What is Lettering?


When I introduce myself as a letterer, most people get confused at my specific use of the term. Through this article, I hope to define the terms of lettering and calligraphy in order to explain why I consider myself a letterer first, and then a calligrapher.

Hand lettering has become a popular hobby and art form, with each person contributing their own voice and style. Therefore, there is a great variety of writing styles in the community. The art of drawing letters is often confused with similar terms: calligraphy, typography, and hand writing. Each lettering style has a purpose that sets it apart from the rest.


Calligraphy is the formal art of writing. A popular traditional style is called copperplate, originally written on copper plates. Spenserian is another style popularly mentioned. These fonts have a particular look because the letters are written at a 55 degree angle.

Modern uses of calligraphy include invitations, inscriptions and art pieces. To create this type of formal lettering, you use a fountain pen or dipping pen with a nib attached. Each nib, depending on the make, creates different styles if it is broad or straight, edged or pointed, flexible or inflexible. Acrilyc or water-based inks are used to fill or dip the pens in and write.

A modern version of calligraphy you’ll hear referenced is faux calligraphy. This takes a ballpoint, gel, or fine point pen and turns cursive into calligraphy by manually making the thicker down strokes. This imitates the thicker down strokes that would have been made with differing hand pressures when using a flexible nib or brush pen.


Typography was introduced with the invention of the printing press. Legible “type” settings are placed into words and printed on paper. This is where terms such as kerning, leading and tracking come from to describe the spacing of the type. Today, we use the computer and different softwares and fonts to give us modern typography.

Hand Writing

Hand writing is using the alphabet to convey day-to-day messages using pen and paper. If you journal, write to-do and grocery lists, write notes to family and write notes for school or work, you are familiar with hand writing. Hand writing is informal compared to other styles. However, because everyone has learned to write from a young age, peoples’ handwritings can be the most varied.

Hand Lettering

Hand lettering brings artistic style and personality to the alphabet. It takes practice and time and doesn’t compare to the “chicken scratched” grocery list that you wrote this morning. The picture above demonstrates the different types of lettering. Brush lettering uses a brush pen, a pen with a flexible tip for thin and thick strokes. Monoline lettering can use any pen because the stroke is always the same size. Overall, hand lettering depicts the artist’s creativity in a more decorative or personality-driven style. All styles are modern art forms of letters that can be combined to make compositional work.

Anyone Can Letter

Anyone can start lettering. Similar to learning a sport or musical instrument, practicing will lead you to master new skills and gain more confidence in expressing yourself through this visual medium. Visit the Lettering 101 page to start your journey.

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