• How to Make Calligraphy Guidelines

    The secret to creating gorgeous calligraphy? Good calligraphy guidelines! In this post, you’ll learn about what calligraphy guidelines are and how to make them.

    How to Make Calligraphy Guidelines | The Postman's Knock

    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.

    White Calligraphy Guidelines | The Postman's Knock
    The Fons & Porter white mechanical pencil works wonders on dark paper! Despite its opacity, it erases off very well.

    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).

    How to Make Calligraphy Guidelines | The Postman's Knock
    This Janet Style calligraphy features lowercase letters that are about 40% the size of the 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.

    Densely-Spaced Calligraphy Guidelines | The Postman's Knock
    The guidelines for this Kaitlin Style envelope are spaced close together to fit a long address in a small space! (You can learn how to draw the spider in the newly-released Garden Drills packet.)

    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.

    Envelope Calligraphy Spacing Tips and Techniques | The Postman's Knock
    There is about 1/4″ (6.35 mm) of space between these three groups of calligraphy guidelines.

    A parallel glider 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.

    Calligraphed DIY Menu Cards Tutorial (Diagonal Concept) | The Postman's Knock
    Sometimes you’ll notice white residue if you use a light-colored eraser to get rid of guidelines on dark-colored paper. You can avoid that problem by using a black eraser.

    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!

    Using a Light Box | The Postman's Knock
    If you use a light box, you can include additional guidelines to help you achieve a consistent slant.

    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 (or download one from the TPK site). The envelope template should have a series of evenly-spaced lines that run longer than your envelope.

    Calligraphy Guidelines | The Postman's Knock
    You can find this ready-made envelope template in the Marvelous Mail eBook.

    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.

    Kaitlin Style Envelope | The Postman's Knock
    Casual and bouncy calligraphy styles like Kaitlin Style, shown here, only need one guideline.

    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.

    Envelope Calligraphy Spacing Tips and Techniques | The Postman's Knock
    The guidelines here were hand-drawn, so they’re not perfect.
    Blue and Gold Roses Envelope | The Postman's Knock
    The wavy nature of this Janet Style calligraphy distracts the eye from the fact that the letters aren’t all 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!


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock