Learning Architectural Lettering: How to Write Like an Architect

Lately I have put in a valiant effort to change my handwriting permanently to architectural lettering. You too can learn how to change your handwriting.

Lately I have put in a valiant effort to change my handwriting permanently to architectural lettering. If you are looking to improve your handwriting, I suggest you try this as it has done wonders for me.

It is expected as a designer or architect that all blueprints, drawings and designs done by hand have architectural lettering. This lettering was established by architects long ago so that all writing on blueprints were legible therefore costly mistakes would not be made.

Practicing architectural lettering used to be a part of the curriculum in most architecture and design education. Since the advent of computer drafting it is no longer mandatory, nor taught in school for the most part.

However, it is still a necessary part of the job and I have been unsatisfied with my architectural lettering on my designs since I started. Bad handwriting tends to make any design look amateur. All handwriting should match the quality of the design.

Learning Architectural Lettering: How to Improve Your Handwriting Quickly and Easily Click To Tweet

I have searched the internet far and wide and these are the best guides and typefaces for practice that I have found. Since it took me a while to find some great guides for practicing I figured I would share them with you but first let’s discuss the rules of architectural lettering and the tools that will make it easier for you to accomplish this lettering while drafting by hand.


Architectural Lettering Practice

Download these typefaces to create templates for practicing your architectural lettering. Once you have some lettering guidelines you’ll be able to write like an architect in no time with a little practice.

Architect NDP Typeface

Architect NDPThis typeface is the closest template you will find to practicing your more casual and stylized architectural handwriting. I recommend downloading this font and typing out all letters, characters, and numbers on a black piece of paper then print it. You can use tracing paper, grid or lined paper to practice the letters.


Tekton Typeface Architectural Lettering

arch lett

For a cleaner more sophisticated look. This typeface is closer to the style of architect Frank Ching who is mentioned in the video below. These letters also make a great guide for practicing your architectural lettering.


Simple Rules for Learning Architectural Lettering

Improve your handwriting because "your handwriting sucks!"

I recommend paying to download the Architect NDP (linked below) typeface to use for practicing

  1. Use guidelines on your piece of paper. Your guidelines can be drawn by yourself with a ruler or you can use lined paper or grid paper to practice.
  2. Guidelines control the height and line space of architectural lettering. The maximum size is 3/16 of an inch. Beyond this size, the letters require a width beyond what a single stroke is capable of producing.
  3. Use a small triangle ruler to control the straightness of your vertical.
  4. Keep all verticals perpendicular to your guidelines.
  5. Begin all strokes from the top of your guideline. Never draw a stroke from the bottom up.
  6. Circular strokes are plump ovals on a forward slant. Circles are made in a single circular motion.
  7. Horizontal strokes are drawn left to right. top and bottom horizontals are drawn on top of the guidelines and middle horizontals split the distance from the top and the bottom.
  8. All letters are roughly the same width and when done correctly they should be as wide as they are tall. Each letter sits inside an imaginary square.
  9. Don’t cross the strokes of individual letters.
  10. Do not leave gaps between the strokes of your letters.
  11. Do not use serifs.

Tools for Architectural Lettering

The tools below are recommended to help you improve your handwriting and write like an architect but are simply suggested. They are the tools I used to help improve my own handwriting and their lead and ink stability helped me create better letter forms. You can however use whatever you have at your disposal so don’t fret. My brand of choice is Staedtler if only because they’re the best quality for a reasonable price that you can easily find online and in your local office supply store.


How to Write Like an Architect Video

Here is a how-to video on how to write like an architect no matter what your profession:


Are you looking to improve your handwriting? Have you already mastered architectural lettering? If so, how long did it take you? Are you happy you did? Is there anymore information we can provide you to help you learn architectural lettering? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Rose Lagace | @artdepartmental


For more art department and production design advice for film and television, click here.

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

  1. This feels like back to elementary school when the teachers gave me a bad mark for rounding out the wrong parts of the alphabet letters!

    Obviously there’s a technical need to communicate accurately but I find it interesting that on architectural drawings the loss of individuality in writing is juxtaposed with the designer’s illustration/vision- which could only really be his/her own. Neat stuff. Looks like it could be time-consuming to try to adapt, though 🙂

    Maybe this should be mandatory training for renowned professional chicken-scratchers: doctors?
    -J.

    Reply

  2. I learned in my drafting class. Took about 3 months of drawing to master 🙂

    Reply

  3. the u tube video is great but is there an actual sample i could download as I am trying to master the u tube style myself?

    Reply

  4. Art DepartMENTAL October 27, 2009 at 12:11 AM

    Johanne:
    It really is like going back to elementary school. It’s brutal. It is somewhat stylish though in its simple complacent nature. I’ve always wanted to write like this but never bothered to learn. I’m finding the process mind-numbing but I’ll get there.
    And yes doctors should learn this handwriting. It seems preposterous that doctors don’t have any requirements or standards in this regard but I suppose it must be that the mistake of one doctor kills one person potentially but the mistake of an architect or designer has the potential to kill thousands.

    msottovoce:
    I’m glad to hear that some schools still teach it. 3 months though. I am not looking forward to the next 2 months more of this.

    Jane:
    I updated this post with the closest thing I found to the Youtube video style: The Prov Architect NDP typeface. It costs $20 to download but its worth it.

    I found it easiest to do my own template where I mastered each letter separately from the video but I chose to be less sloppy and stylized than the video shows as that wouldn’t fly in my industry. Once I had my own template I practiced from that. I hope this helps.

    Reply

  5. well, it’s naturally integrated with the overall drafting drawing learning. you learn as you go 🙂

    Reply

  6. hey!!!! i’d like to 2 comment on the above video…. its not really important and compulsory to follow the same style of lettering as shown in the video…. if u are an architect, u will develop ur own style of lettering…. don’t just blindly copy the style shown in this…. think about it…. develop ur own style…. be creative…. architects are supposed 2 b creative…. don’t follow wat others say…. follow ur hand…. it knows wat 2 do….

    Reply

  7. What is the best type of pen to use? My problem is lifting my pen off the paper and having a smooth writing….I feel like the pen sticks to the paper…thoughts?!?!?!?!

    Reply

    1. when you are starting off try a Pentel Flair, or any of the finer grade pens.if you feel you’re pen is sticking something in a 4.0 is probably going to help that, Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph Pens are the best if you do alot of manual drafting or a rotoring college set. insainly expensive but they are awesome to use 🙂

      Reply

  8. […] Architectural Lettering 2 artdepartmental.com […]

    Reply

  9. orven john tecio June 16, 2011 at 12:53 AM

    oh yeaH!!!!

    Reply

  10. THANKS FOR THIS POST! I am taking a drafting class and trying to practice my lettering 🙂

    Reply

  11. I am starting to work tutoring a middle school boy, whose “handwriting sucks”. I think this just might be interesting enough to get him to take up the practice. Thanks.

    Reply

  12. I learned by copying my father, who was a draftsman at Ford Motor Co. After he passed away, I was told by somebody else in the industry his work was like art, and he could tell a drawing was his just by looking at it! With CAD I doubt you could find such skills today.

    Over the years my printing has become a little messy, and my “W” is not acceptable to me at all. Doing internet research has helped me find a new “W”.

    Reply

  13. Need advice: My 12 year old son prefers to print and I’m working with him on cursive, but it’s painful. I’m about to give in and work on making his print easier to read. Do you think it’s easier to write in print for note taking in high school and college type settings? That’s my main concern – quick handwriting when computers not allowed, and of course legibility.
    Or do you think I should force him to write cursive?

    Reply

    1. I’m am currently a college student and I can safely say that print works perfectly well all-day-every-day. I haven’t used cursive since fourth grade (except for when the SAT required me to rewrite and sign a paragraph in cursive), and I don’t miss it at all. I’ve learned to write fast, and my handwriting is significantly more readable than if it was in cursive. If he likes to print, let him print.

      Reply

      1. Just noticed this reply – Thanks so much. It will really encourage my son I’m sure. Good luck in college!

    2. I also stopped writing in cursive in fourth grade. Thank goodness I had a teacher who just wanted things legible. My signature is printed. I had no trouble keeping up and write very quickly. Even in college (before computers) most people thought my handwriting was typewritten. I have been practicing architectural lettering the last several months.

      Reply

      1. That is very much a relief to my son. Thank you for taking the time to reply!

  14. Thanks Rose. This is so useful to me. Its hard sometimes, please give me more tips if you have them.
    I’m an electrical engineer and produce lots of markups. This handwriting is so useful to me but its hard.
    How long do I have to practice every day before I’m ready?
    Tips welcome.
    Thanks!

    Reply

    1. this is really long after your comment, so probably too late to be helpful for you, but anyway, I think the first thing to remember is that it’s not the days, but the hours. there’s a big difference between 5 hours a day, and 10 min. if you’re like most people, the most effective thing is likely to be to commit to just 15 minutes a day, but do it smart.

      I’m currently changing my normal handwriting a bit, and also learning an old German cursive, called Sütterlin. there are a couple of interesting differences. because I’m starting from zero with Sütterlin, I’m making practice sheets in my word processor, as follows:

      light grey upper-case top bound line
      light grey lower-case top bound line
      black base line
      light grey descender bound line

      with light grey letters to trace.

      SO,

      1. having letters to trace makes a huge difference because we can be consistent right from the start; instead of writing something that’s not right, and doing it again and again and again like I do with the effort to correct my regular handwriting.

      2. having the various lines means that when I stop tracing and start just writing the letters, I’ll have guides that’ll keep me consistent until I’m naturally so. by contrast, with my normal handwriting, one of the big problems I’m having is getting the descenders in my ‘g’, etc., to be consistent.

      if you do it this way, and pick up speed only as fast as you can and still make each letter perfect, your progress should be faster.

      Reply

  15. i had learn this five days before . its DIFFICULT 🙁
    #sorry my english is broken little bit little bit .

    Reply

  16. I started out as a mechanical draftsman / tool and die maker…with very rigid, formal (and oh, so boring) lettering skills. One year I got the chance to teach a drafting course that had a section of architectural drafting. My students were required to do tons of lettering practice sheets and I also joined them.

    Being very “left brained”, I found it very liberating to begin exploring the artistic freedom that lay with in the right hemisphere of my thinker. The experience was so profound that I actually changed my profession to something that allows me to work with both sides of my brain. It’s awesome.

    True to my nature, I would have to classify my lettering style as “mechani-tectural”…heavily architectural influenced, yet with a tad bit of mechanical spice…still appealing and suitable for both disciplines.

    Reply

  17. Does anyone know of any stencils to help learning to write in architecture style? Thanks. Ghoffman@siu.edu

    Reply

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  19. I wish they taught this style of writing at school. They don’t even teach kids cursive anymore!
    I met a guy today and he had a hand written list with him, I told him his writing looked cool and he told me he had been an architect for 35 years and that’s how we write (us old schoolers anyway). Now I am determined to write like that too!

    Reply

  20. I worked for a law firm that handled construction defect cases. Then my handwriting was neat and uniform but at a slant. Anyway, there would be times we would need to see the plans and I was fascinated with what I saw. I studied them so much that I was able to tell if I was looking at a CAD created or if a Draftsman drew up the plan. It inspired me and I practiced for approx. one month with a few minutes a day. I now have mastered Architectonic lettering.

    Reply

  21. […] Learning Architectural Lettering | Art DepartMENTAL – Lately I have been putting in a valiant effort to change my handwriting permanently to architectural lettering. […]

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  22. […] This week for my Interior Communications class we practiced Architectural Lettering. […]

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