The ABCs of Hand Lettering: Materials

The ABCs of Hand Lettering is a series of posts (and a baby project I’m doing) on hand lettering – a few tips and guides by yours truly to kickstart your art venture into drawing letters and creating your own lettering style.


Hand lettering has become such a big thing lately (*confetti*), and while I have been working on my own letterforms since who knows when (my mom influenced me way back in grade school, when I used to be a consistent penmanship & calligraphy contest awardee, lol), most of the people I’ve seen dabble into this art form have just started out.

I’ve been constantly asked by most of you (guys, I have a FAQ you might want to check out for all questions) on what are the best basic materials to use for beginners, and while I have created versions of these (version 1 here and version 2 here), I figured that compiling everything on this updated post would be appropriate.

So with that, I’m kicking off this series with a comprehensive post on the materials I use. These materials are based on my recommendations, having used most of these tools as my weapons of mass creation. I hope you get to try out these tools and let me know which works for you!

Before anything else, here’s a neat idea for you: try segregating your pens. I have four pen holders: 1 each for fineliner/brush/drawing pens, colored pens, paintbrushes and markers. Obviously, I have a lot of writing and drawing tools – and categorizing them this way helps me get organized especially if I need to only use a specific set of materials for a project (e.g. paint).


01Pens all

While I have been hoarding pens for the longest time now, my top choices for lettering would be: a fine liner (the most basic), a brush pen and a water brush – these are the most popular as well.

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Fineliners in different weights have different purposes – for outlining, coloring, adding shows and other treatments to your letterforms. Brush pens are basically a pen version of your typical paint brush, and creates more fluidity and solidity to your work (compared to using a brush), as well as having the advantage of continuous ink flow. A water brush is the most handy paintbrush for watercolors, as there is water storage inside the pen’s body instead of the usual water dipping.

On another note, my top brands would be Uni, Artline, Pilot, Pentel, and Zig. I’m not particular with brands, but I do consider buying the rare ones when I travel. Currently, what’s readily available in Manila are Uni, Artline & Zig.

01Pens write

Here’s a rundown of the pens I frequently use and how they look like when written.

01Pens and markers

(L-R: Brush pen from Daiso, Pilot brush pen & Kuretake brush pen from Tsutaya bookstore, Zig brush writer from Swirls & Strokes, Copic Ciao from Art Friend, Zig water brush from Art Mark)01 Markers

(all markers from National Bookstore & Fully Booked – except for Copic markers, which I purchased from Art Friend in Singapore)

Most of my inks are black, but I also purchase specific colored markers and pens (in my favorite colors, mostly).

01 CalligAs much as I love lettering and using varied pens, I also dabble into calligraphy sometimes (but mostly for personal endeavors). I got my first set of calligraphy tools from a friend, and I then bought another set at Scribe. Most of the nibs you see here are from The Craft Central (thanks, Alexis!). They carry a variety of calligraphy tools and materials, as well as a Scribble kit for beginners.

Paint & Brushes

02 Paint

I use watercolor as my medium for most of my colored pieces, which is why I invest in more than one brand.

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02 Watercolors
My initial preference was Prang (I have 3 sets!) but over time, my pans were invaded by ants (apparently it tastes sweet) and the pigment quality did not reach my expectations. Of course, that was because I discovered Sakura Koi and Daler & Rowney recently. My friends have also recommended using Dr Ph Martin concentrated watercolors (specifically if you are particular with the color mixing and such) and other big brands such as Van Gogh, Holbein and Windsor & Newton.

02 Prang02 CW

I use Prang for simple projects (it’s the cheapest, at around less than P300 for a set of 8 colors), while I use my Sakura Koi set (costs around P500 up) a lot especially because I take it with me to my travels. The Daler & Rowney Aquafine set is my recent purchase (it costed me around P3,900 at Fully Booked – no regrets!) and I’m still experimenting with the pan but so far, the colors are very vibrant and concentrated, which is a good thing.

02 Brushes

For brushes, I recommend getting at most number 0 brushes and below, if you’re looking into using these for intricate details and for more control of the letterform thickness.

My current brush stache includes a Pentel brush (the black one), random brushes I scoured at a nearby shop in Chinatown, Singapore, a 000 brush I purchased from Alessa Lanot a few months back, and the basic brushes I got from Valerie Chua’s watercolor workshop 2 years ago (I know, I should get new brushes, lol).

02 WaterbrushMy recent discovery probably made painting 100000x easier – it’s the water brush. I don’t know which store carries a big quantity here in Manila, but you can definitely purchase these in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Best brands would be Zig or Pentel. I use 2 Zig brushes (small & medium).

Pictured here is the water brush included when you purchase a set of Koi watercolors (available at Hey Kessy).

Notebooks & Paper


I have a lot of notebooks (not exaggerating, maybe around 50 total) – but I only have selected ones for painting and drafting. Currently, I use a Daler & Rowney sketch pad I got from Art Friend in Singapore, plus a handy plain notebook for all my drafts and studies. As of this writing, I am using a graphed notebook for my drafts, just to try it out.

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03 Paper

As much as there are a lot of types of notebooks for drafting (lined/unlined/graphed/dotted), I still prefer unlined because it gives me more opportunities to go crazy with the lay outing and such. If you’re hesitant to completely draw without a guide, I would suggest getting dotted ones (Muji carries most of these) for subtle guidance.


My Nuuna notebook (picture on the left) is a favorite for more of the watercolor work I do, because the paper, while not textured, is relatively thick and can hold water very well. (BTW: I also shared some artworks I did inside my Nuuna on Fully Booked’s website)


I only use two brands of watercolor paper: Canson & Berkeley. This is because both of them are widely available in National Bookstore (in different pad sizes) and thickness wise, it’s perfect for my lettering needs.I usually cut them into smaller sheets if I need a small piece of work and such.

Where to Buy

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Pens / Paint / Brushes / Paper
Personal favorite would be Bras Basah Complex. Yes, I’m telling you now to visit Singapore because you will cry happy tears at Bras Basah Complex – especially Art Friend.

1. National Book Store (all the basics you need are here)
2. Fully Booked (they have a lot of paint and pads – watch out because their stocks of Rhodia pads get easily sold out!)
3. Hey Kessy (for more hard to find brands in Manila)
4. Bras Basah Complex: Art Friend & Art Mark (Singapore – read all about my experience here)
5. Tsutaya Book Store (Japan)


Paper / Notebooks
Functionality wise, I prefer plain notebooks and these are the brands I’ve already used:

1. Sunday Paper (the Simple notebook always works)
2. Sketchnotes (they have a variety of notebook sizes to choose from)
3. Muji (they carry a lot of dotted notebooks – great for drafts)
4. Fully Booked (I’m recommending Nuuna, because it’s what I use, as well as Rhodia)
5. Bookstores in Singapore & Japan

5 Tips!


1. Invest in good materials. They don’t even have to be expensive to be good. Start small!
2. Think before you hoard. Oftentimes, going to bookstores and art stores make you want to get EVERYTHING. Always create a comprehensive list of the things you really need and focus on that.
3. Know which works for you. If you’re keen on just trying out, let’s say, watercolor, then don’t spend too much time choosing which fine liner brand to get. It’s that simple.
4. Ask around and read up on reviews. Just like what I’m doing now, I’m recommending some of my favorites so you guys would know which brands and types of materials to buy. I’m sure there are a lot of letterers out there who are also sharing their thoughts on materials, so read up!

And lastly:
5. Attend workshops.

2015-01-09 14.10.04

Woohoo! I am having more workshops this year thanks to the release of my new guidebook which is only available at my #learnbyabc workshops. Schedules coming this January 31!

Also, I am working closely with a few people for a secret dream project – we’ll announce it soon. :)

Hoping this post was of help to you! Feel free to comment below, should you still have any questions or concerns you’d like to share.


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86 Responses to “The ABCs of Hand Lettering: Materials”

  1. Alex
    January 18, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Sooooo extensive! [eyes start sparkling]

  2. Abbey
    January 18, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    HAHAHA. Time to save up for hoarding :P

  3. Pat
    January 18, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you for this! I know a lot of these already, but having such a comprehensive list in one place is so convenient! Will be watching out for your workshops!

  4. Abbey
    January 18, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    You’re welcome, Pat! Hope to see you at one of my workshops soon.

  5. Celina Cruz
    January 18, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    LOVE this post!! Thanks for sharing these, Ate~ *hearts*

  6. Abbey
    January 18, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    You’re welcs <3

  7. Julie
    January 19, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing this out. I’ve been inspired by your posts through Instagram and I super love your work . Now I wanted to pursue doing such art. Hoping you’ll held workshop in CDO or Cebu. God bless.

  8. Abbey
    January 20, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks Julie! Working on visiting Cebu this year. :)

  9. Laika
    January 19, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Thank you for this! Looking forward to attend your workshops <3

  10. Abbey
    January 20, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    You’re welcome Laika. See you soon at my workshops!

  11. Odee
    January 20, 2015 at 5:42 am

    Amazing! Great set of tools, and a bonus description of how or when to use them. :) I especially like the tips at the end because i’ve proven that to be true so many times. The “hoarding” thing is funny — whenever i go to National Bookstore, i always feel like i NEED a lot of things from there! Also, knowing which works for you is definitely a plus. I bought an array of pens when i decided i’d try lettering, and almost bought an expensive calligraphy pen from Scribe. In the end, what i enjoyed using the most was only 2 from a collection of more than 10 pens: a Uni 02 and Artline calligraphy pen 2.0 :)

    Good job, Abbey! *thumbs up*

  12. Abbey
    January 20, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Hi Odee! Bookstores are deadly. And true, I also have the same situations on knowing which ones to use – so I usually check reviews online before buying them. Haha. You’re welcome, and thanks for reading! Hope this helps. :)

  13. Kj
    January 22, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Hi abbey!

    I just want to say thank you for being one of the inspirations I follow in this online world!

    Your works have made me look back through my old art bin and eventually made me say that I need to get my old self back again.

    It’s because of you who’ve made me gather my creativity skills I’ve lost along the way. I’ve been into a state of “creativity coma” for three long years. Thanks for waking me up!

    Looking forward to meeting you in one of your workshops soon! :)


  14. Abbey
    January 22, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    Hi KJ,

    You’re welcome :) Thank you too! Keep that passion for creating art burning – and hope to see you in my future workshops :)

  15. avery
    January 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Abbey!

    Do you sell the quidebook online? I’m from Penang and I really want to learn lettering but don’t know where to start.

  16. Mitch
    January 22, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    i looooooove bras basah. i frequent SG and i never miss a trip to any art friend shops. if i don’t go i usually make kulit my dad to get me pens and stuff.

    i’m not really a letter-er, calligraphy person but i have this huge love affair with pens and notebooks.


  17. Abbey
    January 22, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Art Friend is da bomb! Except it kills your wallet. Hahaha.

    Thank you Mitch!

  18. Mitch
    January 23, 2015 at 10:30 am

    yeah it does. MAJOR. my money gets sucked out of my wallet once i step into art friend. any, i frequent sg so if you have anything in mind from our favorite store hit me an email and maybe i can get stuff din for you:)


  19. Abbey
    January 24, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Yay, thanks Mitch! I’ll let you know if ever. :) Love love love SG!

  20. Catherine
    January 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Hi! Thanks for this! It helped me a lot. :) And, Prang is basically made from honey that’s why it’s sweet. I usually put mine in the fridge every time after I use it :)))

  21. Abbey
    January 24, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    Put in the fridge? That’s interesting! Haha. I’ll try it out :) You’re most welcome!

  22. Riell SantosWeeklies # 150124 | Riell Santos
    January 25, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    […] read and took notes from Abbey Sy’s Comprehensive Guide on Lettering Materials and Where To Find Them. In which, she wrote about the Sakura Koi Waterbrush among other helpful things. Can we all just […]

  23. Kayela
    January 28, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Hi Ms. Abbey! Thank you for making this post. :))) May I also know what kind of colored paper you use for lettering? And what white paint/marker you use with it? Thank you!

  24. Abbey
    January 29, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Hi Kayela, welcome :) Umm I don’t use colored paper, only white. White marker – I use Uni’s chalk marker.

  25. Giselle
    January 29, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Great Post! Love your tips and I hope I can attend one of your workshops :) Even your doodles are beautiful!

  26. Abbey
    January 29, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Thanks Giselle! I’m having a lot this summer, hope you can attend :)

  27. Andrea
    February 1, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Hi Abbey!! Your works are amazingg!!! Just want to know if there’s still slots in your workshops in Feb-March? Would definitely come if there’s still any!! Thanks so much!

  28. Abbey
    February 2, 2015 at 11:04 am

    Hello Andrea! Thank you :) You can view for schedules and subscribe to my newsletter here: :)

  29. February 2015: Sneak Peek | Le Rêveur
    February 8, 2015 at 11:01 am

    […] of Hand Lettering: Recommended Reads. Continuing this series (first one about the materials I use here) and sharing my top books on creativity, hand lettering and […]

  30. Jamie Catt
    February 9, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Love this, Abbey! And I’m so tempted to attend one of your workshops! *Gotta start saving up. I cry.*

  31. Abbey
    February 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Thanks Jamie! Hope to see you soon :) Hope you’re doing well!

  32. arelalala
    March 7, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    workshop in cebu pleasseee :((

  33. Abbey
    March 9, 2015 at 11:36 am


  34. Chris Tetang
    March 24, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    I really wanted to join, but right now, I’m hoping my sched will be free on April 18 or 19. *finger-cross*

  35. Abbey
    March 28, 2015 at 9:17 am

    I’ll have more in April and May after those dates :) Hope to see you!

    March 26, 2015 at 8:23 am

    Hi! Ate Abbey! Surpassing Works! I’m hoping that someday I can attend your workshops. :)

  37. Abbey
    March 28, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Thanks Jairus! :)

  38. Musings on Materials (+ a Giveaway!) | Le Rêveur
    April 16, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    […] yet to use it, but I’m excited! BTW, I’ve shared my go-to list of art materials here, in case you’re wondering what I use on a daily […]

  39. Mel
    April 20, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Will you be coming to Singapore to have the workshops? (:

  40. Abbey
    April 28, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Let’s hope! :) Hehe.

  41. Airanicole
    June 18, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    What are the basic pens, coloring materials and notebook needed if magstart pa lang po sa typography? :)

    June 25, 2015 at 1:32 am

    I love your creativity! Hope to get a copy of your book soon! And, hoping for a workshop in Baguio please? :)

  43. Fatima
    July 16, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Hey Abbey! I recently got into watercoloring and I was wondering if you can recommend a good notebook? Because as you probably know watercolors tend to scrunch up the paper, and I sometimes use fineliner pens, and they’re heavy so nababakat sa likod. I use jotter notebooks which can be found in NBS. What can you recommend? Thanks! And I love your work! You are actually the reason why I go curious with watercolor art :)

  44. Abbey
    July 16, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    Hi! I suggest getting paper that has high gsm, around 200-300 so the ink won’t bleed and the paper will be able to hold the water properly :) Suggesting brands like Clarefontaine, Canson or Langton which you can find in Fully Booked. it’s more expensive but quality is really good so that shouldn’t be a problem :)

  45. Vianne Beatrice
    September 21, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Hey Ms. Abbey~ What sizes of brushes do you recommend for a beginner in typography, (using watercolor as the medium) ? (I really need your advice because I suck a buying things that are main priorities and end up hoarding stuff that I won’t usually use (T.T) ) Thanks a lot!

  46. Abbey
    September 22, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Hello! 000 and anywhere from 2-6 :)

  47. Sarah Haw
    December 4, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    wish I could attend a workshop. Can you do one in davao?

  48. Abbey
    December 4, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Hi! Maybe next year :)

  49. Mau
    December 5, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    Hello! do you think Letraset Tria Marker including Three Built-In Nibs is okay if I am a beginner? I’m thinking of putting that on my wishlist for exchange gift :) Thanks! :)

  50. Abbey
    December 6, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Hi! If you’re into markers then that sounds ok. Another alternative though is Faber Castell’s pitt pens as they are less bulky in terms of size. What are the nibs included?

  51. Mau
    December 6, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Is it okay if i start with that? Or do you suggest that I start with something else? I totally have no idea when it comes to the right materials that I should use. The nibs include ultrafine, broad and brush. Here’s the link : Hope you can help me :)

  52. Abbey
    December 6, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Well, you can purchase fineliner pens or brush pens separately to start. I first started using fineliner pens before moving to different nibs :)

  53. Mau
    December 6, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks! :)

  54. Sarah C
    December 10, 2015 at 12:05 am

    Hello, Ms. Abbey Sy!

    Where can I buy this Daiso Brush Pen? Thank you! :)

  55. Sarah C
    December 10, 2015 at 12:05 am

    Hello, Ms. Abbey Sy!

    Where can I buy this Daiso Brush Pen? Available po ba siya here sa PH? Thank you! :)

  56. Abbey
    December 11, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Hi! No eh. japan only or Singapore

  57. Aizy
    January 16, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Hi Abbey!
    Thank you so much for so many information regarding lettering.
    I hope I can attend your workshops too! :)

  58. Abbey
    January 16, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    You’re welcome, Aizy! :)

  59. joy
    January 23, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Hi abbey can i use the water color pan of faber Castell? Im a first timer on arts but i just wanna ask if its good on painting and for typography? Thank you! I can’t seem to find Prang that’s why..

    More power God bless!

  60. Abbey
    January 23, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    Hi Joy! Yup Faber Castell is great for beginners :) Enjoy!

  61. Ckyleen
    February 16, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    YAYYY Thankyou so much for this ate Abbey! I hope i can save soon and save more for these stuffs. 😊

  62. Abbey
    February 17, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Yay you’re welcome!

  63. Angelica
    February 17, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Saan nyo po nabibili yung mga maliliit na brushes nyo and pitt artist pens ng Faber Castell? :) thank you po :)

  64. Abbey
    February 17, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Small brushes – Deovir :) and abroad
    Pitt pens – Scribe, National Book Store, Craft Carrot

  65. Kirstine Danica
    February 17, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    Hi! Can you please upload some of the fonts that are in your book? I need help in experimenting with more fonts. Thank you :)

  66. Abbey
    February 17, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    You may get a copy of my book and look for the fonts there. I have 12 of them published. Thanks!

  67. Mariah
    February 18, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Thank you very much!! I hope I can attend your workshop :((( *starts saving lots of money*

  68. Abbey
    February 18, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Haha. Hope to see you soon! :)

  69. Hannah
    February 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Hi Abby! Just bought your book. Next goal is to buy the materials. I am neither artistic nor creative. Wala talaga akong skill or talent (singing or dancing or even sa sports) BUT feeling ko, calligraphy ang nakatagong talent ko and I’m so ready to unleash it. HAHAHA. Wish me luck and THANK YOU for the inspiration. :-*

  70. Abbey
    February 29, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Hannah. HAHA. Good luck! Go yan push! :) Enjoy :)

  71. Tim Quinnson
    March 1, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Good Eve po ate Abbey aa
    Where could i buy Ohto Graphic liner pens and how it costs? thanks

  72. Abbey
    March 3, 2016 at 12:10 am

    I don’t know what that is, sorry!

  73. Clarence
    March 14, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Hi Abbey

    I was inspired by your artwork and the way how you do your lettering, can i ask kung san available yung workshop guidebook mo po?
    Just want to learn more and to be good as you someday :) thanks

  74. Abbey
    March 21, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Hi Clarence, it’s only available during the workshops. You may get a copy of my book The ABCs of Hand Lettering at bookstores nationwide.

  75. Aiza
    March 19, 2016 at 9:27 am

    Abbey, have you ever try Gansai Tambi by Zig?
    which is better? gansai, sakura koi, or prang.
    i am a newbie but i’m having doubts about prang.
    they say sakura koi or gansai by zig is much better..
    i can’t hoard so much so i need to really consider all options :0
    thanks in advance :)

  76. Abbey
    March 21, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Aiza, actually, you can get Faber-Castell if you want an entry level watercolor brand. I used Gansai Tambi but I didn’t like it as much. Sakura Koi is also a good option if you have around 500-700 pesos budget. But Prang is initially the first option since it’s cheap but pigmented. Again, Faber-Castell is a step higher than Prang so you can probably try to look for that. Good luck!

  77. Benj Sempio
    April 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    Hi, abbey! I love your art and your blog! But the thing is, it lags on my laptop and basically on all of my gadgets no matter how new or how fast the internet is. Maybe it’s the coding of your website(?) or the resolution of your pictures(?)

    I’m saying this with kindness and care/concern. I reaaaaallyyy love scrolling through your blog but waiting for it to load is a pain in the butt! lol. Hope you won’t get offended (;-;) Love you! <3

  78. Abbey
    April 16, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks Benj! I think it’s the image reso. Cause usually it’s hi-res. Thanks for letting me know! I’ve reduced the sizes of my recent posts already. Will also be transferring sites tomorrow so hopefully it becomes better. Appreciate it!

  79. Bianca
    June 20, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Oh my gosh! This is very helpful! ^_^

  80. Abbey
    December 15, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Yay glad it helped you!

  81. Radhika dasi
    August 9, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    You’re such an inspiration!
    Thank you so much. I hope to be as good as you someday :)

    I bought your book, and I practice everyday now.. with all the sucky materials I have. Hahaha!
    Pero sana I’d be able to buy these nice materials you have. Thanks for sharing the places to buy :)

  82. Abbey
    December 15, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks so much! Good luck! :)

  83. Ada
    September 18, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Cool things.. Because of your website, I am inspired to make more calligraphy artworks even though a lot of people said that they are unattractive. Thank you!

  84. Abbey
    December 15, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Keep creating and you’ll be better and improve :) Good luck and enjoy!

  85. Mika Berbedel
    October 21, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Whaaaa. So thankful for this one. I would like to ask, where is the workshops held? I want to go♥♥♥♥

  86. Abbey
    December 15, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    We don’t hold workshops anymore, sorry!