A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a tutorial called How to Hand Letter Like a Pro. In the course of the tutorial, I ask you to write 3D letters … and yet, no 3D letter tutorial existed on the TPK website! That changes today. In this article, I’ll teach you how to draw 3D letters using a ruler, a pencil, and a pen.
1. Draw Thick Block Letters
Letters will only look 3D if you give them a shadow, and in order to cast a shadow, the letters need to be thick. So, start by drawing out a short phrase using thick letters. If you’re pressed for time, you can type out your phrase in a word processing program, print, and trace the letters. If you’d like to write at a more leisurely pace, try writing your own letters (preferably aided by pencil guidelines), as I’ve done here.
Remember that it takes some time to draw 3D letters. For efficiency’s sake, it’s always best to commit to a couple of words versus a full sentence. I chose “EAT MORE KALE” because that’s exactly what I need to do! My garden is overrun with it.
2. Add Dimension
Our goal here is to make these letters look real, like they’re sitting on the page. To do that, we’ll need to add a shadow. To get started with your shadow, use a pencil to lightly draw several diagonal, parallel lines over your phrase.
To make these letters 3D, I’m assuming that there’s a light source coming from the upper left corner of the page. As such, shadows will appear to the lower right of the letters. To start drawing your shadows, begin with the lower left corner of your first letter. Line up your ruler with that corner such that the ruler is parallel to the slant lines you drew before. Then, draw along the edge of the ruler to make a pencil line that extends 3/16″ (~ 5mm) from the corner of the letter.
Identify the remaining corners of your letter, and draw more 3/16″ lines that are parallel to your diagonal lines. Your letter should look something like this:
Now, connect the 3/16″ lines that you drew both vertically and horizontally. The connections that you draw should run parallel to the edges of the original letter.
The process is the same regardless of what letter you’re working on: draw 3/16″ lines from the corners, then connect them.
If the shadows of your letters intersect with neighboring letters, that’s perfectly okay! Just remember that all shadow guidelines appear behind the letters. Take a look at the “M” below, and notice that its shadow remains behind the “O”.
If you have a round letter like “O”, you of course don’t have any corners to work with. The best place to extend the shadow down is the upper right corner of the letter, where the letter starts to make a sharp descent. You can draw another line at the lower left corner, where the letter has finished its descent. Then, connect those two lines. Don’t forget to draw a shadow on the inside of the letter as well!
3. Add Ink to the Shadows
Once you have finished drawing pencil guidelines, your letters should look 3D even though they’re unfinished!
At this point, you can opt to fill in the shadows with the color of your choice. I decided to fill in the shadows with black because I’m going for a classic look.
Continue to fill in your shadows until you’ve finished all of your letters.
Then, wait for the ink to dry (preferably a few hours, depending on your local climate), and erase any pencil lines.
4. Add a Background (Optional)
At this point, you’re finished with the tutorial because you know how to draw 3D letters. However, since I can never leave well enough alone, I encourage you to consider adding a background that complements your message! For this project, I used grass green ink and a dip pen/Nikko G nib to draw kale leaves. The leaves help the text to stand out even more!
You can add any pattern for a background as long as you draw it in a fairly light-colored ink. Feel free to experiment!
For today’s post, I sketched a quick cheat sheet of how you might approach adding shadows to different letters. Feel free to reference this image if you’re stuck!
If you want to practice drawing stylized 3D letters step-by-step, check out the Circus Lettering Exemplar. All Circus Lettering characters are 3D by default, so drawing those letters can help you to get the hang of making any style of letter 3D.
I hope that this tutorial makes sense! The very best piece of advice I can impart is to draft everything out in pencil first so you can see if something looks funky. No one ever said that making 3D letters was quick (it’s really, truly not), and taking the extra time to make a draft will make a huge difference … I promise. Thanks very much for reading, and please let me know if you have any questions!