How to improve thin upstrokes

improving thin upstrokes
While I have discussed thin upstrokes in previous blog posts and videos, I’ve gotten a lot more questions recently about thin upstrokes on my blog, on Instagram, and my YouTube channel. Many of you have asked me for tips on improving the thin upstroke, why your thin upstrokes do not seem thin enough, and how to avoid shakiness when creating them.

Understanding how thin strokes are created and used in conjunction with thicker strokes will enable you to create basic strokes, letters, and eventually words. The challenging part about creating thin strokes is the transition to (and from) thick strokes. Before we get to those transitions, let’s talk about thin upstrokes in a bit more detail and then discuss some ways to improve your thin upstrokes.

Read more about basic strokes and connecting basic strokes.


A thin line that is drawn in an upward direction with very light pressure. The stroke is thin in width and contrasts significantly from the thick downstroke. On the other hand, the thick downstroke is created using heavy pressure so that the brush pen creates a stroke that is very thick in width.

In each the following basic strokes, the thin upstroke is highlighted in yellow:

improving thin upstrokes

How to create thin upstrokes

First, be sure that you are holding your pen properly and pointing it in the right direction. Your grip of the brush pen and positioning make all the difference when creating your strokes.

Read more about holding the brush pen properly and pointing the brush pen in the right direction.

Then, using light pressure, draw a line upwards from the baseline. You can either end at the waistline or ascender line. The idea is that the stroke is thin in width and is created with an upwards motion.

improving thin upstrokes

Characteristics of thin upstrokes

The thin upstroke should contain the following features:

  • Thin (or relatively small) width, especially in comparison with thicker strokes
  • Usually the thinnest width of a stroke that a brush pen can create
  • Consistent width throughout the entire stroke (not including the transition to/from a thicker stroke)
  • Created by drawing stroke in an upward direction (although not required)
  • Does not have to be the size of an actual “hairline” – depends on your brush pen

As you practice your thin upstrokes, pay attention to these features above. If you find any challenges, try the following tips and suggestions to improve your thin upstroke.

Improving thin upstrokes

It can be tricky maintaining a thin upstroke because you need to use a lot of steady control and go slow. But it is doable! If I could go back in time, I would tell my beginner self to not worry about shakiness. To this day (after over a year of brush calligraphy experience), I still find myself shaky every so often. What is more important than not having any shakiness is mastering good letterforms and rhythm.

  1. Understand how the thin upstroke is created and what characteristics it should have (see previous sections above)
  2. Go slow and do not worry about shakiness: It is more important in the beginning to build muscle memory for good letterforms and rhythm. The shakiness will improve the more you practice, gain familiarity with a pen, and find what works for you. Shakiness is sometimes also a function of being relaxed or
  3. Try different brush pens: Not all brush pens were created equal! The width of a thin stroke depends on the size, flexibility, and stiffness of your pen.
  4. Practice makes progress: As always, strive for progress, not perfection. The human hand is incapable of perfection, so don’t worry if your strokes do not look flawless. Instead, focus on the tips above, and on consistency.

improving thin upstrokes

Pens used from right to left, top to bottom:

  1. Tombow dual brush pen
  2. Koi coloring brush
  3. Sakura Pigma brush
  4. Pigma professional brush in bold
  5. Tombow Fudenosuke hard tip
  6. Tombow F
    udenosuke soft tip
  7. Pentel sign pen with a brush tip
  8. Pigma professional brush in fine

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Video: Tips for improving thin upstrokes

In the following video, I review the core concepts in this blog post and demonstrate how you can implement them in your own practice.

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It’s your turn! Tell me in a comment below:

With thin upstrokes, what are you struggling with the most?

What questions do you have about creating thin upstrokes?

What tips can you add and share about improving thin upstrokes?

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Supplies used:

  1. Tombow dual brush pen
  2. Koi coloring brush
  3. Sakura Pigma brush
  4. Pigma professional brush in bold
  5. Tombow Fudenosuke hard tip
  6. Tombow Fudenosuke soft tip
  7. Pentel sign pen with a brush tip
  8. Pigma professional brush in fine
  9. Rhodia dot pad (Amazon/Paper and Ink Arts)

For more supplies, visit my supplies page.


4 thoughts on “How to improve thin upstrokes

  1. Love all of your videos so much. Watching and listening to you has helped me make such great progress with my lettering. I joined in the Handlettered ABC’s this past month and it was so helpful to focus on practicing one letter each day. I have two questions I would love to see in future blog posts.

    1. The biggest struggle I had with the Handlettered ABC’s was trying to photograph them to post to Instagram. I never could seem to capture the character and details of the different markers or paint I was using. I read your post on photographing but would love even more details about your set up.

    2. The second question is on basic strokes. I loved your series on each of them. I have been working to really take time to create my letters with strokes and not just connect them like cursive. But when I try to add a little personality or variation in my letters I don’t really know how to alter or adjust those basic strokes and I just seem to revert to cursive which is not nearly as nice as calligraphy. Any suggestions you have would be great.
    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and encouraging beginners like me!!!


    1. Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for your note. It means a lot to me! I am thrilled to hear that you joined handletteredABCs! We are grateful that you helped us make it such a huge success. Now, regarding your questions:

      1. Photographs! First off, I am SO GLAD you read my previous post. Usually folks don’t even know I wrote that one! But yes, more on my set-up. I will certainly revisit photographing work and share asap.

      2. Hmm, can you elaborate a bit more on the point about “reverting to cursive” – I am curious what that means or looks like. I have a feeling you are referring to the shading of your strokes. Maybe your thins and thicks resemble cursive more than calligraphy?


  2. I think reverting to cursive means more about not pausing to pick up my pen and think about how I want the shape of the next stroke to be. To me cursive is more about writing the letter and calligraphy is making letters using strokes. When I try to add personality, I often think about creating or changing the entire letter and not about altering or adjusting the individual strokes that might make up that letter. I want to do strokes with personality and then use those to make up letters that have more personality. Does that make sense?
    Keep all the advice coming. You are the best!


    1. Hi Elizabeth! A big difference between cursive and calligraphy is the amount of LIFTING involved. With cursive, you barely lift your pen off the page, usually just to start the next word or dot an “i” or cross a “t.” But with calligraphy, you really are lifting after nearly every stroke, to enable your pen to create those thin and thick stroke variations. Slowing down is my best advice, but also be sure to study letterforms and focus on each stroke as an individual part of a letter. In regard to adding more personality to your writing, that comes naturally as you practice more and develop your own style and voice. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different ways of writing the same letter or word over and over until you find a version you like. I hope that helps!


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