Letter Structure and Style

Now letter structure and style are things that are far more subjective than many of the other things we will be discussing in this graffiti tutorial. Though as I’ve said before you’ve got to know the rules before you break them, but once you start breaking them, break the shit out of them! Letter structure is one of the pillars of success in graffiti, but almost more important is to have style and flavour. This is why it’s necessary to talk about style and it’s correlation to letter structure with the audience in order help them push their abilities.



We see letters in every aspect of our day to day lives from books, smartphones, advertising and grocery lists. This is why you’ll notice fonts and different sort of typefaces both interesting and implanted in graffiti all the damn time. Once you get obsessed with the graffiti community and lifestyle, these end up being the most attractive thing to you in your life.

Letters have form, motion and a certain swagger to them that the average person doesn’t really know about or think about – but us graffiti artists sure as hell do. I think we can all agree one of the most crucial element to being a writer is having good letter structure and it’s furthermore one of the most integral parts of a writer’s development in order for them to not look toy.

There are so many different letter techniques from tagging, to bombing to straight letters and burners. Tags are the core of the graffiti way, as they always say you’ve got to crawl before you can walk and then run and then go on a full on sprint. Well that’s exactly how this craft is as well. You’ve got to be able to bust out a nice tag before adding the extra frills to your letters.

Tags are the most heavily used weapons in our artillery, because they’re fast, fun and generally get your name out there faster than any of the other ways to hip-hop spray your name. It’s your signature, it’s the staple of how people will know you. Now that’s not to say the other aspects of the craft won’t be as well. We also tend to recognize people through all aspects of their style, but let’s just say overall, and definitely when you’re first starting out, it’s going to be your tag people recognize the most.

Now back in the day there used to be far more regional styles that people used to connect with such as Philly (Philadelphia) hand styles that are tall and thin, the cholo styles of the west coast that are far more calligraphic than others and other cities around the world had their own regional take.

These days there’s a lot less of that due to the internet, but that’s not to say that everyone doesn’t have their own swagger. As stated said before, letter structure comes from that as we see everyday and generally in the words and letters we see different typefaces have different weights, serifs and sans serifs and other characteristics that makes a font ugly or beautiful. But generally what happens with typefaces that all tend to be dope to look at is one thing – balance.

The same goes for graffiti as well, all types lettering, from tags to burners, all need a certain amount of balance. That isn’t to say they all have to be completely symmetrical or something like that, it’s just about having the flow of the word looking good. Certain letters for example have far more motion to them than others.

Take an ‘M’ for starters, you can look at it as a stiff block type letter with 4 big sticks that connect themselves in order to make the letter, or you can look at it as a dude who’s got big ass arms and legs that can sway from side to side or lean in different directions. There are more to letters than just the bars that create them.

However, the bars play an important factor in the way they’re created and done properly. That is to say that aspects of these bars or sticks can have different weights and forms to them but one thing should always remain the same with these and that is consistency. If a line or bar is going in a certain direction, it generally has to stay in that direction in order to make sense. If it breaks out of nowhere, there better be a reason for it or it’ll just look sloppy.

Again, this comes down to the know the rules before breaking them point as many writers who’ve been painting for a long time don’t give a fuck and just rock out whatever they feel is good, but that’s because they’ve had years of experience to perfect how we conceive letters in their purest form.

When it comes down to bubble letters, these tend to get a bit trickier, because in something like throw-ups, there aren’t technically any “bars” or “sticks” to determine where certain elements of the letters go, such as the holes of the letters. But usually when it’s right – it’s right. You can see it pop off the wall correctly right away. This helps leads us into the style portion. We all know style is a subject element to graffiti but undoubtedly one of the most important ones. Not only is it important because it gives generic letters that special something they need to enter the graffiti realm, but it’s what separates writers from other writers.

Style is the essence of what makes you a writer and what makes your work original. Everyone in the world has style, whether it’s good or bad, that’s left to be seen, but we all have it. The way you present yourself on a daily basis is a sense of style that you have with your clothes, hair, accessories and other things like tattoos or piercings. This is the style of who you are and who you’re presenting yourself to be, think about graffiti style like that too.

How do you want your style to look? Graphic or rendered? Thin or fat? Evil or whimsical? These are all questions that a writer has to ask themselves before putting it out there in the world, and that’s something only that writer can decide. Not one style is truly superior over another, though there are people who do certain ones better than others. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder right? So that’s where you see different people with different aesthetics varying so drastically. This also is similar to the factors in which I stated with hand styles, that all of the various styles came from all over the globe. West coast North America had that more dark and evil inspired lettering, while Europe had big, fat and chunky lettering.

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  • Once you’ve settled on a hand style that you’re comfortable with after sketching in your black book, find a location that you’d like to hit and get into position like you would when you were practicing your can control. It’s important to keep in mind the size of the wall and the size of the tag you want to spray.

  • Often times when we are first starting out, we tend to go a lot smaller than we normally want to due to nervousness and inexperience, but let’s give you an itinerary here of how to envision this.
  • Once you’re facing the wall, you will no longer have any vision of what’s behind you, so if this is an illegal spot, be sure the coast is clear or make sure you have a spotter. This is generally why we go bombing with crew-mates or friends, so they can “watch our 6”, that is to say watch what’s behind you.
  • When you start spraying the lines remember to keep you body upright and balanced and your arm and spray paint cap facing directly to the wall. Imagine it like taking a piss (if you’re a guy), if your steam isn’t going straight into the bowl, you’re pissing all over the floor. This goes same for aerosol spray as it comes out in more or less a hard steady stream.
  • Once you’re getting the first lines up on a wall, you will find yourself extremely tense because this is probably one of your first times rocking – this is totally normal. Just make sure to keep your mind thinking just as fast, if not fast than the can.
  • When we paint at a wall, we’re almost like boxers, we want to make sure we’re always centrally balanced, so if you notice yourself becoming unbalanced or your hands are reaching, just shift over to get yourself back into position with your arms in front of you – almost as if you were side stepping or shuffling.
  • Once you’ve gotten through your whole tag (or hand style), you’ll then want to quickly take a step back from the wall and critique your work (or jet off if this was done without permissions). This will then give you time to see what you’ve done wrong and where you can improve. As we’ve stated before, this craft is all about practice. No one will be perfect right away – even with lots of sketching.
  • If you’re trying to rock flares, as we discussed in the can control section, you will want to have much more movement and looseness to your arm work, though you will still want to be in a very sturdy position. If you do not, you will then end up having poor flares or really rocky points (a point is where the flare comes to an end point and is more solid).
  • When you’re in position to rock a flare tag, stay in your steady position and then choose where you would like the flare to begin. We generally do flares from top to bottom, but this isn’t a rule. Some writers goes bottom to top or even flare out both the top and bottom. But for this example we will do top to bottom for arguments sake.
  • Start with your hand fully extended, almost out of reach and begin spraying with the can spraying the can slowly just before you hit the wall and quickly come down closer to the wall to the end of your letter to a sharper and more opaque point.
  • This is one of the few times in graffiti where we actually spray the can before we are already at the wall because for this style, the lines do not need to come out completely straight. Once you’ve finished your first line you will repeat going top to bottom with your arms fully extended slowly spraying moving quickly into a sharp point until your name is on the wall.
  • Sketch lines are a blessing and a curse in creating graffiti as they can start you off in the right direction or in a very wrong direction. What’s great about them is that they are easily covered up because you fill, outline, 3D and all the extras over top. Possibly the best way to starting getting to know your first line are by doing bubble letters or throw-ups.

  • When doing throwies, it’s important to implement the first technique where you stay in position, cap facing directly to the wall and always at the same distance from the wall start to finish. The primary difference is, size has increased and there will be much more arm movement. It’s almost as if you’re dancing.
  • Use your arms moving in circular and winding motions to give those rounder lines, almost resembling clouds. Because as we all know bubble letters are supposed to look like bubbles.
  • Similar to the original hand style, you will still always want to have a centre position with your body even though your arms are moving more freely. It’s ideal to stay in front of each letter, so if you have a 5 letter name, getting in position for number one and spray then side step to number 2 then side step to number 3 and so on and so forth until your name is completely finished.
  • If you’re looking to fill this up and then outline, taking your “hollow”, meaning an unfilled bubble letter, to a “fill-in”, which is just as you thought a filled in bubble letter.
  • Move your hands side to side across each letter and constantly hold the spray can down, filling in as you swipe across. Once your name is completely filled in, do the same motions you did in getting the hollow up on the wall to completely outline the throw up.
  • Most of this rings true for straight letters and wilds styles as well, however, these are more advanced piecing techniques.
  • But similar to the throw up, get your base lines up on the wall, stay in front of your letter and keep moving down in the direction you so choose (which tends to be left to right) and extend your arms to the points of where your letters start and finish.

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Once you’ve locked down these basic ideas of how to get through your letter structure, you’re going to start having the freedom to breaking the rules and/or having a lot more fun with your fill effects and extra add-ons such as 3Ds and backgrounds.