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A technical lettering stencil
A technical lettering stencil

Technical lettering is the process of forming letters, numerals, and other characters in technical drawing. It is used to describe, or provide detailed specifications for, an object. With the goals of legibility and uniformity, styles are standardized and lettering ability has little relationship to normal writing ability. Engineering drawings use a Gothic sans-serif script, formed by a series of short strokes. Lower case letters are rare in most drawings of machines.

Methods of forming letters

  1. Freehand lettering is done without the assistance of tools. To regulate lettering height, commonly 3 mm (18-in), guidelines are drawn.
  2. Mechanical lettering is done using tools such as lettering guides, templates, or using a small mechanical pantograph referred to by the Keuffel and Esser trademark "Leroy"
  3. Modern drawings are lettered with computer-aided design software.

Freehand lettering

Technical Lettering.STAN SB19  Similar to ISOCP font, available in AutoCAD.
Technical Lettering.STAN SB19 Similar to ISOCP font, available in AutoCAD.

The letters to be drawn, though freehanded, should be stable and graceful. In some cases stability is impossible; for example, P and F are unavoidably top-heavy. In other cases the stability and grace of the letters may be maintained either by drawing the lower parts of the letters like B,E etc. wider than the upper parts, or by drawing the horizontal line at the center of these letters just above their geometric axis. (Exception: In case of the letter A, the horizontal member is drawn below the geometric center, to maintain equality of areas below and above the center line. If a horizontal line is drawn exactly at the center, then the difference in the areas of the triangle above the line and the trapezium below the line is much larger. This creates an unusual effect to our eyes.)

Emphasis should be on the overall beauty of a word, rather than individual letters.

Most freehand lettering is done in a "gothic" style, i.e., with a constant line thickness; either "straight gothic", with vertical strokes perpendicular to the baseline, or "inclined gothic", with vertical strokes at about 75°.

Mechanical lettering

K & E LEROY lettering set (1959)
K & E LEROY lettering set (1959)

Mechanical lettering is sometimes done using a pantograph, a device consisting of four bars ("links") which are pinned to each other to form a parallelogram. The links can pivot about these pins. The lowermost link of the parallelogram is fixed to two rigid supports. One vertical link at one end is connected to a profile tracer, which traces the profile of the letter to be drawn, and the second vertical link and the other horizontal link are jointly connected to a pencil that draws the exact shape of the profile traced.

Dimensions of letters

Lettering A

Characteristic Parameter Ratio Dimensions (mm)
Lettering Height
(Height of capitals)
h (14/14)h 2.50 3.50 5.00 7.0 10.0 14 20.0
Height of lower case letters
(without stem or tail)
c (10/14)h 2.50 3.50 5.0 7.0 10 14.0
Spacing between characters a (2/14)h 0.35 0.50 0.70 1.0 1.4 2 2.8
Minimum spacing of base characters b (20/14)h 3.50 5.00 7.00 10.0 14.0 20 28.0
Minimum spacing between words e (6/14)h 1.05 1.50 2.10 3.0 4.2 6 8.4
Thickness of lines d (1/14)h 0.18 0.25 0.35 0.5 0.7 1 1.4

Lettering B

Characteristic Parameter Ratio Dimensions (mm)
Lettering Height
(Height of capitals)
h (10/10)h 2.50 3.50 5.0 7.0 10 14.0 20
Height of lower case letters
(without stem or tail)
c (7/10)h 2.50 3.5 5.0 7 10.0 14
Spacing between characters a (2/10)h 0.50 0.70 1.0 1.4 2 2.8 4
Minimum spacing of base characters b (14/10)h 3.50 5.00 7.0 10.0 14 20.0 28
Minimum spacing between words e (6/10)h 1.50 2.10 3.0 4.2 6 8.4 12
Thickness of lines d (1/10)h 0.25 0.35 0.5 0.7 1 1.4 2

See also

References