettering Tools: A Look Inside My Pencil Case

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Lettering Tools: A Look Inside My Pencil Case

« What tools do you use? » This is the number one question that lettering artists get. When you start a new craft, one of the most satisfying things is to build yourself a great tool set.

It’s important to underline that the tools don’t make the craftsman. You won’t be a better lettering artist by using the best pencil, just like a writer won’t write greater books with a better computer. Yes, I’m all for using the right tools, and some tools are better than others, but a pencil is just as good as the hand that holds it. A master can make the best of Crayola pencils, or reproduce masterpieces with MS Paint.

That being said, I perfectly get how good it feels to buy brand new tools and start with a great set. I myself have collected a handful of tried and true items over the years, that I was able to subject to extensive tests so I could keep only the very best.

Mitsubishi Uni 552 Drafting Pencils

Mitsubishi Uni 552 Drafting Pencils
Mitsubishi Uni 552 Drafting Pencils

My favorite pencils are robust and elegant yet very light with their black plastic body and their metal grip. The colored rings allow you to easily differentiate calibers. I use 0.9 (green) for filling, 0.7 (blue) for drafting and 0.3 (yellow) for precision drawing.

Many hand-lettering artists prefer lead holders for drawing, I personally always felt at ease with mechanical pencils. The huge advantage compared to traditional pencils is that, first, you don’t need to sharpen them. The line will always be precise, the tool doesn’t « shorten » as you use it and you only need to replace the lead. If the lead breaks, you just have to push the button to get a new one, which makes them very easy to work with, even on the go.

I use HB leads. It’s the standard type of pencil that most people use. Another great thing with lead holders and mechanical pencils is you can fill it with any type of leads depending on your needs.

Average price: $8 a piece

Mitsubishi Uni Pin Fineliners

Mitsubishi Uni Pin Fineliners
Mitsubishi Uni Pin Fineliners

I picked Uni Pins when I started lettering, before I heard of Sakura Microns that most hand-letterers love. Uni Pins are great fineliners that I use in addition to Sakura Microns. The 0.05 is fantastic for details, and the ink dries so quickly that you can almost immediately erase pencil lines without concerning about smudges.

Read my comparative test between Uni Pins and Microns if you want to know everything about Uni Pins.

Average price: $3 a piece

Sakura Micron Fineliners

Sakura Micron Fineliners
Sakura Micron Fineliners

Sakura Microns are the fineliners of choice for many artists (not only letterers) and that’s highly justified. Those pens are a pleasure to work with, they glide on paper like no fineliner I’ve ever tried and the ink intensity is unmatched. They have negative points nevertheless, that you can read all about in my comparative test between Uni Pins and Microns.

Average price: $3 a piece

Pentel Color Brush Pen Black #101

Pentel Color Brush Pen Black #101
Pentel Color Brush Pen Black #101

This wild stallion was initially made for fashion drawing, but is really suitable for lettering with its long tip and generous ink flow. You can recharge it when it’s empty instead of throwing it away and buying a new one.

I’m not a brush pen letterer, and only rarely use them so I might not be in the best position to make a thorough test. However, it’s the best one from all the brush pens I’ve tried. What I love with the Pentel is that the tip is very resistant. I’ve used the pen for several years and it’s still intact.

One thing though: think about pressing the body a bit before you use it, so the ink flow remains consistent.

Average price: $9 a piece

Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen

Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen
Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen

The Tombow is my biggest disappointment when it comes to lettering tools, and this disappointment is proportional to my expectations then. This dual tip brush pen was very popular when I purchased it, and I was eager to try it. Unfortunately, after a couple of uses, the foam tip became completely dull. It makes it impossible to use with precision. I now only use it to fill wide areas, which is a shame for a brush pen. The finer tip doesn’t have much interest, I only use it as a temporary replacement when my fineliners die, and it doesn’t even compare.

Average price: $6 a piece

Tombow Mono Zero Eraser

Tombow Mono Zero Eraser
Tombow Mono Zero Eraser

As you draw, your eraser wears out and it becomes harder to erase small areas without messing up your work. Many use erasers shields, I use a precision eraser. It works like a pencil, but it erases instead of tracing. Just like with lead holders/mechanical pencils, you can buy refills instead of purchasing a new one.

The Mono Zero is one of my favorite tools, even though it’s only made for erasing. I highly urge you to adopt it if you’re a letterer, you won’t regret your investment.

Average price: $6 a piece

Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 8B Pencil

Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 8B Pencil
Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 8B Pencil

This pencil not only is of excellent quality, but also fabulously smooth to use. The 8B lead is perfect for drafting, and renders beautiful bold and dark lines.

I usually use it for very rough sketching, when I’m simply throwing concepts on paper and not trying to draw something pretty. It’s also great for filling because it’s bold and dark. Be careful though, bold pencils (the ones with a number followed by a B) stick to paper, which makes them hard to erase.

Average price: $1.50 a piece

Stabilo Boss Original Highlighter

Stabilo Boss Original Highlighter
Stabilo Boss Original Highlighter

You must think I’ve lost my mind. Do I really use a Stabilo for lettering? Hell yeah! In addition to being inexpensive, Stabilos are awesome tools for spontaneous, urban lettering. I use Originals because they’re bigger and have a better grip. The beveled shape of the tip creates beautiful width variations, especially when you draw fast, I’ve used it to make some of my favorite pieces. Who said you needed fancy, crazy expensive tools to do good work?

Average price: $3 a piece

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