The thickness, or weight, of your lettering is very important to get your message across. If the weight is inconsistent, then the letters won’t appear to belong together, which will detract from the message.
We know letter weight is important, but arriving at consistent letter weight can be pretty difficult. It’s taken me a lot of practice to get to the point where I can spot and fix weight inconsistencies fairly easily. Through this practice, I’ve learned a few ways that have helped me arrive at consistent weights.
Use the First Letter as a Reference
It’s good to know where you’ve started to know where you’re going. As you move through a lettering piece, model each letter after the thickness of the first letter. Don’t continue to the next letter without matching the weight of the first. This will ensure that you don’t go off in the wrong direction, only to find out when you’ve finished.
For weight consistency, model each letter after the thickness of the first letter—This will ensure you don’t go off in the wrong direction.
— Dane Gonzalez (@HeyImDane) June 3, 2015
Pay close attention to all aspects of the various thickness of the letters. In addition to matching the thickest parts of your lettering, pay attention to the weight of the thinnest parts. Defining the weight of the extremes will help you minimize inconsistencies and will help you define the weight in between those extremes.
You might be able to tell I don’t always use the first letter as reference. Sometimes, I like to add some extra weight to the first letter to syncopate my lettering and to draw attention the the beginning of the word. In that case, I use the second letter as my reference for the rest of the word.
Give Yourself Enough Space
Often times, my letter weight becomes inconsistent when I don’t allow adequate space for my lettering piece. When I don’t give myself enough room, I try to squeeze them in a layout, which distorts the weight of the letters.
Conversely, giving myself too much space and little structure can also throw off the weight of my letters. In this case, I often end up elongating words and distorting the proportions of the the letters. Giving the word just enough room to be comfortable, while also having structure is key.
You don’t have to nail down the letter weight right away. It’s okay to sketch things out roughly to get a feel for them. Then, you can go back and erase the mistakes. Continue to iterate on it until it’s just right.
What helps me relieve myself from the pressure of getting it right immediately, is starting with a rough sketch with my HB lead. Then, I go back with my eraser pencil to finesse the line to where I want it. Then, I go back once more to define a clear boundary.
Most often, the times when I arrive at inconsistent letter weight is when I’m rushing things. Getting things right takes time, so be patient.
This is especially important for beginners to come to terms with. If you’re a beginner, I have some good and bad news for you.
The good news is, as you practice your craft you will eventually become faster at achieving consistent line weight. You’ll learn from all your small failures with letter weight, and you’ll know what to avoid next time.
The bad news is, it’s going to take a while before you get to that point. That level of proficiency only comes after a lot of practice.
In the mean time, you’ll need to work much harder and longer to achieve the result of an experienced letterer. You haven’t had enough experience to know the right way to go with letter weight yet. Naturally, you’re going to run into all the wrong ways to do it, before you find the correct way – This is why it takes a lot longer for a beginner.
To show what I mean, here’s an example. This lettering piece was one of my first lettering pieces, and I spent nearly 8 hours on it:
Even with all that time, I still had numerous inconsistencies in letter weight. This piece breaks every one of the aforementioned keys to weight consistency. This is because I hadn’t learned from enough failures yet.
Compare that to this piece, after 14 months of regular practice:
Not only did this piece turn out much more consistent in line weight, but it took me only about half the time of the previous piece. This comes from a lot of practice, using these letter weight tips, and patience.
Consistency and a natural eye do not come overnight. It comes from intentionally focusing on recognizing weight differences and trying to improve them.
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