Saturday, May 20, 2017

3 Easy Ways to Transfer Lettering to a Sketchbook Page

Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to add lettering to a sketchbook page than simply drawing it directly on the paper? Sometimes we aren't sure exactly what style we want to use or what size we need to fit in a particular spot. So we sketch a title or a phrase, then erase it; draw it larger, then erase it; try a different style, then erase it. You get the idea. All this trial and error can damage the page as we try again and again to get the lettering just right.

But don't despair! I've come up with three easy ways to tackle this problem, and they can help to make your lettering challenges a thing of the past. I'm using the title of this sketch from my 2016 Tuscany sketchbook as an example. (Fattoria Bacio is the villa where the workshop was held.)

Method #1
Tracing paper + graphite paper

Lay a sheet of tracing paper over your sketch. Play around with various styles and sizes of lettering by drawing them on the overlay.  Sketch the lettering on the tracing paper with a pencil. I like to use a mechanical pencil with 0.5 mm HB lead. (For unique lettering styles, try a website like Check out this blog post for complete instructions on how to preview your text in various fonts online.)

The tracing paper is thin, translucent, strong, and smooth. It's easy to see where you're placing your lettering, and if you change your mind, it's a simple matter to erase your first try with a kneaded eraser. The pencil lines erase much more cleanly than when drawn on sketchbook paper.

Once you've finalized the look of your lettering, it's time to transfer it to your sketchbook page using graphite transfer paper. You can buy commercially-made transfer paper, but I prefer to use my homemade version.

Here's how to make homemade graphite transfer paper:
Take a piece of tracing paper and scribble all over one side of it with a dark 4B to 6B pencil held on its side. (I use a Prismacolor Ebony pencil.) Color the paper a dark grey-black by scribbling in one direction, then turning the paper 90° and repeating the marks in the opposite direction. Then shade it in a diagonal direction. Cover the tracing paper with graphite. The paper should appear glossy and shiny.

I like using my homemade graphite paper rather than a commercial product for two reasons:
1. It's free, and I don't have to run to the store to buy it or order it online and wait a week to get it.
2. I know that any marks that I make using this as a transfer medium will come off easily with an eraser. There are no unknown ingredients like wax in it. It's pure, simple graphite.

I mentioned above that tracing paper is strong. Would you believe I've been using this same piece of homemade transfer paper for at least six years? So the amount of time it took to make it was more than worthwhile.

Now back to transferring the lettering...
  • Tape the sketched lettering design in position on your page. 
  • Place the graphite transfer paper underneath the lettering, black side down.
  • Using a ball point pen, trace over your lettering to transfer it to your sketchbook page.
  • Remove the graphite paper and tracing paper. The lettering is now ready for inking or painting. If the transfer is too dark, simply lighten it by pressing a kneaded eraser on it and lifting some of the graphite.

Method #2
Reverse side tracing

Try out different styles of lettering using a tracing paper overlay on your sketch, as in Method #1. After you've finalized the lettering...
  • Flip the tracing paper over to the reverse side.
  • Use a soft pencil, like a 6B, to trace over the reverse image of the lettering.
  • Flip the tracing paper over so it's right side up. Position it on your sketchbook page where you want the final lettering to be.
  • Use your finger or a burnishing tool to rub the lettering and transfer it to the paper underneath.
  • Remove the tracing paper. The lettering is ready for inking or painting. If it's darker than you like, simply press a kneaded eraser on it to lift some of the graphite.

Method #3
Printout + graphite 

Type up your lettering on a computer. Try out different styles. When you decide on the style you like, print it out in several sizes. Cut them out and try them on your sketchbook page to see which size you prefer. 

Once you've decided on the style and size, you can use your graphite transfer paper to transfer the lettering to your sketchbook page, or give this method a try...
  • Flip the paper over to the reverse side.
  • Scribble over the lettering with a dark pencil.
  • Turn the paper right side up and tape it in position on your sketchbook page.
  • Trace over the letters using a ball point pen to transfer the lettering to the page underneath.
  • Remove the printed pattern. The text is now ready for ink or paint.

After transferring my sketched lettering using Method #1, I decided to paint the title of this Fattoria Bacio map page with watercolor...

I use all three of these methods often for adding lettering to my sketchbook pages. They offer quick, simple alternatives to drawing directly on the sketchbook page or tracing a design through 140 lb. watercolor paper using a light box or a sunny window.

I hope you'll give them a try and see how easy it is to add the perfect finishing touch of hand lettering to your own sketchbook pages.


  1. My gosh...what a gem you are.
    A friend sent this blog and I am SO SO enjoying it.
    Wonderful explanations and ideas and your design ideas are to die for.
    Thank you so much for generous sharing. You are on my "follow" list on my blog.

    1. Welcome, Ginny! I'm so glad you are enjoying my blog. Be sure to check out my Tutorials page where you'll find lots of step-by-step watercolor instruction, too. And thanks for becoming a follower.

  2. Great article Leslie! Thanks for sharing this.

    1. You're very welcome, Julie. I'm glad you found it helpful.

  3. Excellent advised here as well as your other post on lettering, I'm bookmarking this page in case I forget how to do this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you so much Leslie for all these instructions! It will save me a lot of frustration in the future. I'm also on your follow list and really enjoy all your advice and beautiful artwork. I'm going to check out your tutorials page, too!

  5. Wendy Stewart McMillanJune 9, 2017 at 9:38 AM

    Bingo! How do you know just when to talk about a certain subject?! These last two posts are perfect...just wish I'd seen them before I spent money on some alphabet stamps-this is so much better! Thank you, Everyday Artist Einstein!😀

    1. You're so welcome! Glad the information was helpful.


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