Sign Painting For Beginners – Part 1

Eindraw Sign Painting Straight Brush Strokes

and painted signage is experiencing a resurgence in the recent years as people become more appreciative of handmade things. A signage created by hand, even as simple as block letters, has the greatest chance to attract the eye because it’s something people can relate to.

There are two things that make a good signage: a clear & balanced layout and a good letter execution. In order to do those things, a person must be familiar with the essential knowledge of lettering and how to properly paint the letters.

This tutorial will guide you through the basic techniques of lettering with brush and paint.

Sign Painting Techniques

Generally, there are three painting techniques commonly used in sign painting:

1. Hand Over Hand

Rest the heel of your right hand (or the brush hand) over the left fist (Fig. 1).
For short strokes, the left hand is stationary and acts as an anchor (Fig. 2).

Eindraw Sign Painting Brush Hand

For long strokes, your left hand acts as a ‘vehicle’ for the brush hand, guiding the direction of the stroke (Fig. 4).

Eindraw Sign Painting Brush Hand

2. Mahl Stick

Mahl Stick is a device used by a sign painter to assist them in making smooth brush strokes. Hold the mahl stick with your left hand, then rest your right hand on the stick (Fig. 5).
For vertical strokes set the mahl stick point to the right of your body and in the vicinity of the baseline of the lettering which will place it almost horizontally.
With your right hand holding the brush in position, lift the brush hand to starting point of the stroke, by raising the left hand. Make a vertical stroke with even pressure by bringing the left hand downward simultaneously in unison with the direction taken by the brush. The end point of the mahl stick acts as a pivot point as your brush hand swinging downward (Fig. 6).

On a horizontal stroke the point of the stick is placed above the head in an oblique position. Horizontal strokes and all curves are executed in the same manner as the vertical strokes.

Eindraw Sign Painting Brush Mahl Stick

3. Pinky

Brush strokes is executed by only your right hand (or the brush hand) standing on the tip of your pinky (Fig.7 and Fig. 8).

Eindraw Sign Painting Brush Pinky


Back then when I started, I often used hand over hand technique, but later on I found the mahl stick to be more suitable because the mahl stick can reduce my shaky hand. Mahl stick is also effective for avoiding the risk of touching the wet paint. I recommend to try all brushing techniques to see which one is more compatible for your hand, or better yet, aim to master all of them in the long run because every technique has its own advantage on various occasions.


The brush should be held between thumb and index finger, with middle finger tucked and serves as a support to stabilize the grip (Fig. 9 and Fig. 10). Hold the brush in the same manner as you hold your pen or pencil, not tightly or with tense muscles, but so as to allow it to roll freely between your fingers when executing a curve.

Eindraw Sign Painting Brush Hold


Pour the paint into a cup and reduce the thickness with a solvent/reducer very gradually until it attains an ideal paint consistency.

Eindraw Sign Painting Paint Thickness

Too thick, the brush will drag heavily and the color will skip and produce ragged edges (Fig. 11).

Too thin, the brush will get beyond control and the color will be transparent (Fig. 12).

Proper consistency, the brush will be easy to control and the color will be solid (Fig. 13).


Dipping the brush in paint is not all that is required to ‘charge’ a brush. It is necessary that the paint should be properly distributed, and that the centre hairs shall be charged with as much paint as the outside. This is to ensure the paint flow smoothly when you work.

Eindraw Sign Painting Paletting Chisel Brush

After you dip your brush into the paint, take a palette card, then wiggle the brush sidewise, gently drawing it toward you on one side and then away on the other side (Fig. 14). This will give the brush the square chisel edge necessary for clean-cut strokes. Repeat this preparation after every few strokes to keep the brush in proper shape (Fig. 15).


Charge frequently, never work with a ‘semi-dry’ brush (the secret of good execution is a fully charged brush), and eventually acquire the ability to execute with light touch, enabling you to execute with point of the brush. Do not form the habit of ‘hard pressure’ on a lettering brush- there is nothing in the heel of the brush, it’s all in the point!