Quietfire Design's
Techniques Gallery

Lettering with Masking Fluid*
©2008 Suzanne Cannon

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This article first appeared in the May 2006 byhand Newsletter

Items you will need:

Using Masking Fluid to make white letters!

I believe I originally learned this technique from calligrapher Martin Jackson many years ago and if you've taken any of my weekly classes over the years then you have most likely tried this.

What is masking fluid? It's a rubbery fluid used by watercolour artists (and I'm sure others) to "mask" out areas in their painting they wish to remain white (or unpainted). It can be painted on with a brush (normally the brush is dipped in soap first, otherwise the masking fluid will never come out of the brush) and once dry it may be painted over with watercolours, keeping the surface under the masking fluid untouched. When the watercolour is dry, the masking fluid can be removed by a rub with your finger or a "rubber cement pick-up". I always have my finger handy, so I use it!

Gather together your bottle of masking fluid, a small cup to pour into (okay, if you're really lazy then you can pour it into the lid, but it will get the threads on the cap gummy - ask me how I know this....)

and a larger nib (I used a Mitchell Roundhand nib #0 without the reservoir).

For this project I lettered on Arches 140 cold press watercolour paper.


Pour a small amount of masking fluid into the cup. Warning, this stuff has ammonia in it and it's rather stinky!
I dip my nib into the cup (not too deeply!) for this technique. The fluid clings nicely to the pen (this photo shows the underside of the nib where the reservoir usually sits on a Mitchell nib). Sometimes you need to wipe some masking fluid off the topside of the nib or you get thicks where your thins should be....

This was really difficult to photograph as there is not much colour in the masking fluid. A bit of practice with this technique always helps! You can see I have it on quite thickly in some places and less so in others. Yes, some of my thins filled in with too much masking fluid....

You can see my liner underneath, gee it'd be nice if that "d" followed the slope line. You get to see all the warts, don't you?

The masking fluid will dry flat. Don't paint over it till the masking fluid is dry.

For painting, I used the wet-in-wet technique. I used a wide brush to apply water all over the surface of the watercolour paper.

Instead of using watercolours for this project, I used Magic Colour Acrylic Inks. (This allows me the security of being able to letter over top of the colour after it has dried - watercolour is likely to get messed up)

It's always a bit of a surprise to see what you will end up with!

I diluted the Magic Colors in a Rinky Dink (about 50:50 with water) and used a smaller brush to add in Process Cyan Magic Color
The second colour I added was Mars Red.

The third colour was Delta Violet which is a very strong colour and can easily overpower other colours. Tip your paper this way and that and allow the colours to run.

You can see the letters beginning to stand out. Allow this to dry

Once the paint is dry, you may start rubbing off the masking fluid. Then go ahead and add the rest of the lettering to the piece. I used a Mitchell #3 1/2 nib for the small lettering. Keep in mind this is pretty rough paper!



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