Another quick Birthday Card created with Pilot Parallel Pens

Another family birthday, another opportunity for me to speedily create a card with my trusty Pilot Parallel Pens.

I get asked a lot about these quick, 15 minute creations, further examples of which you can find here and here. These previous posts have attracted many views, so I thought I’d share my process with anyone who would like to create a quick card of their own.

Please note, Pilot Parallel Pens are not essential if you want to give this a try – any large-nibbed pen will suffice – but the Parallel Pens will definitely enhance the effect with their subtle colour transition.

Since this process is quick and loose, don’t expect perfection. I’m not happy with all of the lettering in the finished card above (in particular, the extended stroke of the ‘y’ in ‘birthday’ makes me cringe a little)… but hey ho… warts and all is the price we pay for spontaneity!

So, here we go…

STEP 1: Fold an A4 sheet of card in half (it will later fit into a regular sized C5 envelope for addressing). Quickly score three light, evenly-spaced pencil lines across the card, as in fig 1 below. It’s not necessary to measure the position of these lines… just keep a light touch as you sweep the pencil across the surface.


fig 1

STEP 2: Roughly pencil in your chosen message, as in fig 2 below, using the lines as a baseline for your lettering. If you feel you need an x-height, then pencil an additional three lines parallel to the original three. But I find it liberating to work with a baseline only, allowing the letters to slightly vary in height. While you write the text, be aware of any possible pitfalls where ascenders and descenders might clash. You may have to erase and rewrite some text in order to find a solution to this problem. Tighter or looser letter spacing can help, or you can simply shorten the ascenders and descenders. If all else fails, try manipulating the ascenders and descenders to connect with or cut through each other. If you choose the third option, remember to maintain legibility and aesthetic quality as you manipulate the strokes.

fig 2

fig 2

STEP 3: Trace the pencil lines with your pen of choice, as in fig 3 below, correcting the spacing as you go. For my completed birthday card at the top (and bottom) of this post, I lettered the text using a 6.0mm Pilot Parallel Pen loaded with green ink. After each pen stroke I transferred a little purple ink from another Pilot Parallel Pen (any size) by briefly touching the two nibs together. The longer the nibs touch, the more ink is transferred, so it’s better to transfer a little ink at a time so that the colour transition within the writing remains regular. If using this technique, please note that mixing two very dark ink colours doesn’t produce attractive lettering.

fig 3

fig 3

STEP 4: When you have completed all the lettering, use a simple silver or gold monoline gel pen to decorate the letters, as in fig 4 below. I started off by creating small circles of gold ink on the vertical centre of each pen stroke. I then drew gold lines along the very centre of every pen stroke to complete the effect. It isn’t obvious in the example shown below, but these metallic lines really catch the light on the actual card.

fig 4

fig 4

STEP 5: I then carefully erased all the pencil lines, and used the gel pen to draw a simple gold monoline border along the edge of the card to finish it off, as in fig 5 below.

fig 5

fig 5

And that’s really all there is to it. Make sure you have all your equipment and materials to hand before you begin, and after a few attempts you’ll be creating attractive greeting cards in minutes. And if, like me, you never remember birthdays until the last minute (or, also like me, you’re reluctant to pay the exorbitant price of shop-bought cards), then the above hand-lettered cards can be life savers… with the added bonus of being a joy to create.

When I designed the above card, I discarded steps 2 and 3, preferring to write the final text directly onto the baselines without the convenience of pencilled writing. This is not for everyone, but does save a few minutes of preparation.

And I confess that I initially had a very big empty space after “Happy,” which wouldn’t have happened if I’d had the patience to follow steps 2 and 3. The late addition of “30th” to balance the design was an afterthought, but I’m happy with how it all worked out. Even in calligraphy, necessity can be the mother of invention.

If anyone has difficulty following the above steps, or has any questions about the process, please leave a comment and I’ll reply straight away.

In the meantime, I wish you good luck with your “instant” calligraphic card-making!


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