There are many different terms related to lettering and I want to share with you what I have learned about them so far. First, to get an idea of the difference between lettering and type, I recommend checking out the article Understanding The Difference Between Type And Lettering by Joseph Alessio on the page Smashing Magazine. Because typography and lettering are not the same. This post is about lettering and it is just a small excerpt on this topic to give you a basic idea of the definition of lettering and terms associated with lettering.
What is lettering?
Lettering or hand lettering is the art of drawing letters. This phrase is the one that I have read on many pages and that I find to be the most beautiful way of describing lettering. Each letter is like a unique little drawing and is part of a carefully arranged word or a phrase to create a composition. It can be part of a drawing or illustration or it can stand alone. If you are from Germany, you can find a great article in German on lettering on the website of Frau Hoelle called Lettering – schön schreiben leicht gemacht! Ressourcen + Hilfsmittel (1).
What is the difference between handwriting and hand lettering?
Your handwriting is your unique way of writing letters. It is a tool you learned in school and you might use it to write letters, notes, diary entries, grocery lists or birthday cards. But usually it serves to write something down. Hand lettering is about creating a piece of art with letters, where each letter gets special attention and is drawn and not written. For a more specific differentiation between handwriting and hand lettering you can check the post Handwriting vs. Hand Lettering on Highpulp.
What is the difference between calligraphy and hand lettering?
Calligraphy is a form of lettering, maybe you could even say it is the premium class of lettering, but to me it feels more like a stand alone art. It is written by hand with a nib pen and ink. Calligraphy is not about giving each letter a different character, but about keeping each letter form uniform. In your hand lettering piece you might write one “n” bigger than the other “n” or give it a bigger swirl, while in calligraphy you would find the same form for all “n”s. Also the letters in calligraphy are usually written with one stroke, whereas in hand lettering you might build your letters by drawing them with several strokes. On her website Chavelli, a graphic designer and lettering artist, published an article where she describes the difference between typography, lettering and calligraphy.
While traditional calligraphy is created with a dip pen, faux calligraphy is created with a pen or pencil or both. The idea is to create the same look of calligraphy written with a dip pen (thin upstrokes, thick downstrokes) but with a pen. There is a great tutorial on Cheating Calligraphy by Lindsey on The Postman’s Knock.
Brush lettering and hand lettering
You can also make a differentiation between hand lettering and brush lettering. People usually refer to brush lettering, when lettering with a brush, a brush pen (e.g. Tombow Dual Brush Pen, Tombow Fudenosuke, Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen, BiC Visaquarelle Pens, …), a Water Brush Pen with a water tank (e.g. Koi Water Brush, Pentel Aquash Water Brush, Derwent Water Brush, …) or a Brush Pen with a tank for ink or with ink cartridges (e.g. Pentel Arts Aquash Pigment Ink Brush, Pentel Arts Pocket Brush Pen, …), but it is also hand lettering. While in brush lettering pieces the strokes of your letters usually have a contrast between thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes, in hand lettering pieces the strokes of your letters can all have the same weight. So brush lettering is also hand lettering, but hand lettering does not have to be brush lettering.
Watercolor (brush) lettering
I have seen people using this term when they use watercolors to letter with brushes or brush pens.
Overview with examples
I created some examples for you to understand the difference between the lettering terms. I have not done any calligraphy yet, so my calligraphy example really is just an attempt. For amazing calligraphy you should check out the page The Postman’s Knock by Lindsey. She is an amazing artist.