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Easy as A-B-C: How to Create Compelling Social Images with Your Handwriting

A photo of a right hand writing on a spiral notebook using a ballpen

In this digital age, it’s easy to forget that pen and paper is still a “killer app” when it comes to creating interesting images. Even though we’ve grown accustomed to keyboards and touch screens, creating social images using your own handwriting is simple and easy.

Handwritten text stands out in a way that fonts do not. It has an immediacy and intimacy that I just love — even when it’s not “pretty.” My theory is that some part of our brain that perks up because we recognize this human touch. When we see computer-generated type day in and day out, it tends to become invisible.

Here are some simple tips and ideas for creating your own interesting social images starting with nothing more than your own ABC’s.

Start with good tools

What kind of pens do you enjoy writing with? A big, bold Sharpie? A delicate, 0.1 mm technical pen? A lush rollerball?

If you’re not sure, take a pad to an art or office supply store, and spend a few minutes trying different types of writing instruments till you find one that feels good. Most of us are familiar with ball point and roller ball pens, but when was the last time you wrote with a huge, brush-tip marker or fountain pen? You might be surprised at how different your handwriting can look using different instruments.

A writing surface is the other half of this equation, and can open up a wide range of visual possibilities. While you’re trying out pens, grab an unlined notebook at least 8.5 x 11″ to give you lots of room to play with while you practice.

Once you’re comfortable with your handwriting, you may want to consider adding some visual interest by using other surfaces, like:

  • Napkins
  • Index cards
  • Tissue paper (if pen has soft tip)
  • Origami paper
  • Brown paper bag
  • Wood scraps or other industrial materials (if using a permanent, Sharpie-type marker)
  • Graph paper or WhiteLines

Keep in mind that darker colors and patterns will compete with your words.

A note on layout: think about the shape of your final image before you put a pen to paper — this just means the ratio of width and height where your words will end up.

For instance, will you be posting this to Facebook? The “squarish rectangle” works well — that’s a horizontal shape that’s just slightly wider than it is tall.

When you choose your writing surface, lightly pencil in a border to give yourself a guideline. You can also lightly pencil in your words to see where lines will break and to make sure all your chosen words will fit.

Experiment to boost your confidence

Most of us take our handwriting for granted, but it can change significantly with just a little experimentation. Here are some exercises to try in your blank notebook. If you don’t know what to write, a classic phrase is “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” That sentence contains every letter of the alphabet, so you can see how each letter “performs” in your experiments. Some styles to try:

  • Write REALLY big
  • Write small
  • Write all lower case
  • Write all upper case
  • Write fast
  • Write slow

RX for “bad” handwriting

I can hear some of you reading this thinking ,”But my handwriting is ‘chicken scratch!'”

If you really feel that you have illegible handwriting, I especially encourage you to do all of the experiments listed above, as well as try the following:

  • Write on graph paper to help you evenly space your letters and lines
  • Buy one of those children’s writing exercise books (you know, the kind from kindergarten with the dashed lines?), and practice “drawing” each letter for just 15 minutes. Think of it as a Zen exercise. Improving your handwriting really is a matter of practice and muscle memory.
  • Consciously increase space between letters when you write — you might need to slow down to do this. Spacing out your letters will make them automatically more readable.

Add some emphasis

Use color. Switch it up by using a different color to highlight important words or phrases. Look for clever ways to use color to compliment meaning — such as alternating the color of each letter of a word like “playful” or “diversity.” Also keep in mind that darker colors are better for this. Yellows, oranges and pastels can “disappear” on you when transferring to digital.

Try bold and italic versions. Even when your ink is just one color, you can give it a bold effect by re-tracing the lines to make it bolder. Play around with writing at a tilt to give the letters an italicized look.

Frame, underline or highlight words and phrases. You can easily emphasize important ideas by using a light color or highlighter to circle, box or fully highlight some of your writing.

The thing to keep in mind with emphasis is to choose just one way to emphasize. For instance, make a word bold OR a color OR draw a frame around it, but avoid the instinct to do all three.

No scanner? No problem!

A simple phone camera is all you need to capture your new masterpiece. In fact, if you are using a textured surface like a napkin, or want to crumple your paper a bit to give it texture, the camera is your friend.

If you want a crisp, scanned look and a completely white background, you can easily get this effect with a scanner app for your phone.

I like the TurboScan app for this: iPhone version. Android version.

TurboScan will capture color by default, but also has a black and white setting to get an ultra-crisp version of your image. The “scan” can be saved to your phone’s camera library.

Now that you have a photographic image, you can take it to the next level by cropping and filtering it. Try these apps out for this:

What to write?

So now you’re all psyched to use this crazy “new” image tool — your own penmanship — all you need are the right words! That’s the easy part, right? Here are some places you might look for worthy thoughts to ink:

  • Your own words. If you’re a blogger, mine your own posts for interesting “idea chunks.” Look for a max of about 20 words.
  • Statistics. Have you read a statistic recently that made you pause? Is there a bit of data you know about that needs sharing?
  • Get inspired. Check out Jessica Hagy’s hilarious site, for more inspiration.

Now you have a wealth of ideas for how to turn humble ABC’s of the English language into a plethora of images to promote your ideas, products and services.

Experiment with using your own handwriting, especially when you want to draw attention to an important message.

Kelly Kingman

Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.


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