How to Letter an Address

howtoletteranaddress1This week I accomplished a big chunk of wedding invitation prep– addressing the envelopes.  Now, most envelopes these days have fancy schmancy calligraphy and I was absolutely willing to learn how to for my sister’s wedding.  But after finalizing on the invitation design, I realized no matter how beautiful calligraphy is, it just wouldn’t “go” with the invites themselves.  After some thought, I decided I was in luck.  For I have three and a half years of architecture school under my belt.  And one of the first things you learn in architecture school is how to letter.

Now, I haven’t lettered correctly in years.  But I ended up adopting it as a form of quick all-caps writing since learning the art form in fall 2007.  I was a little nervous to use my own hand on my sister’s wedding invitations (I didn’t even address my own!), but after I thoughtfully gathered my tools and practiced for an hour, I dove in.  Here’s what I had handy to help with the process.

~ a sturdy surface, I used my well-loved small cutting board

~ a small t-square (much less cumbersome if you lack the table space)

~ a triangle (plastic or metal, use whatever you are comfortable with)

~ the paper of your choice (we used Paper Source Luxe Cream)

~ a pencil

~ a kneaded eraser

~ pen of choice (I used the Moleskine Classic Roller Pen)

Disclaimer: if you aren’t in architecture school anymore, using my guide to writing the alphabet is acceptable.  But if you are using your lettering for professional or educational purposes, go by the directed guidelines offered in textbooks.  Obviously this style of lettering suits my needs for addressing envelopes, but most likely wouldn’t pass a critique.  Lettering is meant to be a uniform style of writing, without personality or flair.

The best way to jump into lettering is to write the alphabet over and over and over.  Whether you are just starting out or giving yourself a refresher, it is easiest to draw some lines on the paper you will be using for your final product and write each letter over until you are satisfied.  I usually have to letter my J’s and U’s a few times over.  Understanding that each letter (similar to calligraphy) is a series of strokes will help you become a better letterer.

howtoletteranaddress5The position of your t-square, whether you use it above your letters or below, is entirely your preference.  I put my t-square below, so as I write with my left hand, my pinky doesn’t press awkwardly on my tool.

Rule #1: a straight-edge is to be used for every single vertical line.  That includes the obvious letters of the alphabet, but also the leg of the G (depending on how you write it) and the 5.  It is what makes this style so clean.

Rule #2: any traditional horizontal line looks best slightly skewed.  I think the first architects to use lettering discovered it is tough to make every letter look identical.  And obviously horizontal lines without the aid of a tool are nearly impossible.  Skewing the legs of letters like E, F, even your Z, will be more forgiving in your overall text.

With your straight-edge triangle resting on the t-square, begin your alphabet.  As you can see above, I’ve used my triangle to write the first part of the B.  Moving the triangle out of the way– to essentially connect a 3 to it– with a spare finger (my right middle felt most comfortable for this) enables you to quickly realign your straight-edge for coming letters and not lose much time adjusting the placement of your tools.

howtoletteranaddress2Rule #3: rounded letters and numbers employ a series of arcs, or half ovals.  O’s and zeros are two angled half ovals put together (notice it is not one stroke).

When you feel comfortable with the way your letters are looking, try writing a complete address out on your same piece of scratch paper.  This will help you get a feel for real words and how your letters will look next to each other.  While you are at it, determine what size letters you are most comfortable creating.  I have only two sizes that really flow off my pen tip easily, with every other size taking a little extra effort to perfect.  With the A2 size of my sister’s wedding invitations, I opted for my smaller letters, each measuring 1/8″ tall.  This size enabled me to address the guests formally, for example Mr. and Mrs. Prince Charming.

howtoletteranaddress3I don’t have many suggestions on how to keep your writing straight except to give yourself pencil guidelines for every envelope; I know I am more confident this way when I letter.  That being said, a kneaded eraser is a must.  It lifts the graphite off the envelope as opposed to the conventional eraser that rubs off the graphite (while damaging the paper surface!).  Kneading the eraser to a light gray keeps your product looking clean and pretty.  You will be able to see the physical lines that you lift up!  Pretty neat.

howtoletteranaddress4Hand-lettering is quite time-consuming.  Each envelope took me around twenty minutes…thank goodness the guest list is intimate!  But the result is a clean, semi-modern envelope that will just look stunning paired with our invitations (keeping those a secret until the end!).  With the correct tools and dedication, I believe anyone– including you!– can successfully letter like an architect.

What do you think?  Would you enjoy receiving one of these babies in your mailbox?



  1. Eeeeeeeeeee! I love it!

  2. OMG these look so good! I have always loved the look of lettering like this! I wish I had the skills, I hate my writing.

  3. Mary Ellen · · Reply


    1. Your envelope may just be the best!!

      1. Mary Ellen · ·


  4. caseylane · · Reply

    god bless architecture school. i also haven’t hand lettered since maybe 4th year. such a lost art!

    1. You mean all those stressful lettering exercises don’t get put to use in the professional world?? They should host in-office lettering competitions…wouldn’t that be fun!

  5. caseylane · · Reply

    lol that’s a great idea!!! i’m certain that everyone would be embarrassed by lack of practice 🙂

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