You’ve seen the terms calligraphy, hand lettering, and typography used all the time interchangeably. You may be wondering if these are different names to describe the same thing. Or what is the difference between them? If that’s your case, then you are in the right place. In this blog post, I’m going to explain the difference between calligraphy, hand lettering, and typography.
I had this question for a long time. I decided to do more research so I could understand these terms better. And today I’m sharing with you what calligraphy, hand lettering, and typography are, what they are not, and what makes them unique. While you are not breaking any rules by not knowing the difference between these terms, it is essential to understand what makes one separates them from the other. Especially if you are:
- Looking to getting started or have been doing it for a little while.
- Thinking of hiring someone to do work for you. You’d want to make sure the person you are hiring knows what he/she is doing.
Calligraphy, hand lettering, and typography share MANY similarities. They are part of the same lettering family. Though, they are different disciplines and need different skills. That’s why here in my website you see them as separate blog categories. In case you are wondering why not just use one or the other, there is a reason for it, and this blog post will help me explain it.
What is the difference between Calligraphy, Hand Lettering, and Typography?
I’m going to start by defining each term. Then explaining what these terms are not, so I can better describe the difference between the three.
Calligraphy is the “art of writing letters.” Its literal meaning is beautiful writing. It is defined as a single pass with a pen to write letters (lettering uses many passes). Calligraphy uses the same lettering style throughout. You will need to develop muscle memory to create calligraphy. Even with a modern calligraphy style, you still need to pay some attention to structure.
Traditionally, to do calligraphy, you use tools like a nib and ink, dip pens, and fountain pens. Tools like brushes and brush pens are making their way to modern calligraphy. So it is common that you see terms like brush calligraphy and brush pen calligraphy.
Calligraphy is not the same as cursive writing. The marked variation in the width of the strokes of each letter is what separates calligraphy from cursive. As well as the writing speed. In this blog post, I go more into detail about the meaning of Modern Calligraphy.
2. LETTERING (AND HAND LETTERING)
Lettering is “the art of drawing letters.” Hand lettering (as its name indicates) is more particular to the art of drawing letters by hand. The mix of different styles is a feature that separates hand lettering from calligraphy. When doing lettering, you can incorporate all kinds of letterforms into a piece. Lettering is usually used for serif and more illustrative and modern styles. Like the ones, you see in typography design, hand-lettering books, and chalkboard work.
The beautiful thing about hand lettering is that is not meant to be perfect. But you do need to maintain consistency and spacing to have a cohesive lettering piece. With lettering, your focus is on the unique composition rather than the individual letter. It should be viewed from the perspective of its design as a whole.
With lettering, you can use a wide range of tools, like pens, brush pens, paintbrushes, and water brushes. You can create lettering by hand on a non-digital medium (aka, pen and paper), by hand with a stylus in a digital program (ex. The iPad with the apple pencil) or with the click of a mouse to create vector curves by a digital program (ex. Illustrator).
Hand lettering is NOT the same as handwriting. It is a skill and requires a LOT of practice. As with everything, practice makes progress. If you are interested in beginning to start learning hand lettering, then you will enjoy this blog post. In there, I share three simple steps you can follow so you can start to write beautiful letters today.
Typography is the visual art of creating written words. It consists of fonts, which are a collection of prefabricated letters. Typography is the style and appearance of printed material or the art of arranging type. The main reason why people often confuse typography and lettering is that of our friend: THE COMPUTER! It is possible to have a hand-lettered font, AND for this font to be part of typography. The simplified version of the process looks something like this:
- A hand-lettered font begins with hand lettering the alphabet.
- Next, this alphabet is turned into a font using digital programs, thus, creating a repeatable system.
- Once the hand lettering is converted into a font, they become part of typography.
In a nutshell, calligraphy is the art of writing letters. It is a single pass/stroke with a pen/tool to write letters. Hand Lettering is the art of drawing letters by hand, using many strokes. Typography is writing with prefabricated, pre-designed letters. Calligraphy, hand lettering, and typography are all part of the ever-awesome lettering family. And while one form is not better than the other one, is essential to know what makes them unique.
Understanding their meaning and the difference will help learn them better. It will give you the base knowledge so you can differentiate and appreciate these arts. It will also help you when you need to hire someone to do lettering related work. With this knowledge, you could determine whether that person knows what they are doing or not.