Picture Perfect – lettering onto photos

Vera Silva shows us how to letter on to photographs to create a beautiful piece of artwork.

If an image is worth a thousand words, what if we could ‘add’ some more? Lettering on photos has long been a trend, and it’s not hard to find amazing examples online. These pieces are usually created with the use of technology, but you don’t have to have a complicated computer program, or the latest tablet to be able to do it. Old school techniques, and a bit of inventiveness can go a long way, in helping you create an inspirational poster, with a dreamy photo background, that will get people wondering if you used technology at all.

Once you decide on a photo, and the quote you would like to use, it is always a good idea to put some ideas on paper of how you would like the design to look. Trying different designs first to see how the words fit next to each other, or if different fonts, and scripts, go well together, is always a good place to start.

These step-by-step instructions are based on the products I used. When creating a project like this, it is always a good idea to run some tests before working on your final design, so you can see how the inks react to the paper, for instance, or what inks or paints work best.


  • Epson Archival Matte Paper
  • A4 laminating pouches
  • A4 Tracing paper
  • White chalk and a pencil
  • white Faber-Castell Pitt Artist pen brush
  • Uni signo broad – white
  • Tombow fudenosuke, medium tip
  • Sakura Pigma Micron, size 08 and 05
  • Paintbrush, foam brush, eraser or similar to remove chalk or pencil marks


  1. Start by printing the photo in archival matte photo paper. Archival photo paper will last longer, without fading, losing its colour, or changing its tones. Print the photo in portrait mode, reducing the scale slightly (around 2% less), to create a white frame around it. Once printed, insert the photo in a laminating pouch. You can now test the designs you had in mind, without the pressure of wasting the print. Use the pen that will give you the look you want, even if it’s not the one you will use to finish the print. If you are unhappy with a design, simply clean it with a bit of kitchen towel and water, and start again.

  1. Once you are happy with how the design looks, it’s time to transfer it to tracing paper. I used the same pen I used to write on the laminating pouch. Slowly, and carefully, copy the design onto the tracing paper. The more accurately you do it now, the easier it will be in the next few steps.With the design transferred to the tracing paper, it is now time to transfer it onto the photo.For a design in a dark background like this, where we will be writing in white, the best way to do it is using white chalk (for lettering using black ink, or a black pen, just go old school and use a normal pencil, instead of chalk). Turn the tracing paper sheet over, so the design is facing down, and rub the chalk over the paper several times, until it looks like it covers the design area completely. After applying the chalk, it’s time to place the tracing paper over the photo paper, with the design side up. Once both sheets are perfectly aligned, so that the design is placed where you want it, go over the words with a regular pencil. When finished, lift the tracing paper. The words should now be perfectly visible on the photo paper.

  1. Now, we are ready to start inking. To make sure the final result was going to be as perfect as possible, I went over the chalk lines with the same pen I used to write the design in the beginning (I used a Faber Castell Pitt Artist brush pen in white). This step made achieving the look I wanted a lot easier. When doing this in any lettering piece, and especially when working with light colours like white, it is important to try and use the same colour that will be used to finalize the piece, so that this first layer is not visible, or noticeable, afterwards, if you end up missing a spot. After going over the entire design with the brush pen (and waiting for the ink to dry), it’s time to clean the chalk. Using a paintbrush, or foam brush, for instance, dust off the chalk from the photo paper. An eraser might leave slight marks, since it drags the dust along the paper, but can be used too, if necessary, in very short strokes. A more forceful use of the paint or foam brush over any stubborn chalk marks might be enough, though.

  1. To achieve an opaque white finish and to make the words stand out more against the starry background, go back over the brush pen design with a Uni Signo Broad pen. Be sure to fill all the brush strokes carefully and spread the ink as evenly as possible.
  1. For the sunset photo, once you transfer the design with the tracing paper, all you need to do is carefully go over the pencil marks with the black pens (I used the Fudenosuke medium tip for the script, the Pigma Micron size 08 for the sans serif font, and drawings, and the size 05 for the author’s name). Once the ink is completely dry, gently erase the pencil marks.


When using this pen, it is important to keep a small sheet of paper, or tissue, close by to wipe the tip of the pen. The ink flows quite quickly, and it tends to gather around the tip of the pen, so it’s necessary to clean it frequently, while you work.

When working on a bigger piece, it is natural to rest the writing hand on the paper. I use a scrap sheet of paper to avoid smudging, or getting oil from my hand onto the paper. I used a bigger scrap of paper this time, so it would protect the photo, and be handy whenever I needed to clean the tip of the pen.

Download the templates here:

Lettering on photographs templates from Vera Silva

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