I’ve been the “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” kind of personality all my life. Not surprisingly, the beckoning call of faux calligraphy proved irresistible. I mean, brush lettering without brushes? Complex lettering without the complexity? I was intrigued!
After a bit of practice, I realized that for fake calligraphy to mimic the real deal, one must pay attention to the small details – the nuances. This concise guide will teach you how to do fancy lettering the easy way while giving insightful tips to make them look genuine.
What Is Faux Calligraphy?
The faux calligraphy technique is a way to traditionalize your handwriting without the need for professional tools or skills. Put simply, you’re creating the illusion of upstrokes and downstrokes.
It’s a knockoff to the gentlemanly discipline of using dip pens and delicate inks to produce old English roundhand or other types of complex lettering.
Beautiful Lettering Without Consistent Practice
Faux calligraphy cuts your need for patience and self-discipline by 75 (yes, you read correctly, seventy-five) percent. (Please don’t quote that. I pulled that stat out of thin air.)
Seriously, though, consider the benefits of hand lettering the easy way:
- It’s easy to learn (there are few pain points)
- It’s cheap and low-maintenance
- It holds its own under scrutiny quite well (if done with the below tips in mind)
Understand the Art of Calligraphy
What characteristics of calligraphy give it its human charm? Knowing these characteristics will help you to create convincing word art without resorting to any pressurized strokes. Let’s go over the obvious first. Take a look at this comparison:
Which example is more aesthetically pleasing? I bet you picked the one on the left. Why?
- The downstrokes are all thick.
- The upstrokes are all thin.
- The horizontal (sideways) strokes are mostly thin
So, the cardinal rule for gorgeous calligraphy script is 1) all downstrokes should be thick, 2) all upstrokes should be thin, and 3) most of the sideways strokes (including flourishes) should be thin. Otherwise, your handwriting will appear unbalanced and off, like the example on the right.
In addition to the primary calligraphy strokes, you also need to figure out the ideal proportions of your letterforms. Proportions refer to the letter spacing and size. Behold this mess:
Doesn’t look so hot, does it? Why not?
- The spacing between the letters is uneven
- The sizes of the lowercase lettering aren’t uniform
- The line variations are inconsistent
Calligraphers rely on plenty of practice to build up the muscle memory necessary to nail down a consistent lettering style. Although you won’t need to expend nearly as much energy, be prepared to dedicate at least some practice sessions to familiarizing yourself with a favorite font. As a byproduct, you’ll likely even improve your regular handwriting!
Understanding the above principles will propel your fakery to new levels. Now, let’s briefly talk about equipment.
What Pens Should You Use?
Many guides will say that “any” pen works. I think this is partly true. In my experience, certain pens are much better suited for faux calligraphy than others.
I’d avoid pens and markers with
- translucent ink because it makes blending your overlapping strokes very difficult (the visible streaks will reveal your forgery)
- water-based or runnier ink because it pools, bleeds, feathers, and smears
- fine tips (<0.5mm) because they’re inefficient for filling in, harder to control, and also create telltale streaks.
In contrast, stick to pens and markers that use pigmented ink. Pigmented ink is not only easier to control, but it also blends seamlessly. What’s more, it’s usually bleed-, feather-, and smear-proof.
Fake Calligraphy Step By Step
1. Choose Your Lettering Style + Font
If you’re confident in your handwriting, you can skip this step. However, if you’re like me and have little prior experience in creative lettering, it’s best to practice mimicking a font you like to build an aesthetic eye and muscle memory.
Head over to DaFont.com, an enormous archive of fonts complete with exemplars. Then, choose a suitable calligraphy alphabet of your preferred style. If you’d rather not scroll through hundreds of fonts to find something suitable, then just pick from my shortlist below. The ones there are awesome for our purposes.
A good calligraphy alphabet for counterfeiting should have
- a clear variation between downstrokes and upstrokes
- simple, “breakable” connections (i.e. the whole script still appears as one continuous stroke even if you lift your pen from the paper).
Crucial tip. Avoid fonts with excessively flamboyant flourishes or unreasonable letterforms. The more complicated the font, the less forgiving it will be to misplaced strokes or disproportions.
2. Write Out the Basic Letters
To successfully write out your word or phrase in preparation for faux calligraphy, you’ll need to anticipate where the thicker downstrokes will be and leave extra space in those areas for filling in later.
In other words, your letterforms should be spaced out slightly wider than usual. They likely won’t look pretty until they’re finished.
I like to add my faux downstrokes to the right of each line. So I write with that accommodation in mind, like this:
On DaFont.com, you can use the “Custom preview” field at the top of each font page to generate your slogan in that particular font. This is great for assessing whether it’s doable or not, or if all you want is to directly copy a baked template.
Crucial tip #1. Write lightly with a pencil first. Measure twice, cut once, right?
Crucial tip #2. Don’t confuse brush lettering, which is what you’re faking, with cursive handwriting. In other words, it’s OK to lift your pen off the paper when connecting letters. A good font will allow you to lift your pen without affecting visual continuity.
Lazy man’s tip #3. The ultimate cheat is to trace out your slogan by placing the working piece of paper over a print-out or a bright tablet screen. Forgery at its finest. Of course, this won’t work for card stock such as wedding invitations.
3. Add the Downstroke Contours
Carefully outline the contour of every downstroke motion, like this:
Crucial tip #1. Follow the shape of the letterforms convincingly, as if the pressurized strokes were actually done by a calligraphy dip pen. Also, be careful not to let the ends “pierce” the letterforms. Otherwise, you’ll end up with sloppy, rough-looking shapes like this:
Crucial tip #2. Try to maintain a correct ratio between the thinner and thicker lines. If there isn’t much difference between them, you’ll lose the effect. On the other hand, if your downstrokes are overly wide, you’ll end up with chunky block lettering.
Crucial tip #3. The ends matter. A calligraphy pen with a flex nib creates tapered strokes, whereas one with a broad-edged nib makes flat ends. Paying attention to such details makes a big difference!
4. Trace Over the Outline With Your Pen
If the pencil marks are light enough, you could directly mask them over with pen ink. Otherwise, gently erase the residual markings afterward.
5. Carefully Fill In the Downstrokes
And, for the crowning touch:
Crucial tip. To prevent unnatural streaking from becoming a distraction, fill in the gaps using an up-and-down movement rather than side-to-side. Put simply, go along the direction of the stroke.
My Favorite Calligraphy Styles & Fonts To Fake
Aside from the traditional Copperplate variations, there are modernized styles that work wonderfully with faux calligraphy. I’ve found the best fancy lettering for this purpose on DaFonts.
My favorites are listed below. The links will take you directly to their respective page, where you can download the font and view its exemplar.
So, get out your practice sheet and start practicing!
Birds of Paradise
Smile of the Ocean
Best Resources For Traditional Dip Pen Calligraphy
Eventually, every con artist wants to come clean. At least, that’s what happened to Frank Abagnale Jr.
I’m positive that sooner or later you’ll want to pick up a brush pen and begin honing REAL calligraphy skills. It’s merely part of the natural progression. Or, you might even fancy some ballpoint calligraphy. I’ve got a guide on that, too, so why don’t you check it out?
So, bookmark these helpful resources for when that enlightening time arrives because, well, I certainly can’t teach you!
IAMPETH.com – Don’t be fooled by its dated interface. This is the definitive resource for downloadable practice sheets, in-depth explanations, and so much more on traditional hand lettering.
The Flourish Forum – Going on eight years strong, this community is the calligrapher’s paradise. Apprentices have the opportunity to meet masters, who are humble and kind enough to connect with the uninitiated. Besides the enriching human interaction, expect to discover many free tutorials.
The Postman’s Knock – She’s a virtuoso, Lindsey Bugbee. Actually, it was through her no-fuss guide where I first acquainted myself with calligraphy the easy way. She covers everything in this realm from simple lettering for beginners to advanced brush pen techniques.