How to Letter Holiday Ornaments
'Tis the Season. Halloween has come and gone, and for most of us, that means only one thing… Christmas is coming. This bundled-to-the-tits, can't-shovel-the-damn-driveway-fast-enough stretch of time becomes a mad rush of taking, making, and delivering orders. When did we all become fucking Santa, because I swear even he isn't this busy? If lettering is your jam, you're probably already taking ornament orders for everyone under the sun. Well, read on sister (or mister) if you need a little help with those holiday tree-huggers.
Big Shiny Balls.
Everybody wants them, and thankfully, for the most part, they're pretty easy to source. Most big box retailers have already started to stock glass ornaments for the season and you can usually buy in bulk for a decent price. It's easiest to keep your offerings to a minimum in terms of sizes and colours. Try sticking with a few popular colours - the more you offer, the harder it will be to keep track of things once you get into the thick of the season. Plus, you might end up with a shit-ton of leftovers that you’ll then have to store until next year.
1. Make sure your ornaments are clean from dust and surface grime. Even if they are fresh from the box you'll need to wipe them down to help remove anything left behind from packing or storage. Use a dry microfibre cloth and give them a quick buff - you'll thank me later.
2. If you feel more comfortable working with guidelines or a sketch, try using a Stabilo Aquarellable pencil. They are easy AF to remove after the fact and won't interfere with your gorgeous lettering.
3. For glass ornaments I always use oil-based paint pens. You can try your luck with acrylic-based pens, but be prepared for your lettering to get damaged really quickly as your balls spend most of their life living between pine needles. Brands like Sharpie, DecoColor and PenTouch are all pretty consistent in quality and all offer some decent festive colours.
HACK: Lettering more than one ornament at a time? Use paper cupcake liners to cradle your balls while they dry *If you think I'm mature and didn't laugh when I wrote that, well you'd be totally wrong.*
4. Once your ornaments are dry (3-5 minutes max) you can use a microfibre to wipe off your guidelines.
Ahhh F**K I messed it up. Don't panic. I know we've been conditioned to believe oil is the enemy when it comes to removing mistakes, but fear not my friend, oil is also the answer. Whhhaaattttt? Yep, you read that right… the easiest way to remove oil from your shiny glass ornaments is OIL. Don't ask me how or why this works, but dip a q-tip in some cooking oil (olive or coconut is best) and buff off your mistakes. You'll need to remove the oil from the ball thoroughly before you attempt round two, so it's likely going to be easiest to remove everything and clean the ball with alcohol to make sure it's spotless.
Nice Wood. Wood slice ornaments can be tricky depending on the type of wood you're working with. Woodies that are raw or that haven't been sanded need to be prepped before they can be lettered on. If the surface is too rough, not only will your tools get wrecked super quick, but your ornaments will end up looking like they came straight out of a kindergarten classroom.
Rough AF? Give them a sand. Use a fine grit sandpaper (180-220) and buff them in a circular motion until they feel even and smooth to the touch. Wipe away the sawdust with a damp cloth and let them dry fully before you move on to the next step. Boring AF? Give them a facelift with a background paint or stain. Acrylic craft paint is your best bet. Use a cheap brush and get those cracks and grooves covered well. If you decide to stain, look for something water-based like Minwax Water Based stain. It brushes on easily, can be used indoors with no stanky smell, and dries really quickly.
1. If you need to sketch your design, use a light pencil or piece of regular chalk to create a guide.
2. Go over your guides or freehand that sucker using acrylic paint pens. You can try oil-based pens, but they often require multiple coats and the colours never turn out as vibrant as they do when you work with acrylics. The best brands for the job? Posca, Elmers, and Molotow are all solid choices. If you are more comfortable using a brush and paint, now's the time to break it out. Stick with a smaller round brush (try sizes 00-3) and acrylic paint for the best results.
3. Wait until it's completely dry and use a white vinyl eraser to remove your pencil or chalk. You won't want to wipe these with water once they are dry. The eraser will remove both chalk and pencil with no fuss.
HACK: If you're worried about longevity you can give your finished slices a quick spritz of top-coat (try Rust-o-leum UV Protection Clear).
Sweet Little Acrylic Discs.
These guys have grown in popularity over the last few years and seem to be the style everyone is after. They can be hard to source, so if you haven't ordered them yet, try to find somewhere fast if you plan on offering them this season.
1. Wipe them with alcohol and try to keep your fingers off them. Natural oils are acrylics' worst enemy and fingerprints can really screw up your lettering. Let them dry and use a piece of scrap paper as a rest to block your hand from coming into contact with the surface while you work.
2. The nice thing about these is that they are clear which makes it easy to sketch your guides on paper and work off the template rather than having to sketch on the disc itself.
3. Letter with oil. Like glass balls, you can use acrylic paint pens on these or even sometimes nib and ink, but if you want these to look pristine years down the road, oil is the way to go.
4. If you want to add a paint splash background, do it after the lettering has dried. Use acrylic paint/ink with a brush on the reverse side of the ornament. Let them dry completely before you package them up.
There are loads of ornament options out there (ceramic, metal, plastic, etc.) and every surface will require its own set of rules. It may take some trial and error (after all, I don't have ALL the answers) so dip your toes in and find something that works best for you (then come back and tell me alllllllll about it).
Hopefully this brain dump will help you navigate ornaments this holiday season, and if it doesn't, well, that's what rum and eggnog is for.