You have a passion for lettering, but for some reason things aren't looking exactly right. You might be struggling with dip pen ink bleeds, brush pens fraying, or even a dreaded spacing issues. Today I am sharing with you six tips and tricks that I have picked up over the past few years of lettering in order to save you future frustrations. 

Brush pens fraying? 

When lettering with your favorite brush pens, you might notice that your strokes do not have clean lines or inconsistent ink patterns. This is due to fraying. Brush pens begin to fray for two reasons:

1) You are holding the pen vertically, putting too much direct pressure on the tip. Remember to hold your pen at an angle, which will allow more consistent strokes and less ruined markers.

2) Using rough paper causes the end to fray. Printer paper is rough and the fibers of the paper will gather, ruining your brush pen. For practice, I recommend using a higher quality paper (32lb. laser jet paper is my favorite!) that will prevent fraying. For final pieces, I suggest Bristol Board Vellum Pads. 

PAPER Troubles during practice sessions?

Like mentioned above, I highly recommend 32lb. laser jet paper. It is smooth and most ideal for practicing lettering techniques. 

I also love using tracing paper for practice. Not only is it silky smooth (pen friendly), it is ideal for learning spacing and lettering techniques. I include several pieces with all of my lettering kits and workshops.

Ink bleeding everywhere?

Many people get easily discouraged when starting dip pen traditional calligraphy because of ink problems. I used to get so frustrated when my ink bled all over the place for certain papers or more delicate ones. It is so frustrating to get the layout perfect and then… bleeding ink. Ugh. There are two reasons that ink bleeds.

1) Your ink is too thin/runny

2) The ink is catching on the fibers of the paper

Gum arabic binds with the ink and prevents the ink from running or bleeding into the paper. The easiest solution to this problem is combining gum arabic with your ink. I recommend starting off with just a small amount (1 part gum arabic to 4 parts ink, or ¼ of the amount of ink) a separate ink jar. Stir it and write on a scratch piece of paper. Keep adding little by little until bleeding stops. 


I recently had an envelope order that caused me all sorts of bleeding problems. The envelopes were slightly textured and came with the invitation suite. When I began to address the envelopes, the ink would collect in pools where the paper was uneven and made it look like “speckled” calligraphy.

But I did some reading and found out that you can actually use a matte sealant to create a think protective layer between the fibers of the envelope/paper and the ink. This prevents the ink from absorbing into the paper. Find a well ventilated area (like a porch or open garage) and spray on a sample envelope or on a spare piece of paper to test it out before spraying your final product/envelopes. It is relatively un-noticable in appearance, but might affect the smooth feeling of the paper ever so slightly. In my opinion, this is a last resort solution and could severely damage your paper products if you aren't careful, so tread lightly!


It’s okay to make thick inks thinner. One of the most popular white inks, Dr. Ph Martin’s Bleedproof White comes in a thick acrylic-type state. Simply add a bit of the ink into a separate container or painters palate, add a few drops of water and stir thoroughly. I actually prefer using my water brush with this ink too, which creates the perfect opacity.

Did you add too much water? That’s okay! Just like any other paints, if you leave the lid off for a few hours, the excess moisture will absorb. Just make sure you don’t forget about it or leave it somewhere it could easily spill.


Layouts, layouts, layouts… Is this centered? Are those rows touching? Does this look awkward? All questions that I constantly ask myself while composing a layout. While pencils are nice because they can easily erase, sometimes pieces are too complicated/long or the pencil leaves shadowing no matter how much you attack it with your eraser, probably damaging the paper in the process.

I have learned that working with a Light Pad or Light Box is my saving grace for hand-lettered pieces. I use a scratch piece of paper, draw center lines, use a ruler, and measure out rows. Get your piece juuuuust right. Then, I prefer to tape the layout page to my Lightbox and place the final product page on top. Now, using your calligraphy pen, nib, marker, etc. you can trace your work without the hassle of erasing over it.

And there you have it! I hope these six tips and tricks help you in your lettering journey! As always, I'd love to hear from you with your lettering questions! Comment below or send me an email!