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The effectiveness of instructional materials can be enhanced by the lettering used for verbal information accompanying illustrations. The lettering must be easy to read. Four factors should be considered.

- Size. Experiments have shown that to be readable, letters should be at least a half-inch high when the viewer's distance is 10 feet. They should be proportionately larger as the viewer's distance increases.

When giving presentations outdoors, groups are usually large and therefore viewing distance usually is much greater. Increase lettering size accordingly.

- Style. The style used also determines how easily the letters can be read. Letters in simple style are more easily read than those in a complex style. In long sentences or paragraphs, lower case letters combined with capitals are more legible than all capitals.

Difficult to read

Easy to read

- Spacing. Spacing refers to the amount of space left between the letters in a word, between the words themselves, and between lines. A neat lettering job can be ruined by improper spacing. There are two types of letter spacing, mechanical and optical.

In mechanical spacing the separate letters are treated as if they were in a box or rectangular block. The spacing is determined by the equalization of the distances between the blocks. This type of spacing, while relatively easy to do, is commonly used only by machine lettering, as exemplified by this printed page. With optical spacing, the space between the letters is equalized by considering the differences in the shapes of the various letters. The alphabet can be divided into three letter types.

The first category is the regular or rectangular letter such as E, H. I, M, N. and U. There is no problem in spacing between these letters.


In the second category are the circular letters - B. C, D, G. O. a R. and S. They should be placed closer to their neighbors to equalize the white space or area between the letters.


The third category of letters are the irregular letters such as A, F. J. K, L, P. T. W. X, Y. and Z. These letters are more difficult to space. The basic consideration is the equalization of the area or white space between the letters themselves.


Most people have a tendency to leave in sufficient space between letters which give them a squeezed appearance as shown in the example of the word, MINIMUM. Avoid crowding to improve legibility.



In addition to spacing carefully, avoid crowding between words and between lines. There are general rules for spacing lettering, but the best way to learn is through practice. Keep in mind that spacing is simply the arrangement of letters to form words so they can be read easily and look attractive to the eye.

- Contrast. The contrast between letters and their background is an important factor in readability. Light-colored letters should be used on a dark background or dark letters on a light-colored background. When using light-colored letters on a dark background, the lines should be slightly thicker than when using dark-colored letters on a light background.

Family Planning

Lettering may be the job of a highly skilled artist; however, anyone concerned with effective communication should be interested in the extent to which lettering transmits ideas more effectively. In addition to being neat and easily read, lettering should be easy to do. There are several lettering techniques.

Hand Lettering

Legible hand lettering is really quite easy to do. Keep in mind the basic rules. Use a simple style, space carefully, contrast the letters with the background, and make the lettering large enough to be read easily by all viewers. Draw guidelines and lightly sketch in the letters to get the proper spacing.

Lettering pens in a variety of sizes and styles are available from most book or stationery stores. These can be used with India ink or with colored drawing inks. The illustration shows one legible, hand-lettered alphabet.


Felt-point markers are particularly useful. They come in a variety of styles and colors, and will write on paper, cardboard, and many other surfaces. When planning to do lettering on plastic, be sure the purchased markers can be used on a plastic surface.


Markers can be made with a piece of bamboo and some absorbent cotton. Choose a piece of bamboo that has an inside diameter a bit smaller than the width of the intended line. Stuff cotton into the end of the bamboo and compress it rather tightly. Dip into ink or dye until a reasonable quantity has been absorbed. Wipe off the excess and start to letter. A piece of felt wrapped over the end of a flat stick such as a tongue depressor will work very well for large letters and can also be used with ink or dye.

An excellent lettering pen can be carved from a piece of bamboo. Use a yew, sharp knife or a razor blade to carve the pen, and make certain the end is flat and uniform in thickness. These pens can be used with a variety of inks.


Cutout Letters


Cutout letters are easy to make. Colorful sets of plastic or cardboard letters can be purchased at art supply stores or bookstores. They can also be cut from paper, cloth of various colors and textures, cardboard or from wood. The letters can be copied or traced from a child's alphabet book, from an art book or a newspaper. When cutting letters out of paper or thin card, use a single-edged razor blade and hold at a 30 degree angle to the paper. If you have to use a double-edged blade, wrap a piece of adhesive tape around the fingers and thumb to prevent getting cut.


For special purposes, cutout letters can be combined in various ways. Two similar letters cut from different materials and slightly overlapped create an interesting effect. Letters can be more easily cut from two or more sheets of paper or light cardboard by temporarily fastening them together with rubber cement before cutting.

Stencil Lettering

Stencils provide a method of making neat, legible letters at low cost. Stencils can be made of many materials such as oiled cardboard, plastic or metal. Letter sizes can range from as small as 1/8" to several inches in height. Some stencils are used with India ink and special pens. Some are used with a stencil brush, felt-point pen, pencil or colored pencils.


The unistencil is one of the simplest lettering devices for making large block letters or signs for posters, or for outlining letters which are to be cut from paper, cardboard or other materials. Three unistencils of different sizes are printed on a separate sheet in Appendix 7. These sheets can be mounted on cardboard and cut out for making two-, three- or four-inch letters.


The procedure is as follows:

1. With a pencil, trace the basic form for each of the desired letters. The letters will be incomplete at this stage. The following samples show how various kinds of letters can be formed.


2. Complete each letter by cutting off or rounding corners and by completing the missing lines.

The letters can be cut out; or, if they are on a sign or poster, they can be filled in with ink, a felt-point marking pen or colored pencils.

Cardboard and Metal Stencils


A wide variety of cardboard stencils are available at most bookstores. These vary in size from ½" to 2" or 3". They come in Gothic, Roman, Old English and other styles. Pick a style that is appropriate, but keep in mind that simple styles are usually more legible. To use cardboard stencils, follow these steps:

1. Draw guide lines lightly in pencil to mark the top and bottom of the letters.


2. Trace the letters lightly in pencil or use a marking pen or colored pencil.

3. Fill in with ink, paint, colored pencil or felt marking pen.


Large stencils are available in cardboard or in metal. These can be used in the same manner as smaller stencils, or they can be formed into words and painted with canned spray paint to create interesting lettering effects. Stencil brushes also can be used with these stencils.

Plastic Stencils

There are two basic types of plastic stencils: thin flat stencils intended for use with a stencil brush, and thicker stencils for use with special pens. The latter have some provision for raising them above the lettering surface.

Thin, plastic stencils are used with a stencil brush and block water color paints. To use these stencils, dampen the brush and rub it on the paint until the brush is well charged and nearly dry. Hold the brush perfectly upright and with a circular motion brush over the letter being careful not to move the stencil. Light pencil guide lines help to keep lettering straight.


There are several different brands of guides for using India ink in special pens to make neat small letters for a variety of purposes. The procedure varies with the type of guide, but the instruction sheets do an adequate job of describing the procedure.