What is hand-lettering?


In simplest terms, hand-lettering is the art of drawing each letter by hand.

It can be rendered in ink, markers, pencil, chalk, and, yes, computer. It can use drop shadows, multiple strokes, faux dimension and texture. Think of each letter like a small illustration.

Lettering is tailored for each piece, and doesn’t mean you always draw letters the same way. A piece may need to be scripty, grungy, or retro. It will depend on the look you are after.

Some letterers incorporate illustration into their artwork. While having drawing skills is an advantage, it’s not a must-have to do hand lettering. I usually illustrate parts of my work, but they are usually a compliment to the lettering, and not the main focus.


Hand-lettering is not the same as handwriting

My handwriting is pretty bad. Like many people, most of my input is now done via a keyboard. The cost of that is my handwriting has gotten worse through the years. It may even be on par with a doctor’s prescription.

The good news is that you don’t have to have good handwriting to do hand lettering. If you embellish your handwriting, then it becomes hand lettering. For example, if you decide to add a flourish, a drop shadow, or a texture, then you’ve migrated to hand lettering.


What’s the difference between lettering, calligraphy and typography?

Lettering is drawing.

Calligraphy is more about discipline, consistency and penmanship. It uses specific tools such as nibs, brushes and ink. Single strokes create the letters, so it is writing, and not drawing.

Typography is a system that uses characters that are repeatable, and always the same. This would be a typeface that resides on your computer. Using a font that replicates the look of hand-lettering would not actually be hand-lettering.


What they all share

While the methods for creating each may be different, there are some things they have in common. The space between letters (kerning), the thickness of the characters (weight), and the spacing between the lines (leading). These are only a few of many terms, and they all help to balance the words and layout. These are topics I’ll go over in future posts.

To recap:
Lettering = Drawing
Calligraphy = Writing
Typography = Repeatable system