Calligraphy guidelines are the behind-the-scenes stars of most great pieces. Since guidelines don’t show up in finished works, though, we don’t talk about them a whole lot. Today’s blog post will change that! Instead of letting guidelines remain a murky background detail, we’ll examine what they are, how to make them, and shortcuts for using them.
What are Calligraphy Guidelines?
Calligraphy guidelines help you to know exactly where and how tall to make your letters. Guidelines are usually drawn with a graphite pencil (on light-colored papers) or a white pencil (on dark-colored papers). Once you have used the guidelines to write your calligraphy and the ink has dried, you erase the guidelines.
How to Make Calligraphy Guidelines
There are a few steps to making calligraphy guidelines. They are:
1. Decide Your Lowercase Height to Uppercase Height Ratio
For more formal calligraphy styles (such as Janet and Flourish Formal), you want a uniform height for all of your letters. That means you’ll need three guidelines: a base guideline, a middle guideline (to denote the height of lowercase letters), and a top guideline (to denote the height of uppercase letters).
For larger text, I generally create a middle guideline that is a little bit closer to the bottom guideline than it is to the top guideline. That makes my lowercase letters about 40% the size of my uppercase letters. For smaller text, I position the middle guideline in the center of the top and bottom guidelines. Note that the ratio of lowercase letters to uppercase letters is based on personal preference. I encourage you to play around with guideline heights to see what you like best!
2. Assess the Space You Have
Once you figure out how many guidelines you need, you’ll want to look at your project and decide how far to space the guidelines apart. If you have a lot to write but not very much space, then you need to draw guidelines that are spaced very close together.
If you have a lot of space at your disposal, you can draw guidelines that are farther apart. It all depends on how big you want your letters to be!
3. Use a Ruler to Draw Evenly-Spaced Guidelines
Once you have decided how far apart your guidelines need to be, you’ll also need to assess how many sets of guidelines to draw. In the case of most envelopes, three sets are perfect. Use a ruler to draw three sets of evenly-spaced guidelines, and make sure that you maintain a consistent distance between each set.
A rolling ruler makes it easier to create parallel guidelines. If you find yourself drawing a lot of calligraphy guidelines, an investment in such a ruler would be justified!
4. Write and Erase
Once you’ve written on the guidelines, allow your ink to completely dry, then erase the guidelines. Try to use a white eraser (such as Staedtler Mars) for light-colored papers, and a black eraser for darker papers.
How to Make Your Life Easier (When it Comes to Calligraphy Guidelines!)
There are two major shortcuts when it comes to calligraphy guidelines. The first, and most preferable, is to use a light box. You can make a guideline template like the one shown below, slip it into an envelope, and shine light up through it. A light box will save you a ton of time because you no longer have to draw or erase guidelines!
Unfortunately, if you working with a dark piece of paper or envelope, a light box won’t shine through. In that case, I would make an “envelope template” on a piece of printer paper. The envelope template should have a series of evenly-spaced lines that run longer than your envelope.
To use the template, you’ll align your ruler with two of the lines that peek out from either side of the envelope. Then, take a pencil and use it to draw a line along the edge of the ruler. Repeat that step for each guideline on the template.
First of all, you don’t have to draw three guidelines. If you want to use casual calligraphy (like Kaitlin Style), you can get away with drawing one guideline. Casual calligraphy styles with a bounce don’t require letter height consistency, so you don’t need middle or top guidelines.
You can also free-hand draw wavy guidelines to make unique calligraphy pieces. The guidelines don’t need to be perfect (and they probably won’t be)! The wavy calligraphy will distract anyone from noticing that the letters aren’t a consistent height.
I know that calligraphy guidelines aren’t necessarily glamorous, but they’re an integral part of creating calligraphy. The symmetry and harmony that they contribute to the final product is worth going to the trouble of making them! If you have any questions or tips about making calligraphy guidelines, I’d be glad to hear them in the comments. Thanks very much for reading TPK, and enjoy the rest of your day!