Hand-Lettering with Ladyfingers Letterpress

Greetings! It is an honor and a pleasure to be guest blogging on our most favoritest blog in the world for the next few days! We were thrilled when we were asked to create Sophie’s birth announcements, and are psyched to share with you more unique and curious work from the minds and hands of Ladyfingers Letterpress! –Arley-Rose and Morgan of Ladyfingers Letterpress

Ladyfingers Letterpress via Oh So Beautiful Paper

If you are familiar with our work, you know that we are all about blurring the lines between stationery and “whoaa!?”. We’re a bit crazy about coming up with new and exciting ways in which your guests receive your big announcement. When the right clients come along who are as excited about doing something different as we are, get ready for the unexpected. Piñatas stuffed with an invitation? Sure! Little cutouts of the couple who can dance and move on top of a record player? Why not! Full letterpress rainbow roll knocked-out flats? It can be done! There is no task to large nor too complex for our inquisitive brains. Challenges keep us going. Conformity kills our spirit. And ice cream is always on our minds.

Ladyfingers Letterpress via Oh So Beautiful Paper

Another thing you may recognize about our work is the abundance of hand-lettering. Our obsession began back in the early 2000s when Arley-Rose was using it to rebel against the rigidity of the type world that was prevalent during her time studying at Parsons. Now, its easier and faster for her to draw letters than use design programs to create a layout, and her trademark handiwork has become one of the most identifying features about our work.

Ladyfingers Letterpress via Oh So Beautiful Paper

In our first post as guest bloggers, we’d like to introduce ourselves in this short clip where we give you a short and informal tour of our studio, and take you along as we hand-letter a real life invitation! (Pardon the absence of Morgan, the other mastermind behind Ladyfingers. She was out running errands when we recorded this!)

Interested in getting started with hand-lettering? Here are some tips to create your own illustrative voice using the most valuable design software ever: your hands, your brain, and a pen & paper:

• Materials: I like using Micron .08 or .05 pens and standard sketchbook paper. I don’t usually do a pencil sketch first, since I find that I lose the initial gesture of the design if I am tracing over existing line work. (If you feel more comfortable creating a layout in pencil and tracing in ink, be sure to draw lightly or your ink lines may become compromised when you’re erasing your pencil lines. Feel free to also use a lightbox to trace!)

Hand Lettering Ladyfingers Letterpress

• How does your message sound? Before you start, consider the tone or the voice of your piece. Is it formal? Fun and exciting? Remember that when people read text, they put it in a voice. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Do you want your lettering to sound like its being spoken by Vincent Price or a little kid on a trampoline? Or maybe just you, being really excited, and happy to share your joyful message with your most favorite people in the world? Don’t be ashamed to show how psyched you are! Your excitement will translate into a beautiful piece.

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

• Put some music on! I find that music and lettering have a lot in common. Not only do they both share a rhythm that can inspire people to keep reading/listening, but in the same way that you don’t have to listen to a song very long to know if its a somber song or a happy song, a nice piece of hand lettering should hit you with an expression as soon as you see it. You don’t wait till the last note to understand the essence of a song, so why should you have to wait til the last word to understand the message of a design?

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

• Practice, practice, practice! There is no app for this. There is no photoshop filter that will make your lettering look better. If you want to truly get better at hand-lettering, do it every day and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Your hand and arm muscles will get used to drawing letters and it will become easier. Start with mastering one lettering style, whether its Roman, Script or Sans Serif. Need inspiration? Check out the different type styles on MyFonts.com. Once you have your favorite lettering style down pat, introduce a contrasting style. For example, I love combining script with a serif face.

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

• Draw other things, too! We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for a lifetime of drawing. To be a good letterer, you need to be comfortable with your pen enough to be free with it. Gotta know the rules before you can break ’em! Controlled chaos, that’s really what lettering is!

Ladyfingers Letterpress Hand Lettering

Once my drawings are finished, I scan them into the computer at high resolution. Sometimes I’ll clean up little errors in Photoshop and then drop them into Illustrator. I have a specific profile set up under Live Trace  so that my drawings come out crisp and un-live-tracey. Once they’ve been vectorized, I can move letters around and play with the design a little. Sometimes if I am drawing and I don’t like a letter or word that I just drew, I’ll draw another off to the side and move it in when I’m in Illustrator. The key is to have fun! Cuz if it ain’t fun, why do it?

Photo Credits: Ladyfingers Letterpress

  1. Gah! I love this! I’m a letterpresser and just started incorporating my own calligraphy into my designs. I’m still trying to figure out the best Live Trace settings and have come close to giving up. You’ve inspired me to keep pushing and trying to get it right!

  2. Such lovely ladies! It’s so awesome when beautiful and organic hand lettering is rendered in letterpress–such a harmonious duo! You gals are conquerers of such beautiful and diverse style..talent abounds here! Nice to have met you at NSS~

  3. Arley-Rose you are so fabulously talented & inspiring! Your designs are so so beautiful, vibrant & full of whimsy & you unique hand lettering style is so marvelous! So lovely! Loved seeing your lettering process & a sneak peak of your studio! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. I am a HUGE fan of your work and was so excited to see this today! I do a lot of handlettering, but I aspire to have the kind of skill and distinct style you do! Is there any chance you’d be willing to share your Live Trace settings?

    So excited to keep practicing!

  5. Arley-Rose. OMG amazing! What a talent. I could only dream of being able to create like this! Can you create the hand lettering, and email a file? I letterpress in Perth Western Australia and it would be lovely to be able to print some of your work!

  6. Love your lettering…can you give us all a hint as to what settings you use for live trace?

  7. Wow, thanks so much for everyone’s kind words! So psyched that you all enjoy our work. 🙂 Many of you have asked about Live Trace settings. I have a setting that I’ve come up with through a lot of experimentation to suit my own personal style. I encourage you all to find your own settings because what works for me may not be the best solution for you. Also, getting to know your software better will help out in the long run if you ever need to make any tweaks! Good luck!

  8. Such an awesome post! It’s so cool we got to see inside the studio and how you lettered the invitation. I’m so excited to practice, practice, practice. Arley-Rose you are beyond talented!

  9. Your work is so beautiful, and I can’t wait to start trying out your tips (tomorrow, if I find the time!) I was wondering…how do you store your Micron pens? Mine always leak unless I store them upright–and then I have to spend a few minutes scribbling to get the ink to the nib again! I’ve been obsessively asking other illustrators their solution, and no one else seems to have the same issue.

    • Hi Kate,
      You know, I have to admit this is the first time I’ve heard of this conundrum as well! I’ve been working with Microns for years in so many different storage scenarios. Right now (as you may be able to see in the video), I store my fresh new pens upright in a little white box to the right of my workstation that’s lovingly labelled “New Pens, Please No Touch” – a little note I put in place after pens were disappearing from my desk for non-design-related tasks. I have a box to the left (that’s un-noted!) thats filled with used pens that people are free to use. Are you at a high altitude? Do you carry your pens in a pencil case that gets jostled around in a bag? If I were you, I would take the pen back to the art supply store and get a new one. Maybe it’s just defective!?

  10. Arley-Rose, *love* your work! What an inspiration. Incredible that you can just freehand the entire layout like that.

    For everyone asking about Live Trace settings, there is a class on skillshare.com called “Digitizing Hand Lettering: From Sketch to Vector” by Sean McCabe, for $20. I have been dying for something like this, since I avoid hand-drawn lettering and illustrating too, due to lack of knowledge in how to get the digitizing right. It sounds like a lot of people are in the same boat as me, so I thought I’d share! (It starts Aug. 7, and I have no affiliation with the site or with the instructor…I’ll be be trying it out for the first time myself!)

  11. Thank you for the article, it’s very useful, will definitely try to experiment what you get indicated… there is only one factor I want to mention in more detail, My partner and i wrote a contact to your handle about it.

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