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The Difference Between Hand Lettering and Calligraphy

Hand Lettering and Calligraphy

Most people think of calligraphy as that fancy writing people use for wedding invitations. Then there are those individual letters that pop at the start of a book chapter or on a sign outside a store. The art of beautiful writing and the art of creating letters as works of art in themselves are distinct. Learn the difference between hand lettering and calligraphy.

Hand Lettering Creates Illustrations Made of Letters

Hand lettering is a form of drawing in which the subject of the drawing is a letter or letters. With hand lettering, each letter can turn into a distinct work of art, standing on its own rather than functioning within a system of writing or typography. Lettering artists have the freedom to create multiple ways to draw, embellish, and shade different letters. Think of hand lettering as a form of graphic design—and that’s how you’ll most often see it. From chalkboard menus to logos to motivational messages, hand lettering adds a unique and individually structured flair to the appearance of letters. Hand lettering artists use a variety of tools—from pens and pencils to brushes, markers, and digital tools—to create their stylized letters.

Calligraphy Creates Beautiful Writing

Although hand lettering can mimic calligraphy, it’s not the same. Calligraphy is the art of beautiful handwriting or penmanship. Calligraphers practice shapes and strokes that they use consistently through a written document. Calligraphy emphasizes consistency of style, line, and shape. It uses different thicknesses for the up and downstrokes of specific letters. Calligraphy has been an art form for thousands of years in different cultures and languages. Its tools are primarily pens with nibs and ink, brushes, or brush pens. Calligraphy requires rote learning and muscle memory, which are necessary to turn out smooth, flowing lines of text with consistent stroke width and letter sizes. It differs from “cursive” writing in the different widths of up and down strokes and the different pressure one uses to form the letters as they flow together. Many refer to styles of calligraphy as script.

Just to confuse things further, both hand lettering and calligraphy are distinct from typography. Typography is a system of arranging letters to be visually appealing and legible. Typography defines how letters work together, the spacing between them, and how wide they are. Typography may use different fonts (letter styles) to create a system within a document that is recognizable and distinct, giving a document, brochure, or book its own aesthetic.

Hand lettering and calligraphy are gaining popularity as hobbies and as forms of creative expression in journaling. Classes and tutorials are proliferating on YouTube, and many practitioners have developed strong social media followings on Instagram and other such platforms.

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