How to draw beautiful block letters

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Author: Sandra Brezina
Lettering artist, illustrator, book author and graphic designer. [...]

In this tutorial, I am going to show you 4 ways to draw basic block letters.

If you are interested to go a step further, you can learn some basic typographyic facts and proceed with my advanced-level approach to develop variations of your basic letter shapes.

Drawing simple block letters

Usually, you develop only those letters you need for your lettering project. However, let us go through the steps of creating a whole alphabet. I use squared paper and develop my letter shapes within a grid of 6 squares in height and 4 squares in width. This template is our basis for applying 4 methods for creating block letters.

Use a grid to develop your skeleton alphabet of block letters

My tip: Play with your grid. If you use 6 x 3 squares, your letters will have a more condensed appearance.

Method 1: Using outlines

Based on your skeleton letters, draw a consistent outline around your shapes. The rounded corners here are just my personal preference.

Use outlines to develop your block letters

Note: Round edges influence the look and feel of your letters in so far that your lettering looks very friendly and soft.

Method 2: Applying geometric shapes

For this technique, you draw consistent shapes such as rectangles around your skeleton letters. A squared paper underneath your drawing helps to ensure consistent widths.

Your skeleton should be centered within your geometric shapes.

Use shapes to develop your block letters

Method 3: Scribbling

This is my most favourite approach since you can shape your letters at speed. Scribble onto your lines as thin or as thick as you wish. Outline your result to gain a more precise appearance. Refine your result and fill in your letters.

Use shapes to develop your block letters

Method 4: Use a monolinear brush marker

Use a monolinear brush marker (felt tip) and write your letters above your skeleton. Place a paper above your writing and redraw your shapes with a pencil. Optimize your shapes.

Use a brush marker for your block letters

Challenge yourself: Block letters have multifaceted shapes. Develop your own style by building fancy shapes out of your basic block letters.

I give you more advanced tips to modulate your letter shapes in the course of this tutorial.

Creating an entire block letter alphabet

Place a new sketch paper above your skeleton and add widths to your lines by drawing equal shapes (rectangles) around each line. Take a close look at my example to see my process of how I develop more complex letters such as A, R, M, N, V, W.

Create your letter bodies

Once you are happy with your letter bodies, fill in the sketched shapes.
Congrats, there you have it: your alphabet of block letters with monolinear strokes.

Fill in your letter bodies

Advanced skills to create block letters

Let us talk about sans serifs and serifs

We can divide block letters into sans serifs and serifs. During the industrial revolution around 1760–1840, new type designs began to emerge, among them sans serif letters which were called grotesque letters as well. The reason for this name: People were not used to the appearance of letters without serifs.

Sans serif letterforms lack calligraphic characteristics. They do not have any elongations or ornate endings added to their stems.

Serif and sans serif letterforms

Serif letters which go back to ancient Roman times have one thing in common: they all have specific marks or decorative stuff added to their major strokes or stems.

The Trajan’s column in Rome for example shows a very ancient Roman alphabet whose delicate serifs were achieved with a chisel.

High contrast and low contrast letterforms

There is another classification: You can divide your letters into shapes of high and low contrast or no contrast at all.

Dividing your letterforms into categories of high and/or low contrast

My tip: The respective stroke width has a great influence on the look and feel of your letters.

All capital U letters are based on the same skeleton U you see in my sketch. Letters with monolinear strokes whether these strokes are thin (2nd row on the left) or thick (3rd row on the left) are shapes with no contrast.

Differences in widths draw attention to your letters and in most cases they look more interesting or elegant or playful. Experiment with creating various degrees of contrasts.

Play with the look of your block letters by producing high contrast shapes

Advanced level knowledge

Your capital letters sit on the baseline and go to the cap height. This is your basic frame made of 6 x 4 squares.

Optimize your letter shapes optically

Round (B, C, D, G, J, O, P, Q, R, S, U) and triangle lettes shapes (A, V, W) need an overshoot. This means: Their shapes have to go a tiny bit below the baseline or the cap height or the left/right side of your grid (B, D, O, Q, …).

Our alphabet includes round, rectangle and triangle shapes. Optical adjustments are necessary to make your letters look similar. This has nothing to do with mathematical measurements. You have to measure the appearance with your eyes.

  • Take a close look at my letters E, F, L, T. Draw their crossbars shorter than 4 squares wide. Otherwise they would appear a bit out of shape.
  • Draw the lower belly part of your B a bit wider than the upper part.
  • In my example, the N is a bit wider than 4 squares. This applies to my letters K, M and X as well.
  • Draw the upper crossbar of your letter Z shorter than the lower crossbar.

My pro tip: What about the crossbars in general?

  • The crossbar of the letter H is centered and sits at the x-height.
  • The crossbar of the letter A sits below the x-height.
  • The crossbar of your R is below the centered x-height, but above the crossbar of your A.
  • The E has a crossbar which sits a bit above the centered x-height.
  • Referring to the F, its crossbar is a bit below the one of your E.

Note: The crossbar is always a bit narrower than the width of your stroke. When you draw your letters with a width of 1 square, your crossbars have to have a width size under 1 square.

Creating a medium contrast block letter

Proceed as follows: Draw your skeleton. Scribble out the widths as you wish. Keep calligraphic principles in mind. When you move your hand upwards, you have to create a thin stem. When you move your hand downwards, you have to draw in a thicker stem.

Use scribbling to elaborate letters

Outline your scribbling and optimize your shape. Once you are satisfied, fill in the body.

If you are unsure about the right placement of thickened strokes, look at Google for high contrast sans serif fonts to analyze the correct structure.

Creating various block letter shapes

Take the skeleton alphabet you created at the beginning of this tutorial. Use it as your starting point to develop further block letter shapes.

Create a variety of gorgeous block letters
  • Step 1: Place a sketch paper or squared paper above your skeleton.
  • Step 2: Scribble onto your lines and modulate the widths of your stems.
  • Step 3: Outline and optimize your scribblings to gain precise block letter shapes. Remember all the optical adjustments that might be necessary.
  • Step 4: Add serifs to your block letters if this is the style you have in mind.

Tip: Research Google to be sure about the correct placement of serifs. Make a moodboard and collect various serifs and ornate elements added to stem endings.

Once you know the rules, you can break them by adding your crossbars at quite a high position for example. When you introduce principles to your alphabet, consistency is the key.

  • Step 5: Fill in your letters to gain a high black and white contrast. This helps to evaluate the look of your letters.
Elaborate fancy block letter styles

Once you feel comfortable with this technique, you can challenge yourself by drawing artistic block letter shapes.

Draw exaggerated letter shapes

Applying the scribbling method to a hand lettering project

To provide you with various types of letters, my lettering example includes multifaceted shapes.

Sketch out your skeleton for your block lettering project

Tip: Use a square paper underneath your sketch.

My pro tip: Keep your grid in mind. Another method is to sketch out shapes (identical rectangles, ellipses and triangles) where you place your letters inside. This helps to sketch out homogeneous letter shapes.

Use scribbling to elaborate letters

The scribbling technique is a quick and rough method to help you evaluate your concept. You get a good impression of how your hand lettering project might look.

Add your style to your block letters

Take a blank sheet of paper and add your style to your block letters. Outline the scribblings, add serifs or rounded corners, swashes, flourishes, decorations. This step is the most time-consuming one. In most cases, you will draw one sketch after the other to get the most out of your basic concept. Use your creativity and give shape to your artwork.

Refine your project and draw your block letters

Note: The final step is very relaxing. You have solved all your problems in the meantime. Concentrate on refining your project and redraw your beautiful block letters with a very sharp pencil.

The following steps are up to you. Grab your pens and refine your lettering or scan your artwork and use it as a digital template for further proceedings on the Ipad or computer.

Final words

I hope you enjoyed reading this tutorial and learning my tricks and approaches of creating various block letter styles with ease. Have fun by lettering quotes with amazing block letters. Stay amazing!

Refine your block letters with pens or digitally
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Sandra Brezina

Lettering artist, illustrator, book author and graphic designer.

Sandra is a passionate handlettering designer and illustrator from Vienna. She loves to create letterings for logos and all kinds of products. She is a lettering book author, conducts workshops and develops greeting cards. At events, she letters live on products.

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