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5 tips for using bespoke lettering in branding

Recently, we’ve seen a resurgence of brands adopting a crafty, handmade aesthetic, and an increased focus on tactile and analogue elements. However it's not enough to just stick a script font (opens in new tab) on your packaging design (opens in new tab). When Kyle Wilkinson (opens in new tab) was asked to create campaign imagery for RedLeg rum, he hand-painted a script-style brush type and combined it with metallic inks to create a laid-back, Caribbean vibe. 

This kind of attention to detail can make or break this aesthetic. Here are our top tips for embracing bespoke lettering in your branding work.

01. Use it wisely

If hand lettering works with the overall brand – its origins, its ethos and its audience – great. If not, avoid; people will see straight through a tech giant trying to look personable using nothing but a script-y typeface. “It’s got its uses, but I feel it’s a lazy approach sometimes,” says Wilkinson.

02. Work with the printers

Specialist typography often requires special finishes (opens in new tab): embossing, foils, and spot colours, for instance. So it’s best, where possible, to work as closely as you can when it comes to printing the project (preferably, be physically present). That way, you can see the colours, finishes and other elements as they’re done. For more on this, take a look at our tips for getting more from print projects (opens in new tab).

03. Keep it beautiful

Jessica Hische created these labels, including a custom drawn MV monogram for Mahonia Vineyard

Jessica Hische created these labels, including a custom drawn MV monogram for Mahonia Vineyard

"For a logotype to be ‘great’ it has to be beautiful – in whatever style or font it’s in,” says Jessica Hische (opens in new tab). It must also be legible. “The logo is the first visual insight a lot of people get into the company – it’s an opportunity to set the tone for how they want to be perceived and what they want people to think of them and what they do,” she adds.

04. Mix techniques

Hische works ‘by hand’ on an iPad Pro (opens in new tab) using Procreate (opens in new tab). “I work the same in that programme as I do using pen and pencil, but with the added ability to colourise my sketches when colour is a big factor,” she says. “If I’m tweaking an existing logotype, I use my sketches as a quick ideation and iteration platform, but don’t push my sketches beyond the loose idea stage. If I’m working from scratch, I’ll take my sketches further before vectorizing.”

05. Do your research

Competition is tough, especially in retail. “To make a difference you’ve really got to know your stuff,” says Stranger & Stranger (opens in new tab) founder and CEO Kevin Shaw. “You’ve got to know what works with consumers and what doesn’t, what others are doing and how to stand out; how retailers think and stock products. You also need to know about logistics and costs, so you can get the most out of budgets.”

This article was originally published in Computer Arts (opens in new tab), the world's best-selling design magazine. Buy issue 278 (opens in new tab) or subscribe.

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Emily Gosling is a freelance art and design journalist currently writing for titles including Creative Review, Eye on Design, Creative Boom and People of Print. She’s previously worked at Elephant magazine, It’s Nice That and Design Week, and was editor of Type Notes magazine. Her book Creative Minds Don’t Think Alike was published by Ilex Press in 2018, and she also plays bass as one-quarter of the eight-titted beast, Superstation Twatville.