What is The Difference Between Calligraphy, Hand-lettering, and Typography?
With the rise of fonts available online these days, the defining line between hand lettering, calligraphy, and typography has become blurred. But if you have a real interest in all things letters and fonts, then it’s best to know the real and professional difference between the three.
A simple way to put it is that calligraphy is a style of writing, hand-lettering is an illustrative art, and typography is the technique of using letters in graphic design. What gets confusing is when typography has calligraphic or hand-lettering qualities. This is in fact called script typography, but it’s not “real” calligraphy or hand-lettering at all.
Let’s look at each in detail so you don’t need to get confused anymore.
What is Calligraphy?
A calligraphy is essentially a form of writing. The art itself refers to writing done with some kind of nib that holds ink which spreads on the paper as the calligraphist writes. The nib can be organic, like a feather or a stick of bamboo, while more modern nibs are made of metal. There are many historical origins to calligraphy, one of the most famous being the rise of medieval illuminations.
In Europe, it began as a way to copy books and manuscripts. Then organically became more and more elaborate and decorative. First letters and curved descenders turned into swirls and swooping curves decorating the entire text. After a while, calligraphy turned into a form of written art, with ups and downs in popularity until now.
Asia and the middle east was also very influential in the origins of calligraphy. For centuries, it has been considered as an art, much like sculpture or painting.
The calligraphy trend has definitely come back with a vengeance and that’s when it started getting confused with hand-lettering. Different to hand-lettering which can be done with any kind of tool, calligraphy can only be done with a nib and ink or at the most a modern style nib with ink inside a cartridge. Some modern calligraphists use markers with tips shaped like nibs.
Learning calligraphy involves lots of practice at how to write each letter and keep a consistent style. You know you’ve met a calligraphist when they have a callous on their third finger and ink stains on their thumb and index finger.
What is Hand-lettering?
Hand-lettering is often confused with calligraphy because the finished art can sometimes look really similar. The essential difference is in the creation of each. Like I said before, calligraphy is an art of writing, meaning that the letters are written from start to finish and should stay that way. Hand-lettering, on the other hand, is more like an illustration of letters.
Hand-lettering can definitely have a calligraphic style, even when done with a nib and ink. But different to calligraphy, hand-lettering can be further stylized until the artist is happy with the final result. Each letter can be written individually without the necessity of calligraphic continuation.
Other styles of hand-lettering can be even more illustrative with decorations, themes, and different design styles. There are handwritten styles, kid styles, colourful styles, you name it, it exists.
A hand-lettering artist with a calligraphist background will usually have a different style than one with a graphic design or illustration background.
What is typography?
Now on to typography. The difference between hand-lettering and calligraphy is more blurred than the one between those two and typography. Nevertheless, it can still get confusing for some. The reason is that inside typography there are calligraphy and hand-lettered styles.
First of all, what is typography? Typography is the technique of setting type to create letters, words and sentences on a piece of written text of any size or length. Type, in its original definition, is the collection of metal rectangles with letters on them. These, in turn, were used in a printing press to print text.
Printing presses with type are not generally used anymore, because we use computers. The word typography, though, is still very much in use. That’s where things get confusing. The first collections of the type were created to resemble the letters used back then, which were essentially calligraphy. That was when calligraphy made the jump to typography.
When typography went digital was when the font madness started. Nowadays, fonts are confused with typography, type families are confused with hand-lettering and so on and so forth.
If you want to find out more about the difference between a font and a typeface, we do have an article about that. And if you want to learn more about typography and all its little details, we also have an article about that.
If you want to learn even more about graphic design (including typography, calligraphy, and hand-lettering) check out this article about online courses and tutorials.