Dustin Harbin delves into the strange world of the Ames Lettering Guide, whose mysterious wheel and holes have long mystified non-acolytes:

Oh, bedeviling Ames Guide! How curious your strange shape, your myriad holes filled with murk and mystery. What–what??–are you for?? This is the oft-heard complaint of people trying to figure out the wild wooly trapezoid that is the Ames Lettering Guide. Myself included! But over the years I’ve gleaned some info from here and there as to its use; plus of course a fair amount of experimentation on my own to boot. Like most people, most likely.

An illustrated “how to” is in the link for those who wish to join the order.


  1. I have been using this for the last 15 years. I still use it today on Bomb Queen for hand-drawn background billboard signs and if I want to hand letter a word balloon that I want to look different (sound effects, fighting grunts, moments of surprise).

    I have three Ames guides on my art table right now.

  2. An amazingly simple device that made life as a letterer so much easier!

    It was also a mini triangle that could be used to make 90 degree angles to guide the vertical lines in your letters, flip it on the angled side for italics.

    Once I was satisfied with the setting for the lettering size I preferred I ran a strip of tape along the bottom of the wheel so it could not be accidentally moved.

    It also made an excellent burnisher for other antique production tools like zip tone and letraset rub on letters!

    I took mine to my child’s show-and-tell once that was designed to demonstrate unusual tools. It was amazing to see the astonished looks on the kids’ faces when they found out how it worked. Equally amazing were their ideas of what it was before I explained it’s actual use.