How to Add Lettering to Your Artwork

Add lettering to your artwork using these four easy-to-follow, step-by-step tutorials. Lettering is a simple way to add character and charm to your painting and canvas.

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Several canvas paintings done by Christie showing different ways of lettering on artwork.

Are you ready to add the pretty, personal touch of lettering to your artwork? Adding lettering to your creations can bring depth, meaning, and a unique artistic flair. Whether you’re a seasoned artist or just starting out, incorporating words into your artwork is a great way to express yourself. I’m going to walk you through the following four methods for adding lettering in simple and fun ways. 

  1. Freehand
  2. Tracing paper
  3. Font tracing
  4. Etching and paint markers

Adding Lettering Freehand

This method for adding lettering is probably the least cumbersome of all the techniques. And the truth is, there isn’t really a technique for it. You need to pick what verses or words you would like to add to your art first. You can get inspiration from your devotions, quotes from Pinterest, or even work in someone’s name or initials. The sky is the limit with inspiration. Once you get that nailed down, gather a few supplies and you will be ready to get started!

Be The Sunshine painted in bright colors of pink accented with white, black and blue. A Sun design with flowers on the bottom of the canvas.

Materials Mentioned

Step-by-Step Guide for Freehand Method:

Here are a few steps I like to follow, but you really don’t have to follow a specific tutorial with the freehand method. It really is a “free” hand method meaning you are free to do this however you want.

This canvas is showing an option for free hand lettering for your art. It says "Spread Love Like Wildflowers".

Here are a few steps I like to follow:

Step 1

Gather my inspiration, pencil, and pen. Then, I lay the inspiration down next to my canvas. You want to make sure your canvas is completely dry.

A fall themed painted canvas with a teal truck that says The Hawkins HPYFALL on the license plate. Surrounded by yellow orange and red leaves.

Step 2

I like to look for open space in the canvas where there isn’t a painted item or image. I then start to work in letters with my pencil. If you mess up, you can easily just erase the pencil markings and start over.

Step 3

Once you have your lettering where you want it, you will trace over the pencil markings with your black or white paint pen.

Tracing over penciled lettering with a paint marker.

Step 4

Let that paint pen dry. Come in with your opposite color and highlight one side of each letter (the same side on each letter) to create a drop shadow look and make those letters really pop. And, that’s it! This is a super simple and forgiving technique to use when adding lettering to your paint project.

Adding Lettering with Tracing Paper

This method for adding lettering to your artwork is a great way to ensure you are very happy with your lettering and that the outcome is more specific. You just need a few supplies and some inspiration to pull this technique together.

Though the Waters Roar, We Will NOT FEAR! Hand Painted design on canvas with the Sun, clouds, and a crashing wave.

Step-by-Step Guide for Tracing Paper Method:

Step 1

Begin by getting your desired lettering traced onto tracing paper. Feel free to experiment with different fonts and arrangements. Adjust it until you’re satisfied with the look.

Step 2

Once you’re happy with your design, cut out the traced letters on the tracing paper. Place the tracing paper on your dry canvas and try out different placements until you find the best spot.

Step 3

Place a piece of tape on one side of the tracing paper. Make sure it’s positioned precisely where you want it.

A demonstration of tracing paper. Lake Life Is Better blocked out between lines to show it painted on the canvas.

Step 4

Take a piece of graphite paper with the shiny black side facing down. Trace over the letters, and the pressure will leave a light graphite mark on your canvas. Remove the tracing paper once the letters are transferred.

Step 5

Take a fine-point paint marker, preferably a 0.7mm extra fine point for detailed work, and begin going over the traced letters. I recommended this fine-point paint marker instead of Sharpies. Sharpies tend to leave a finish that isn’t great for these types of projects. This fine-point paint pen allows you to create super thin lines and easily add thicker strokes, depending on the pressure you apply.

Lake Life Is Better painted on canvas. Dark navy background with 5 oars all painted with different designs.

Step 6

Allow the black paint to dry completely on the canvas. For added flair, I like to use a different color paint pen to add accent marks or details to the lettering. This step can make your design stand out even more.

Using Different paint colors and designs to add pop to painted letters.

I hope you loved this tutorial on how to add lettering to your artwork. I love how this really brings the canvas to life and allows you to show your true personality. The beauty of this technique really lies in the freedom to let it reflect you, your style, and your emotions. So, grab your supplies, let your creativity flow, and enjoy the process!

And there you have it! A step-by-step guide to creating beautiful lettering on your canvas using tracing paper. Enjoy experimenting with different styles and colors to make your artwork truly unique.

Adding Lettering Using the Font Tracing Method

You can really enhance your artwork by adding lettering from your favorite fonts. This method is super easy and a safe way to make sure the end result is very precise and just like you want it. If you don’t like your own personal handwriting, this is the perfect technique for you. Whether it’s a quote, a title, or a meaningful phrase, you can achieve professional-looking lettering using this simple method. 

Step-by-Step Guide for the Font Tracing Method:

This method for adding lettering to your artwork is very similar to the previous method I walked you through, “Adding Lettering with Tracing Paper.” You just add one additional step to the beginning.


You will start by printing off the exact lettering with the font that you want. You can even enlist the help of a friend or a talented artist to create a template for you, just like I did with this project. My friend, Kasey Hope from P’zazz Art Studio did this lettering for me. You can find the template she designed by clicking here!

Step 2

Once you have your font template ready, print it off. Then lay tracing paper over top of the printed paper. Trace over that lettering, and cut out the tracing paper. 

Step 3

Next, lay the tracing paper with the lettering on your canvas. Position it where you want the lettering to appear. Secure it in place with a little tape on one edge.

Step 4

Place a piece of transfer paper or graphite paper, shiny black side down, over the canvas. Trace over the font template using a pencil or pen, pressing down firmly. The transfer paper will leave a faint outline of the letters on your canvas.

Live Simply painted on a lemon wreath on canvas.

Step 5

With the traced lettering on your canvas, it’s time to make it permanent. Grab a paint pen or a marker in the color of your choice. Go over the transferred letters, carefully tracing each line. This step is where your chosen font truly comes to life on your artwork.

Adding Lettering Using Etching & Paint Markers

Before we get started, I wanted to share that there truly is no right or wrong way to do this. You can add your lettering however you want – large or small, curved or straight, uniform size, or different-sized letters. You can make your words say whatever you want. I used this scripture on mine, but you could use a quote or even write a name on there. Any of those options would be so pretty and fun. It’s totally up to you!

Step-by-Step Guide for Etching & Paint Markers Method:

Christies displaying two canvas paintings. One of a girl with blonde hair and scripture words in the background. The other canvas is a pink painted background with the words Trust in Him at All Times O People: Pour out your Hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Selah

Step 1

You will want to prep your canvas first. I like to start by applying a coat of black acrylic paint to my canvas. This dark background will make your lettering and colors really pop. You will want to give your canvas a good thick coat. Then, let it fully dry before you start the rest of this project.

Step 2

Next you should paint your background. I really recommend using thicker body paint. It dries slower and allows you to really make an imprint with your letters. I decided to go with this beautiful mix of red and white to make pretty pink shades.

Pink and white heavy bodied paint mixed together.

Once I get it mixed together with some variations in the color, I started painting it on the canvas. I prefer to be very heavy-handed when painting this on. Don’t be too particular about blending and brush strokes. Embrace the messiness. There are no hard and fast rules for this part.

Step 3

Choose your words next. Like I said you could use any verse, quote, or saying you want to incorporate into your artwork. You could even letter someone’s name. Just make it meaningful to you, whether it’s a Bible verse, an inspiring quote, or even your own words of wisdom.

In this tutorial I used the scripture Psalm 62:8: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.

This canvas has a heavy bodied pink and white background. Christie handwrote scripture Psalm 62:8 in the wet paint with a pencil.

Step 4

Now is the time to start etching into the paint with a pencil. I recommend you grab a number two pencil. A typical number two pencil works better than a mechanical pencil because it really leaves good thick markings for you to see. The mechanical pencil will do but it usually is a thinner application and harder to see through the background.

Step 5

This step isn’t absolutely necessary but I think it really makes the lettering pop. Allow your canvas time to completely dry and the paint to harden. Grab your favorite paint pens. I used the .7mm Posca Paint pen in white and black and traced over those letters that are etched in with the black pen. You don’t necessarily have to stay in the etched grooves. You can go outside of it a little. Then, let those black pen tracings dry.

Next, take your white .7mm paint pen and add your highlight. Pick a side you want to highlight, and keep it the same throughout to create a drop shadow on your lettering. Now, go back over your letters but only on the side you chose. For example, I put the highlight on the left, so the left side of every letter received a highlight with my white pen. The best part about this is it’s super easy to fix if you make mistakes. Simply let it dry, and then paint back over the white with the black pen. You can start right back where you left off. 

Painted canvas with hand painted lettering that says Be Strong & Courageous.

If you don’t like the look of the etched letters, you can also let your paint completely dry and just draw with a pencil over your dry paint. Then use the same technique that I mentioned above for accenting them with the paint pins.

Bonus Tips for Adding Personal Touches!

Canvas painting with a bird and music notes, a kite and some designs. Be The Light in black letters.
  • Get Creative: Go wherever your heart is taking you. You can really get creative here with the size, placement, and style of your lettering. Remember, imperfection adds charm and character to this technique. 
This is a sample of hand lettering on your art. It is a scarecrow holding a blue sign that says Happy Fall!
  • Play with Color: You choose any color or combination of colors for your canvas and paint pens. My only recommendation is to use the heavy body acrylics for the etched-in tutorial above so the letters pop. Don’t be afraid to mix colors or experiment with shades that evoke emotion.
  • Embrace Imperfection: As you paint and add your lettering, remember that perfection isn’t the goal. Embrace the uniqueness of your brushstrokes and the variations in your lettering. Those imperfections are what will really set your artwork apart. 
"Be The Light" is a colorful painted canvas with bright color blooms, a yellow bird, a teal backdrop, and music notes.
  • Add Extras: Feel like your artwork needs a little something extra? Add little doodles or even small designs that complement your lettering and create a balanced look. I think cute little hearts, swirls, or flower petals would be great on any of these paintings.

I hope you loved these four tutorials on how to add lettering to your artwork. I love how this really brings the canvas to life and allows you to show your true personality. The beauty of these techniques really lies in the freedom to let them reflect you, your style, and your emotions. So, grab your supplies, let your creativity flow, and enjoy the process!

Several canvas showcasing different styles of adding lettering to your artwork.

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