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I'm trying to make the smallest legible lettering I can - miniature writing on normal paper or something thinner.

This is in the context of craft with kids, so I'd like something affordable, also not too complicated. We'd like to make Lego-scale books (menus), though as that's around 1:40, clearly we're not going to get normal type sizes. Colours would be a significant bonus.

The best I've done so far is with a 0.5 mm mechanical pencil (the finest I have to hand) and very light pressure - that gets me down to letters 1 mm high and 0.5 mm wide, limited by the stroke width as much as my skill. H- and F-grade pencils are similar even if sharpened with a scalpel. I've tried rubbing the pencil to a sharp point but that didn't help much. You wouldn't fit many words on a page of say 10 mm high.

I doubt my skill is up to single-hair painting, but can't think of anywhere in between. And yes, inkjet-printing is another option; we'll probably do some of that too.

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The smallest pen I have personally found is a 0.03 mm size pen; while it does leave a very small line, the tip is quite fragile and tends to break more often than my larger pens (including the 0.05, the next size up). It requires a delicate touch; while you would probably be fine with it, I wouldn't recommend handing it to kids, who haven't always developed the motor skills to be gentle with the pen.

The 0.03 size is also fairly uncommon; typically, the smallest pen tips you'll find will be either 0.05 or 0.1. You can see a comparison of the line sizes in this sample image from JetPens, found in their product listings for Copic Multiliners, one of the brands that does carry this size of pen; Marvy and Deleter also sell a pen in this size. The image below is an actual sample of the pens, on an undisclosed lettering paper, to show comparative line weight and bleed between sizes.

enter image description here

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  • I see Rotring also make a couple of 0.05s and 0.1s, and there's a dealer nearby so I might be able to pick one up on my commute. I wonder about the actual line thickness writing/drawing (slowly) on real paper - the complete lack of bleed is one advantage of a pencil
    – Chris H
    Nov 24 '20 at 15:02
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    0.05 is a pretty common size, actually; there's a lot of companies (Kuretake (Zig), Sakura (Micron), etc) that are very widely available for 0.05 and 0.1 mm pens. It's only the very small 0.03 that's rare. :) As far as bleed, on a good sheet of paper there's very little to any bleed from Copic, Zig, and Micron pens, all of which I've personally used.
    – Allison C
    Nov 24 '20 at 16:46
  • @AllisonC It might be useful to put that information in your answer, as well as define what you mean by a "good" sheet of paper.
    – csk
    Nov 24 '20 at 20:31
  • @ChrisH, re: actual line thickness -- those tiny pen tips aren't anything close to their labeled size. They will give you a finer line than a larger size tip, but the actual line is way thicker than the measurement used as a tip name. A single inkjet printer dot is roughly 0.05 mm and is barely visible to the naked eye. Feeding ink through a hollowed out human hair could write a 0.03 mm line. The lines those pens produce are orders of magnitude larger than their name. :-)
    – fixer1234
    Nov 25 '20 at 1:52
  • @fixer1234 there is a final taper or radius at the tip of the tip though. That's probably what they're referring to in some way. But in this case a 0.1mm line would be fine. For work I've just been through something similar with markers to write on copper, until I chanced on some ultra-fine sharpies, which spread a little even on non absorbant surfaces. There I'm working under a microscope. For this I'll just use a magnifier
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 6:39
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You mention the inkjet printing option. I'll focus on that. In a nutshell, you'll be disappointed, although it might be an option if you lack the skill and instruments to do miniature printing by hand.

Inkjet printers can lay down microscopic droplets of ink at very high DPI, but you don't really have control at that level. They are designed to reproduce detail and color accurately down to the level you can readily see at a normal viewing distance. Below that scale, the ink droplets are used to create optical illusions to simulate what you think is there. The printer driver and printer electronics control all of that detail to create an approximation of what you ask it to print.

The tiny droplets are small enough to simulate smooth curves. If you're printing in color, a large mass of mixed-color droplets is used to approximate the actual color from primary colors. Color inaccuracies are compensated by making adjacent areas off-color. At the scale of the individual droplets, droplet positioning is pretty imprecise, and some randomness is thrown in to avoid creating neat geometric patterns that your eye could detect as artifacts.

To illustrate the limitations, I created a little text using a simple font at a size of 3 pt, and printed it on regular printer paper. Here is an enlargement (actual size is about 1 mm high:

enter image description here

At this scale, the ink wicking is significant relative to the size of the characters (although you could do better than this using photo paper). You can see the "wiskers" and bleeding into the small voids within the characters. You can see the aggregation of ink dots creating the character lines. At this size, it's difficult for the printer to accurately reproduce the character geometry. With normal 10 or 12 pt text, the characters would be large enough that these issues wouldn't be noticeable.

With good font selection and photo paper, you could create readable text at 3 pt., but you might want to use a magnifying glass to read it if you don't have perfect vision. It gets dicey as you go to smaller point sizes than that.

One benefit of inkjet over manual lettering is that it would be much faster. Miniature writing by hand is something done slowly and carefully under a magnifier. Also, you wouldn't risk spending a lot of time creating the miniature text and then accidentally ruin it with a stray mark. With its limitations on readability, it still might be perfectly adequate if the objective is just to create the appearance of text and readability isn't critical.

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  • Thanks. You're working at a scale I can do by hand (just) with a 0.5mm pencil. My inkjet is a pretty decent photo printer (though old), and I've got a range of papers to try, so it's worth a go, especially as the Linux drivers allow me to reduce the amount of ink (though how that's achieved in fluid terms is another question). Of course the coated papers with less bleed tend to be rather thick, as does printable vinyl. It might make a good cover for handwritten pages though.
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 7:22
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    I think it's worth expanding on the 'With good font selection ...' comment. Regular fonts aren't optimised for tiny print. If you go with the inkjet option, it will be time well spent to try out different fonts eg: Miniscule at small sizes.
    – mcalex
    Nov 25 '20 at 9:14
  • @mcalex that's very interesting. I'd thought about light fonts to get the lineweight down but not specially-designed ones
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 13:06
  • Even when using a pen, hand-rendering e.g. Miniscule would probably be more successful than simply trying to write very small
    – Yorik
    Nov 25 '20 at 17:43
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Maybe it wasn't the size of your pencil that limited you, but the hardness of the lead. Most mechanical pencil leads come in HB. The hardest pencil leads tend to be something like "9H", although the names differ between brands.

Using a much harder pencil allows you to write much finer lines, but you have to press the lead harder into the paper. You can buy individual pencils of different hardnesses in stationary or craft shops. It doesn't even have to be a mechanical pencil. You can create a nice sharp tip on a regular pencil if the lead is hard enough.

I remenber seeing someone write a long sentence on the back of a post stamp in TV, but I cannot find it anywehre on Youtube. He used regular lead pencils sharpened to a very fine point and switched pencils after a few words (to have a fresh tip).

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  • Good point. I've got some 0.5mm H leads and I think that's what's in that pencil. I've got up to 6H in non-mechanical pencils at home but I was trying this in work where I've got a microscope and nothing harder than H (but an 8B). I did try reshaping the tip on scrap paper, but it was of limited benefit as I needed to hold it steeply enough that it hit the microsocope (a low power stereo microscope that I use for fine assembly work.
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 13:37
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    That begs the question: does the writing have to be legible? Can't you just squiggle around on the paper and call it "writing"? By the way, another idea you can try are RPG miniature books: Youtube video, free print
    – Elmy
    Nov 25 '20 at 13:45
  • It looks like there are some nice ideas in that video and the page with the download is useful too. I'll have to watch properly tonight. I would like it to be legible for a couple of reasons (in jokes, and the challenge of it) but we don't need a lot of words per line/page
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 13:56
  • I remember being encouraged by my mother to learn to write the Lord's Prayer on a piece of paper the size of a postage stamp, and was unlikely to have had anything other than HB pencils available. I remember that I managed, and didn't find it particularly difficult. I suspect that one of the most difficult things is going to be holding the paper down, and that the best way would be to work within a frame drawn on a much larger piece. Nov 25 '20 at 22:04
  • @MarkMorganLloyd I'm thinking of marking the cut lines on a full sheet, writing, then cutting out the pages
    – Chris H
    Nov 26 '20 at 8:07
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Use a film camera

Design the text in large size on computer, and invert the colors in the image. It should have white text on black background now, and all colors should be inverted also.

Use an old film camera to take a photo of this, and get the film developed. It will take a week or so, but usually does not cost much. You don't need any prints, just the film negative. You can even get the chemicals for black and white home development for about 20 dollars.

The height of the whole photo on film will be 24 mm. The typical resolution of camera film is about 50 lines per mm, which means that you should be able to get sharp text that is 0.1 mm high or even smaller.

You can then cut out pieces of the film negative and glue them like any plastic.

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  • Nice idea. I have a 35mm compact still (though sadly not an SLR body to go with my lenses). I've done B&W developing in the past
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 13:02
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I watched someone write multiple lines of text on a pebble that was coated with clear nail polish by using a single hair from an artist's brush dipped in India ink. I think the hair was from a watercolor brush. The writing was nearly microscopic but perfectly legible. The hair was retained by the split end of a dowel, which was held like a pencil.

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  • Apart from the fact that one probably needs to be a calligrapher to work on that scale while remaining legible, can you add some sources or images to support your answer?
    – Joachim
    Nov 26 '20 at 7:47
  • @Joachim Actually, no. This is anecdotal from life experience. The tiny text was created by a very nearsighted teenager who took off their glasses while working. You can see somewhat larger examples by searching Google Images for: pebble painting text.
    – MTA
    Nov 26 '20 at 14:44
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I accidentally laser-printed (on a fairly decent modern laser printer) a PDF much smaller than I mean to. This was on normal office paper, and those are mm tick marks on the ruler. Unlike inkjet it doesn't bleed, but it's clearly resolution-limited, and under the microscope I can see the toner follows the tooth of the paper a bit

This only worked for black. I didn't have coloured text as small, but the larger blue I did have was a fairly clear cyan with scattered dots of magenta.

Very small laser print (click for higher resolution)

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Try to 3D print the whole book, including the letters.

Or let the kids draw on your current books. Sometimes they have finer motor skills.

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    Welcome to Arts & Crafts. Can you clarify your suggestion? Why 3D print the book? What would the kids use to write on the result? Can you better focus your solution on what the question asks? Thanks.
    – fixer1234
    Nov 25 '20 at 2:05
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    I'm not sure how sending up with plastic to write on would help. If I wanted plastic I could use waterproof "paper", which I have, and which would take ink better than most 3d printing plastic (we use a few in work)
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 6:44
  • no ink, print all, tried to clarify in the answer Nov 25 '20 at 8:41
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    I don't know what resolution your 3d printer can do, but the one I've got access to in work would be coarser than handwriting or inkjet printing - otherwise 3d-printing a printing plate would be a very nice approach.
    – Chris H
    Nov 25 '20 at 13:04
  • Resin printers can more or less match the OP's hand-written resolution. FDM printers are typically an order of magnitude worse.
    – Mark
    Nov 25 '20 at 21:54

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