Tutorial: Lettering with Watercolors



Learn calligraphy online at istilllovecalligraphy.com. You’ll learn the basics of pointed pen, flourishing, addressing envelopes and developing your own style. The course comes complete with a beginner kit of supplies and personal coaching from calligraphy experts Melissa Esplin and Erika Paulsen. Click here to find out more.

Thanks for the shout out Creative Market!!

Not quite ready to dip your toes into the deep ocean of pointed pen calligraphy? Try your hand at some brush lettering!

It’s been a LOOONG time since I’ve shared a tutorial here! Life is just passing me by at the moment, but settling down on the horizon. I’m very much looking forward to getting back into the blogging swing of things.

I was on KSL’s Studio 5 sharing a segment on how to letter with watercolor. Using a brush and watercolor is very forgiving as it caters towards a looser style. Lettering in your own handwriting, uneven kerning, inconsistent line weights are all a-okay here.


The possibilities with watercolor are so endless. Artwork, greeting cards, business cards, gift tags. The list goes on! Check out my pinterest board for more DIY ideas using watercolor. Let’s talk about how to letter our own simple greeting cards!



You can certainly use crayola watercolors, but an intermediate or student set will make the colors more vibrant and you’ll have more control over the pigments.

You’ll want a round brush or a liner brush. Both would be great. The maroon brush in the image above is a size 8 round Kolinsky sable. It’s SUUPER awesome. However, I found a little set of 4 synthetic brushes (blue striped ones above) at Michael’s that includes size 10 and 12 rounds and size 6 and 8 liners (here’s another set). Liner brushes are long and skinny, round brushes are round with a sharp point at the end. Both provide great drama (the liner a little more), but make for a completely different touch.

We’re making greeting cards so the paper is really up to you. You can cut down watercolor paper to greeting card size, or you can use a nice cardstock. Both will work great because we’re not using a lot of water. Watercolor paper will give the work more texture and cardstock will give a smoother finish. For this tutorial I’m using watercolor paper.

Click “read more” for the rest of the tutorial!


I’ve been lettering for some time. I’ve got some experience under my belt, but I still like to rough out what I’m going to write in pencil. If you’re not worrying about spacing or centering, you can freehand. I wanted to make sure my composition was nicely centered. The key here is to touch the paper as lightly as you possibly can. Can you see the pencil? BARELY. It’ll make erasing much easier so you won’t rough up the surface of the paper or destroy the little details in the watercolor.


With a clean surface all prepped and your watercolors soaking in warm/hot water (SEE THIS TUTORIAL for why), wet your brush. Dip it all the way in and swirl it around. Water is your BFF.


Dip your brush in the pan and load it up with pigment.


Transfer the pigment to a flat tray (usually the lid of your watercolor set), mix the desired pigment and load the brush with pigment. The key to getting a good controlled line is to twist your brush in the pigment before lettering. 


Then start lettering. This goes quickly. Unlike calligraphy and penmanshipyou can go relatively fast through this process. Any time you stroke downward, add pressure for a wider line.


Any time you stroke upward, release pressure so only the tip of your brush touches the page. You’ll get nice variation in line-weight this way. You can use this technique in print and script styles.


Boom. You’re done! I added a gold swash to the bottom and plan on sending this with a gold envelope. Super easy. This project will take you under a minute. Why not cut out a bunch of cardstock and make a whole set of stationery to last the whole year?

(Cover image art for the segment is by Angie Makes)


Additionally, while the paint is wet, drop spots of an analogous (neighboring) color in there for a mottled ombre look.

*This tutorial/freebie is free for personal use and should not be distributed/republished without my consent. Altering any files is NOT ALLOWED. If you would like to use this freebie for commercial purposes, please email me. Thanks!
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  1. Celeste says:

    Oh, this is beautiful! I’m going to have to try this.

  2. maude says:

    love love love!!!

  3. Can’t wait to try this, thanks for the idea !

  4. Thank you for all of the wonderful tips! I have always wanted to explore lettering with watercolors but was so nervous!

  5. Carrie says:

    I like the starter set you shared the link to but would you mind sharing the name of the set you were using? Thanks. It’s beautiful!

  6. I love this! This inspires me to keep practicing with watercolors. Thanks for sharing! Homemade apartment decor, here I come!

  7. gina says:

    nice job in front of the camera; ur a natural. ty for all the tips to help my watercolor studies.
    I love Calligraphy, too~

  8. Lisa says:

    I love the look of watercolour lettering. So pretty and delicate. I’m inspired to have a go!

  9. marissa says:

    How did you do the “moving” in that one in the background? I love the contrast between the beautiful calligraphy and the block style. :) Amazing work, as always!

    • Melissa says:

      I used an automatic pen. It’s basically like a really wide broad pen that you can use with inks or watercolor. In this case it was watercolor. Thanks so much!!

  10. […] querendo tirar um tempo para aprender um pouco mais da técnica de pintura com aquarela, achei esse post com dicas para escrever em aquarela muito legal, do blog da Melissa […]

  11. […] a few cues from Melissa Esplin of I Still Heart Calligraphy and a plethora of YouTube tutorials, I got to […]

  12. Daniela Jimenez says:

    Hi Melissa! I really love your work. So inspiring!I was wondering if you could tell me what brushes you recommend/what you used for this tutorial? Thanks!

  13. […] leuk om een kaartje te krijgen, nog leuker is het om een zelfgemaakte kaart te sturen! Kijk op Melissaespin.com hoe jij jou persoonlijke kaarten […]

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  16. […] This option from Anthropologie is perfect.. if only they were $300 cheaper.This tutorial for hand lettering with watercolors has me wanting to get supplies and try this out stat.I can’t wait to put some Christmas […]

  17. Angie says:

    Hi Melissa!

    Lovely tutorial. The cover art is by me! Angie Makes. :)

  18. […] 2. Lettering with watercolors via and by Melissa Esplin […]

  19. Rebecca Eddison says:

    Thanks for this I found you on pinterest and sometimes it is good to get back to basics! I use watercolours all the time, but for some reason writing with them has always eluded me!

  20. Lisa B says:

    Thanks so much for this.
    I have a print shop and have been dabbling with watercolours for a little while as side projects. Your tutorial has really sparked something ♥

  21. […] Momma Bird, D Is For Dinosaur by Little Page Turners, DIY Painted Mugs by Glued To My Crafts, Lettering With Watercolor by Melissa Esplin, DIY String Art by […]

  22. […] con un pincel y acuarela. Si te da un poco de pánico lanzarte a lo loco pásate por este post de Melissa Esplin donde te da algunas claves para que empieces con buen […]

  23. CATHRYN says:

    Oh, Melissa, hand lettering is SO
    important in this age of digital
    everything! THANK YOU THANK YOU!

  24. […] Lettering with Watercolors by Melissa […]

  25. […] I’ve tried watercolor and painting this semester as ways to relax and get away from technology. This is one of my favorite watercolor tutorials. I loved implemented watercolor in my blog branding, that I wanted to try it out in real life. I overall love the way it looks! Check out one of my favorite watercolor tutorials here! […]

  26. Melissa Soro says:

    Hi! I found on on Pinterest and I wasn wondering about those brushes,can you tell me which ones you got?I didn´t understand if you mentioned a brand.

  27. Lee Ann says:

    So pretty and thank you so much for this tutorial.

  28. Rom says:

    Hello! Thank you for this tutorial. Very informative! However, I have a question. Do we need watercolor paper for this or a printer paper would do? I’d like to practice first but watercolor pads are a bit pricey. Is there any alternative? Thank you!

  29. Terri Mansfield says:

    My friend would like the same watercolor set you are using above. The link takes me to one that is a little different.

    • Melissa says:

      The really nice one is actually an empty watercolor set that my aunt lovingly filled with Daniel Smith tube watercolors to create a custom palette (an amazing labor of love!). If you go in on it with a friend, you could do 3 palettes for $300. The Talens one (cheaper) is fabulous to start off with.

  30. tania says:

    I love caligraphy!

  31. Katie Anderson says:

    Hello! Thank you so much for this tutorial! Your “water is your friend” line was very helpful! I’m struggling when taking a thin stroke to a thick one from right to left – like at the top of a cursive “L”. Do you have any tips for preventing your brush from catching in this situation to keep the curve smooth? Thanks!

    • Melissa says:

      Apply pressure and use a good brush. Sorry how vague that is, but it really makes a difference. You want a brush that has a sharp point and springs back to its original shape.

  32. Sophia says:

    Is there any way to “set” the paint so that it won’t run if it happens to get any water on it? Thanks!

  33. […] En otras ocasiones, os hemos contado nuestro amor por los cactus (será por su espíritu de supervivencia), por eso no os tiene que extrañar que uno de los tutoriales sea para pintar cactus. Y de un tema que nos encanta a otro que nos obsesiona: el lettering y por supuesto, el resultado con acuarela nos chifla. Para conseguirlo, toca seguir este tutorial para lettering con acuarela. […]

  34. Vkartbox says:

    Hie…good to see your work. Actually i am working on graphite and charcoal work . Now trying to use watercolour and acrylic but does not hav much knowledge. Thanks for your tips . Hope i get learn from your content

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