Best Lettering Tools On a Budget


There are so many great lettering tools, and I enjoy trying as many as I can! But art supplies can be expensive, and if you’re on a budget, that shouldn’t stop you from learning hand lettering! There are many great workarounds, as shown in this infographic.

Spend or Save? Lettering Infographic from Ray of Light Design

I hope you find these suggestions helpful.

Happy lettering! 🙂


Lettering Marker Review: Crayola or Tombow?



Markers are so much fun when it comes to hand lettering. Using a few simple techniques, you can achieve a lot of different styles quickly and easily.

There are many options when it comes to which markers to use, but I’m determined to find the best one! So far, I’ve noticed that Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pens are a very popular choice. Crayola’s broad line markers have grown on me in particular.

So, Tombow or Crayola?



  • The dual tips — one side is a brush, and the other side is a sturdy, fine point marker.
  • They BLEND! You can mix colors (see video below) for a gradient effect in your lettering. You can also blend similar colors (not as well as Copics, but it does work) if you are coloring an illustration.
  • Great, expansive color selection — you can buy a few colors individually or load up with a pack.


  • Pricy. It’s not horrible (compared to Copics), but one marker is about the same price as a full pack of Crayola! ($2)
  • Delicate tip — the brush pen tip can be easily damaged if not taken care of properly. It’s difficult to keep intact.



  • Durable, easy to use tip. Crayola markers are traditionally designed for kids, so the broad line tip does not damage easily.
  • Cheap!
  • Looks just as good as lettering with Tombow pens.
  • Pipsqueak option: Crayola pipsqueaks are a mini version with the same tips as the regular markers.


  • Color selection is not as expansive as the Tombows, and you have to buy them in sets. The majority of sets include 10 markers, and the only way to get a large array of colors is to buy the 64 pack!
  • Ink quality is not quite as good. The colors are bright, but the markers bleed and ruin the paper if you go over one area too many times. This makes them fine for lettering, but bad for coloring.

You don’t need fancy supplies for great art. A simple pack of Crayola markers can get you great results if you know how to use them.

For inspiration of using these tools, check out @tombowusa and @crayola on Instagram.

On the blog soon: Lettering with Markers Tutorial

The New Paper



A little while back, I posted a full review of Paper by 53, which has been my favorite drawing app for years.

Recently, 53 released Version 3 of Paper, and the app has undergone drastic changes, so it’s due for an all new review.

First of all, Paper used to be an iPad-only app. The update makes it compatible with both iPhone and iPad, which is great. I prefer to use Paper on iPad because of the bigger screen, obviously, but it’s definitely nice to have it on your iPhone if you ever need to jot something down or sketch something quick.

Fifty Three added some new features. The original tools and Think Kit are all still there, but now the toolbar has three little tabs. The first tab is an all new text feature, which I love. You can make checklists, take notes, add captions to your drawings, and easily talk to other artists. You can swipe to change the style from regular, title, subtitle, checklist bullet, and regular bullet. You can also double-tap a section of text to change the style to italic, bold, underline, or strikethrough.

The second tab is photo upload. Like other users of the app, I have mixed feelings about this feature. There are some benefits:  you can annotate and spotlight parts of an image, add your drawings to photos, etc. The problem with photo upload is that it could potentially add a lot of spam to Mix, and it blurs the line between what people drew in Paper and what they just uploaded. (In case you were wondering, the third tab is the old tools.)

That brings me to Mix. Mix has been around for a little over a year now, and it has always been fun and easy to use. If you don’t know what Mix is, this is the summary I wrote in my previous Paper review:

“In September 2014, 53 added a new service called Mix that works within the Paper app. It has over 1 million creators as of March 2015. You can sign up and share your creations made in Paper, as well as see what other artists are making and follow them. Not only that, but you can “remix” their work. You can draw on it and add to it, color it, change it, whatever you want.”

53 has completely changed how Mix works, including getting rid of the name! What used to be the Mix section is simply “People You Follow.” They removed some of the best features it had (such as the popular replay button) and it is considerably more difficult to navigate. 53 doesn’t seem to be featuring art from the community anymore, which is really unfortunate. That was one of my favorite parts of being on Mix. Despite having over one million creators, Mix really did feel like a community. It doesn’t feel like that anymore. The changes were unnecessary and disappointing. (My profile is still there though! I am now Ray of Light on Paper instead Ray of Light on Mix.)

The notebook interface has been replaced with “spaces.” These spaces are like folders, where, if you click on them, you see all of your ideas laid out. It’s kind of like a collage or a mood board, and if you watch their new intro video you will get the idea.

As far as changes to the drawing mode, they modified the way the rewind and zoom features work, which I am not too happy about. There are a few other kinks too right now, but I’m sure the little bugs will be gone in future updates.

I still love Paper. I used to love everything about it, and now I love almost everything. I’m unhappy about the demise of Mix, but otherwise, I’m okay with the update. It’s going to take some getting used to, but in the long run, I think I’m going to get a lot of use out of the new features.




I got excited when I noticed that the App store was featuring a collection called “For Designers.” It showcased 12 drawing apps, 13 design tools, and 12 apps for inspiration. There were definitely a few that I had never heard of or seen before, and that’s where I discovered Coolors.

I’m fascinated with colors and color palettes (as you may have seen with The Palette Project on Mix). I liked (but didn’t love) Adobe Color CC. The app creates color palettes from photos, so there’s a lot of tedious adjusting and stuff like that. It’s slow process and you can’t create any good color palettes if you don’t have any good photos.

Coolors knocks Adobe Color out of the park. It’s so much easier to use, and it’s fun. The only drawback is that it costs $0.99 (while Color is free).

To create a color palette, simply tap generate.

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You can adjust the color values if you want, or you can lock a color and generate palettes to match.

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Once you’re satisfied, you can save and share with the click of a button. Coolors is also available as an extension in Illustrator and Photoshop.

You can try out the generator here for free!

Here are some palettes I created:

Color Palettes August

This marks the beginning of Colors of the Month! Every month I plan to share 5 new color palettes that I created with Coolors.

*Update* 8/29/15: If you want to use these palettes in Paper by 53, I posted them to Mix!

Chartpak AD Markers Review


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In order to find the marker that works for you, you’ll need to experiment. These Charpak AD markers aren’t mainstream. If I look them up on Pinterest, not much shows up. They’ve been around for ages, and I’ve noticed that when I go to the art store, they tend to be hiding in a corner behind the giant case of Copics.

They’re worth a try. The result is a bright, solid, consistent ink that mimics watercolor. They are blend-able, and the chisel tip is really easy to use (there’s also a fine-tip option). One marker last a really long time and they are comfortable to hold. These are permanent, and they are also waterproof. They come in around 130 colors. The price is good too in my opinion — about $3 per marker.

However, I tend to avoid these markers most of the time because of the smell. If you use them too long, you are guaranteed to feel lightheaded or get a headache. The smell also takes a long time to clear out, so I only color with these outside. They are not refillable, and they bleed. They bleed onto the other side of the paper in addition to bleeding outwards from where you drew. If you are using thin paper, then you need to put scratch paper underneath or else they will bleed onto whatever surface you are drawing on. Bristol paper or Rendr paper are the most compatible in my experience.

If you are at the art store, test them first. Smell them. See what you think. They are good quality markers, but I don’t think they’re for everyone.

Paper by 53



There is quite a selection of drawing apps for iPad if you take a look. Paper by 53 is my favorite. I’ve tried other apps and Paper is just better.

Their approach to digital drawing is keeping it simple. That means no brush sizes, no layers, no photo import, and no paper sizes. It sounds weird, but it’s actually great. It gives you a chance to really explore each tool and how it interacts with other tools, just like how you do in real life. There’s not much thinking involved. The tools just work. In my opinion, the app Procreate has too many features, which distracts from the creative process. How can you get your ideas down if you’re always fiddling with opacity?

Using Paper

Your drawings are organized in notebooks, which you can name and change the covers of. You can easily add, duplicate, and delete pages, as well as move them around.

Once you open up a page, a shelf of tools will pop up on the bottom, Originally, Paper was free to download, but it only came with the fountain pen tool, the eraser, and limited colors. The four other tools and the color mixer were all in-app purchases. Recently, however, 53 made all of the tools free so that everyone could use them. In March, a second set of tools was added to Paper, called “Think Kit.” That’s free, too.

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There is a zoom feature as well as an undo/redo thing called Rewind. The zoom loupe will show up by pinching (just like how you zoom normally). Rewind works by rotating two fingers counter clockwise to undo, and rotating two fingers clockwise to redo.


The reason 53 could afford to keep their app free is because they came out with their own stylus, called Pencil. It is modeled after a carpenter pencil, and it comes in 3 models. Pencil is very lightweight, portable, and easy to use. You connect it by pressing the tip to a button on the screen. Once connected, Pencil unlocks new features, including blend, palm rejection, and surface pressure. It also slightly changes the way the tools work. Pencil has an eraser that you can use without switching tools. I have the walnut model, and I love it. It’s my favorite stylus. However, there is one thing that really bothers me about it, and that is the durability of the tips. The tips are made from thin rubber, and they wear out quickly. There is one extra tip in the Pencil package, but once you go through that one, you’ll have to buy more. Even though the holes form quickly, I try to use the tip as long as I can before switching.

The Tools

The Originals

1. Draw  The yellow fountain pen, called the “draw” tool by 53, is a tool that created solid black lines of varying width. If you draw fast, the thickness of your lines will be uneven. However, if you zoom in and write slow, you have good control over how thick or thin you want your line to be. This tool is great for writing, hand lettering, and drawing.

2. Sketch  The orange pencil, also known as the “sketch” tool, mimics what a real graphite pencil looks like. The lines are initially thin and light, but you can really darken them by going over it a few times. When the Pencil stylus is connected, you can create really fat strokes by turning onto the thicker side of the tip. This tool is best suited for initial sketches and drawing. It’s terrible for writing.

3. Outline The blue marker, or the “outline” tool, is my favorite. It works really good with Pencil connected. It creates nice thick, even strokes. With Pencil, it creates fat strokes out of zoom, and thin strokes in zoom. It’s a great tool for writing and coloring, and I even use it for drawing.

4. Write The brown pen, called “write”, creates blotchy, thin lines. If used right, it can make your handwriting look good. It can also be used for drawing, and the tool doesn’t change much with Pencil connected or in zoom.

5. Color The purple paintbrush, a.k.a. the “color” tool, mimics watercolor. It’s the tool I use the least, and after using Paper for a long time and still can’t say I have much experience with it. You can create lots of different looks and even sort of blend colors together. It’s only good for coloring.

Think Kit Tools

6. Diagram The diagram tool of a shape (for example, a square or a circle) and the diagram tool will turn it into a perfectly polished version called a “smart shape.” You can also use it to draw lines and arrows.

7. Fill This tool looks like a blue paint roller, and you can use it to fill smart shapes with color. You can also fill empty areas with large blocks of color by dragging (this is called freeform fill).

8. Cut The cut tool is a gray pair of scissors that allows you to cut out a part of your drawing and duplicate it, move it around, or throw it away.

Color Control

9. Mixer/Color Picker — the mixer is a circle that allows you to create your own colors by swirling to mix them. You can also tap to see HSB sliders for an accurate color. You can tap to reveal the color picker, which allows you to copy colors from the page.

10. Palette Slots — the palette slots give you a place to store the colors that you mix up. You drag and drop the colors into the circles for easy access, and you can organize them in a way that is convenient for you. Paper comes with default colors in the slots, and once you customize yours, there is still an option to revert back to the defaults.

Stylus or Finger?

I’ve only had Pencil for six months or so, but I’ve been a Paper user for about two years or more. I never liked any other stylus because there was no palm rejection (it’s only for Pencil). For a long time I used my finger!

The drawings I made before I had Pencil and the ones I make now are very similar. Pencil is a lot of fun and much easier and quicker to use than a finger, but to be honest you can achieve a similar result with your finger with some hard work, patience, and practice. I think Pencil is totally worth it, but you can still use Paper without the investment.


In September 2014, 53 added a new service called Mix that works within the Paper app. It has over 1 million creators as of March 2015. You can sign up and share your creations made in Paper, as well as see what other artists are making and follow them. Not only that, but you can “remix” their work. You can draw on it and add to it, color it, change it, whatever you want. I’m going to post a separate entry all about Mix in the future.

In the end, Paper is a great app and remember that everything except for Pencil is free (be aware that Paper is  not compatible with iPhone and is only available on the app store.)  I highly recommend it and hope that you give it a try. I love Paper so much that sometimes I forget that my iPad does other things. See what you can create!

Copic Markers Review



Copic Markers are popular for their ability to blend. I used Chartpak AD markers before I used Copics, and I quickly switched over because they are low odor, non-toxic, and refillable. The Copic sketch edition are the most popular and come in 358 colors. These are oval shaped (so they don’t roll around), and dual tipped (one brush tip and one chisel tip). The brush tip is great. I find the chisel tip sort of useless and difficult. The markers work on almost any paper, but they can bleed onto the other side.

Copic Markers come in three other forms — original Copics, Copic Ciao, and Copic wide. The wide marker is just one giant chisel tip. The “original” ones have a square barrel and two tips — one is chisel, but the other is a different, smaller brush tip. They hold the most ink. Copic Ciao has the same tips as Copic sketch, but the barrel is round and smaller so they are slightly cheaper.

The biggest drawback for me with these markers is the price. They are worth it if you use them a lot, but start out by only getting the colors you really need. I have a pretty small collection, so I use Chartpak markers alongside the Copics.

Before you buy any, make sure you know how to tell which colors blend (all the markers have a code that tells you the hue, saturation, and shade). Learn how to use the markers before you try them! I was so glad I did this. There are tons of tutorials and introductory videos to get you started. Copics quickly became my favorite way to color, so give them a try! They work on pretty much every kind of paper, and if you use them right, your art is guaranteed to look good.