Hand Lettering and Watercolor: Which Is Better?

Hand Lettering and Watercolor: Which Is Better?

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Why would someone want to learn how to watercolor over hand lettering or learn how to hand letter over watercolor? In case you are wondering which to start to learn as a beginner, I will compare hand lettering vs. watercolor in three specific aspects: cost, difficulty level, and style. The goal is not to convince you that one is better than the other, but maybe you don’t have time to learn both techniques right now. This hand lettering and watercolor comparison may help you know which one to begin with!

Hand Lettering and Watercolor: Cost

You could argue that either one is more expensive depending on what supplies you’re getting. So, let’s just talk about when you’re first starting. What’s involved when it comes to getting supplies? 

With hand lettering, you will need a pen and paper, which most people already have. So you can start hand lettering right now for basically nothing. That is if you are okay doing monoline lettering or faux calligraphy. If you want to get actual brush pens to practice with instead, you can get some decent brush pens and paper for a reasonable price. 

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For watercolor, you can’t just use a pen you already have so you do have to buy watercolor. You also can’t do it with any regular paper, so you need watercolor paper and a paintbrush. I will say that expensive watercolor is more costly than expensive brush pens. But you can use brush pens as watercolor if you’re switching from hand lettering to watercolor. 

The watercolor for beginners I see recommended the most is Prima watercolor. They have so many different sets of colors. These are great to start with and are at a reasonable price. From a watercolor artist’s perspective, my friend Kolbie said she likes using student-grade watercolor paper (meaning it’s less expensive) because you can get smoother edges. Using professional-grade paper for big watercolor pieces can hold more water and keep the colors more vibrant. 

Basically, you can find some inexpensive watercolor supplies just like you can find affordable hand lettering supplies. It comes down to the fact that you have to have more supplies with watercolor than with hand lettering. Because you’re going to invest more for supplies in watercolor, it only makes sense that you’d want to invest a little more in learning how to use them, so you’re getting the most out of them.

Hand Lettering and Watercolor: Difficulty Level

Learning anything new can be difficult but is hand lettering or watercolor harder to learn? In my opinion, hand lettering is a little easier to start because everyone learns how to write the alphabet from a very young age. You are at least comfortable with the alphabet and have a reference point to get started. Even if you have bad hand writing!

With watercolor, there are more things to consider, like color theory or how to mix colors. However, you can also argue that watercolor is easier because you don’t have to be as precise, and it doesn’t have to be legible. Of course, one or the other will be harder for different people depending on your experiences. What’s most important is to focus on where your interest is.

Kolbie started with hand lettering and was glad she started with a brush pen first so that when she was learning to use a paintbrush, it didn’t feel so clumsy. Brush pens have firm nibs instead of bristles like a paintbrush which can be harder to control. Kolbie gradually transitioned from hand lettering to watercolor because, at first, she wanted to make fun backgrounds for her lettering. She started doing that more, and after a couple of months, she realized that she hadn’t done any lettering in a while and decided to pivot and lean into watercolor. She said she likes that hand lettering and watercolor both have simple recipes. For example, hand lettering is the basic strokes pieced together. Kolbie said when she teaches watercolor landscapes, she uses a simple recipe, and you simply break it down into bite-size pieces to practice techniques.

Hand Lettering and Watercolor: Style

Let’s compare the style of hand lettering vs. watercolor. There are so many styles within each. What aspects of watercolor are going to draw you in, and what aspects of hand lettering will draw you in? What style are you?

Typically I see that someone who likes to hand letter wants to express themselves with words. Whereas with watercolor, someone may prefer to express themselves in images. With hand lettering, you have a little more control over your pen so you can be more precise. With watercolor, it definitely has a mind of its own, and there’s only so much you can control. For some people, that can be really frustrating not to control it, and the whole point of having a creative outlet is to find something that helps you express yourself. That’s why that aspect of watercolor is not a good fit for everyone. When I started dabbling in watercolor, it actually helped me let go a little. I learned how just to let it be and not try to get everything so perfect. In that way, it was a good thing for me and even helped me to let go of perfection.

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To give you a side-by-side example of hand lettering and watercolor, look at the image above. This is my new hand lettering book next to Kolbie’s watercolor book. These books give a good representation of hand lettering vs. watercolor. In my hand lettering book, there are many worksheets to practice your hand lettering and learning basic letterforms, connecting letters, laying out quotes. Then there are some projects with different alphabet styles. In Kolbie’s watercolor book, you start with the basic techniques of how watercolor works and how to use your paintbrush and the color wheel. You’re not practicing on worksheets; you’re painting a landscape to practice different techniques.

Learn How to Watercolor

Let’s remember, if you’re really interested in something, with enough practice you can learn it no matter how difficult it is. Also, it’s essential to know what resources you have to learn something new. You can learn anything for free on Youtube and blogs. However, if you want more focused learning, it may be worth investing in a resource to learn from someone.

If you are finding watercolor interesting, let me give you a peek into Kolbie’s course called Exploring Watercolor 101. Kolbie let me look at her Exploring Watercolor 101 course to see if I wanted to be an affiliate and share it with you. I love that her course breaks down the recipe of watercolor into bite-size pieces. It’s a pretty extensive course starting with the basics and going beyond what I’ve learned from Youtube tutorials. She has 30 different projects to help you learn and practice specific watercolor techniques. Suppose you’ve decided that you are into the watercolor style and want to learn more about watercolor rather than hand lettering. In that case, the Exploring Watercolor 101 course will give you everything you need to know.

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With all of that said, comparing hand lettering and watercolor, I think hand lettering and watercolor can definitely go hand in hand and be used together. All in all, it depends on your own personal style and which one you resonate more with and want to take the energy to lean into. I’m so curious to hear what draws YOU to watercolor or hand lettering! Why did you get into it?

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