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Neat, Clear Lettering for Your Mechanical Drawings

Apr 24, 2008
Lettering is an important skill which draftsmen must learn to master. Lettering on plans and shop drawings must always be done freehand. Never use a ruling pen for small lettering. There are special kinds of pens from a number of speciality pen companies. These pens may be purchased at any art store and are obtainable in various thicknesses. Your choice will depend upon the thickness of the lettering which you require.

Hand lettering - particularly the kind that the draftsman and engineer do - is separate and apart from type, and must not in any way be an imitation of type. It is a distinct, free-swinging letter made quickly by quick strokes of the Speedball pen. Anyone can do this kind of lettering and, with a little practice, can do it extremely well. No knowledge of design or type faces is necessary.

In hand lettering it is necessary to rule only two horizontal guide lines at equal distances apart; you then use your lettering pen to form the letters between these guide lines. You do not need to resort to your triangles or other mechanical devices. Hand lettering is decidedly a matter of practice, and the more you practice the better able you will be to do it successfully.

Let us now consider the rapid kind of freehand lettering which the draftsman must be able to do. In the simple, freehand, sans serif lettering you can choose between the vertical and the italics, or slanting type. Most draftsmen find the italic lettering more convenient and quicker to do well than the vertical kind.

One excellent method of learning to letter in this way is to draw between two horizontal guide lines a number of rough ellipses, all the same size and equally spaced. This is, of course, done lightly with your 2H pencil. With the exception of the letters i, k, 1, t, v, x, and z, these ellipses form the basis of the entire alphabet.

For example, a is an ellipse with a small line at the right of it, b is the ellipse with a long vertical line on the left; c is the ellipse three-fourths completed; d is the ellipse with a vertical line to the right, etc. You realize at once how simple and easy it is to rough out any word you choose by this ellipse method, and to quickly ink in the outline of the letter you want. Of course you must remember the straight line letters. If you have an i, 1 or t, you must leave less space than you would for a k, an x, or a z. Note also that the lower case letters m and w are two intersecting ellipses wider than the other letters.

Practice making a number of different-size alphabets by this system and you will be surprised to find how quickly you will be able to form good, clear, well defined letters, and how easily the words themselves will form.

We have said that hand lettering is a matter of practice, and if you practice by this system you will soon be able to produce good, clear, simple line-italic lettering in lower case. The capital letters are somewhat different; they are formed in blocks and not in ellipses.

Obviously, if you do not want to do lettering in italics but prefer the vertical letters, then all the ellipses which were your guides in the lower case lettering become circles. These can easily be made with the pencil bow compass.

It may be obvious, but it is nevertheless important, to point out that most of this kind of lettering is done in two or more strokes. The letters c and o are an exception.

In the case of numerals, there are no set rules or regulations. You can choose your own method. If your numbering is clear, that is all that is necessary because numerals appear mostly on dimension lines and seldom if ever occur in groups the way words do.

With a little practice, you will be lettering easily and clearly.
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