Chalkboard Lettering Tips: A Not-So-Beginner Tutorial

Chalkboard Lettering Tips Hand Lettered Chalk Design

A Not-So-Beginner Tutorial

Some tips to take your hand lettered designs to the next level


First, To season or not to season, That is the question:

If you have ever read beginner chalk board tutorials you have probably been told to, “season,” you chalkboard.  If you have not there are loads of them, so that might be a good place to start for the absolute beginner. To season your chalkboard you simply rub a piece of chalk on it’s side over the entire board and then wipe away the residue, working the chalk into the board as you wipe. The point of this is to create an even working surface, and to avoid, “ghost,” letters. These are letters that appear black after you wipe them away. However I like to wash my board with wet rags, to get as clean of a surface as possible. In this way I have better success because I do not use the transfer method. I sketch original lettering designs with guide lines that must be erased. If you erase the leftover chalk residue you can better see the smudges and eraser marks. So to me, I prefer the crispness of a clean board, but this is a matter of taste. You can play with each method to see what works best for you!

How I clean by Chalkboard, washing with a damp cloth.

Before You Start:

Take a minute to think. I recommend creating your own design, and if you use these tips it can look just as polished as some of the other techniques. I personally love the freedom that comes from creating my own design layouts. I am not confined to certain type faces, I can create my own based on references for the exact feel I am going for. I can take advantage of interesting ligatures, (the connection of two letterforms, most easily seen in scripted type faces to create a different shape, or relationship between the letters) and create interesting dynamics. Plus when people ask you how you did it, you don't just say, oh I just printed it off the computer and transferred it, you can say something like, “Well, I chose to write the word, ‘coffee,’ in bold so that it would stand out,” or, ” I decided to use a script for that quote so I could take advantage of flourishing.” You can really take pride, not just in the execution, but in the design itself. But for this to work you need to take a minute to think about what you want. What are you writing? A quote, or a recipe? What parts should stand out? What feel are you going for? Quirky? Classy? Before you even start sketching, some thought should go into these concepts. 


Sketch It Out:

Ok, I am sure by now you are ready to get that little chalk stick out, and draw until your heart’s content, but not so fast. You need to sketch it with pencil and paper first. Start with a few rough layouts and then narrow it down to the one you like. I recommend using a ruler to create guide lines, even with the sketching phase. This way to can get a better idea of spacing and line placement. 

Once you have a layout in mind, you can choose your font styles. It is easier to do this once you already know WHERE the words are going. You can now see the words and sizes in comparison to one another, so you wouldn't choose complicated fonts for small lettering that could make it difficult to read. First of all you want your design to be legible. If people struggle to read it, they will struggle to appreciate it. This is a fun part of designing. Feel free to look up fonts and clip art online, or reference other chalk board signs you admire. Here is you chance to pull up Pinterest and put it to good use! 

Rough sketch of Chalkboard Design.

Back to the Black Board:

Ok, so now that you have a clear idea of what you a going to write, how you will write it, and how it will be decorated you get to do the fun part… well… almost. Before you start writing anything, set guidelines . This is the number one thing that will improve a hand lettered design. All of the tips in this article will take you a little more time, however if you disregard them all, don't forget this one! Use a ruler and a chalk pencil (see tools) to draw your guidelines, and not just your baselines! 

Example of Chalk Guidelines, including baseline, x-height, and cap height.

Draw all of these: 

Baseline: This is the guideline that all of the letters will sit on for each line of type. 

X-Height: This is the height of the lower case x. This is the basic marker for your lower case letters. If you are not new to hand lettering you will know that some letters go slightly above or below this line. If you are newer to lettering,  all of your lower case letters should fit between the x-height and base line. This rule would exclude the ascenders and descenders, such as the part that descends below the baseline in a g or j, or the upper extender in a d or f, for example.

Cap Height: This will mark the height of your capital letters.

Line Limits: Draw markers for where you want lines or specific words to end or begin, this with ensure that your design is centered and balanced. 


Sketching Letterforms:

Now you can add the letterforms! I still use a chalk pencil for this part. You can either add the “skeletons,” the most basic lines of the letterforms, first to ensure correct spacing or if you are pretty comfortable with where they should go, start outlining letters. Once you are happy with the letters you can move on to the finishing touches. Please note that any final editing should be done at this stage. Also, once the letters are sketched out, you can go ahead and erase the guidelines. 

Chalk sketch of lowercase, "I."


Almost Done!

Now you can fill in the letters with your chalk. If you are using chalk paint, you will outline the letters again in the paint and then fill them in. It’s probably a little ironic that the seemingly most important part of the lettering is getting the least attention, right? But it is very similar to hand lettering in ink. The majority of your time is spent on fine tuning the design, and really inking it at the end should take the least amount of time. So, if you do it right, by the time you actually get to finishing your letters, it should be a breeze. 

Chalk Paint, lowercase, "I."


Final Touches:

Now you can just clean it up a bit! Erase any lingering guidelines or sketch marks. Another nice touch, which is also explained under tools, is to smooth out your letters. Once they are colored in, it may look streaky. I like to use a dry Q-tip to gently smooth out the dried chalk, this creates a nice velvety texture. 

Erasing guidelines, and cleaning up final lettering on lowercase, "I."

Some Tools of the trade:

There are a couple of tools that may take your design to the next level. I know many people swear by regular Crayola chalk, maybe sharpening it or wetting it. However, now that chalk lettering has become so popular, there are some exquisite tools, designed not only to make lettering easier, but also more visually appealing. Best of all, they are not expensive! If you are reading this, you probably already know that you enjoy chalk lettering, so why not spend a few dollars to make it even more enjoyable. Here are a couple things I recommend; these are not sponsored items, just things that are worth a small investment. 

Chalk Pencils: Ok, so I think these are just great. These are wood pencils and instead of lead, they are filled with chalk. They even have an eraser… that works! I use these for the initial chalk sketch. I will use these with a ruler to make my guidelines, and then to sketch out my letter. If you prepare your chalkboard like I do (see above) you will have to go back afterwards and erase these guide lines. 

Chalk Paint Pens: I think these look just beautiful. They are filled with liquid chalk paint, and are available in different colors. They create a crisp line with nice thick paint so the blackboard does not show through. They are also not as easily erased. This has it’s pros and cons. I am left handed and tend to smudge lettering pretty easily, so I like that they don't smudge as easily as regular chalk. And since I wash my chalk board I don't have to worry about the extra elbow grease to wipe it clean. If you want your lettering to look cleaner and more professional I would pick up one of these markers and give it a try! 

Q-Tips: These are pretty much my best friend. I use them in two ways. One is to erase. You can use them to erase your guide lines, or sketch lines that didn't get covered by the chalk paint. You can try them both wet and dry, and they will react differently depending on how you prepared the chalkboard. So I recommend trying both ways and seeing what way you prefer. Number two is to smooth. This is a little extra step that may be time consuming but is well worth the effort. Sometimes when you color in larger letters you will see the lines, making it look streaky rather than having a solid letter. I use a dry Q-tip to smooth these lines out and sometimes to smooth out the sides of letters. 

Tools shown in above photo were all used in the production of the pictures for this post. See descriptions above. 


Side Note: Taking Your Time

Chalkboard lettering should be fun! And you shouldn't be too worried about whether or not it looks perfect. Those little quirks are why hand lettering is so beautiful and unique. However, I do believe in working hard to put your best foot forward. All of my tips involve taking some time to do it the right way. These are not shortcuts or hacks. These are pointers to making your work look more professional and classy. So don't give up, keep working hard and it will pay off. If you have a favorite tool or tip you would like to share, please let me know in the comment section below! 

Now that you are done, Take a Pic! Post your work with the hashtag: #NotSoBeginner  and tag me! I would love to see your work! 

So take some time, pour yourself a glass of wine, just enjoy the process and take pride in your art. I promise it will be a very rewarding experience. Thank you so much for reading my very first blog article. I hope it will prove helpful! Until next time!


Ciarra Rouwhorst