March 25, 2019

Calligraphy, lettering, hand lettering, typography…so what’s the difference?




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I’m a lettering artist and full-time physician, coffee lover, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love.


Don’t worry, you’re not the only person who is confused by these terms. One main reason is because the terms are often used interchangeably when they are, in fact, different! Now, don’t worry, around here, we won’t get offended if you call mis-label something. We are all here to learn! And honestly, there can be a fine line between them!

Post Graphic, calligraphy and title

So let’s break it down.

The easiest way to differentiate them is that calligraphy is writing lettering while lettering is illustrating or drawing letters.


Calligraphy is the classic art writing using a traditional dip pen and ink. The artist uses varying degrees of pressure to make thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes. Calligraphy is based on ancient principles of writing. There’s a more contemporary style of calligraphy called modern calligraphy that breaks a lot of the traditional “rules” regarding baseline, letter heights, slant, etc.

Tools: Nibs, ink, pen holder (straight or oblique) are used for traditional calligraphy. Brush pens and iPads are also used in calligraphy.


Lettering is the art of illustrating the lettering to create infinite styles. Unlike traditional calligraphy  which typically has sets of rules, there is a lot more freedom of shape and letter creation. That being said, lettering still follows some fundamental rules and type principles. This makes lettering a lot more like drawing or illustrating. Now, hand lettering is a broad term that encompasses the term lettering.

Tools: Markers, gel pens, paint brushes, chalk, brush pens, iPad or other digital tablets — anything and everything.


Okay, one last thing. What’s typography? Typography is neither calligraphy nor lettering. Instead, typography is the art of arranging type. And to make it a bit more confusion, type design is the art of creating typefaces or fonts. Not all typographers are type designers.

Interested in learning? We have courses on traditional calligraphy and lettering as well as iPad lettering – something we specialize in. You might be interested in hopping back over to those pages to get started.

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