May 17, 2017

How to differentiate calligraphy, typography and hand-lettering from each other

what calligraphy is not
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Last week, we answered the question What is Calligraphy?. They say that one good way to define something is to establish what it is not. Therefore, this week we will do that for calligraphy.

Calligraphy is often interchanged with hand-lettering and typography. However, we must understand that these words are actually referring to different things. Calligraphy is not hand-lettering, nor is it typography. They may have similar applications, or they may be used together in a certain project, but knowing the difference is important when you communicate in the circles of penmen.

So what do these words mean and how do they differ from each other?


As we've discussed, calligraphy

" is the the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner" (Mediaville, Claude 1996 as cited by Wikipedia)

"It’s a set of skills and techniques for positioning and inscribing words so they show integrity, harmony, some sort of ancestry, rhythm and creative fire." (Beckett, 2015)

In calligraphy, you give form to your artwork by WRITING the letters. The various thickness of the lines are created directly from the technique and tools utilized, and not by reinforcing the strokes by drawing on them.


Hand-lettering is defined by Joseph Alesio (2013) in as 
"...the art of drawing letters."

We may take from Caroline Kelso Winegart and add to this definition that hand-lettering
is done by hand and as compared to lettering which can be done using a software like Adobe Illustrator.

Hand-lettering can be made to look like pointed pen calligraphy or brush calligraphy (with thick and thin lines), but take note that these lines are drawn. This is called "faux calligraphy" or "fauxlligraphy". Ballpens, pens, pencils, felt tip markers among many others can be used in fauxlligraphy. For further information about fauxlligraphy, here is a very helpful tutorial that I found: Faux Calligraphy Tutorial by Lindsey Bugbee.


In Caroline Kelso Winegart's website, typography was defined as
 styling and arrangement of a system of repeated letters as they appear on printed material.

In typography, the letters used belong to a repeatable system (e.g. typeface or font). Today, hand-drawn letters or calligraphy characters can be digitalised to be part of a font family, a repeatable system. Thus, many fonts can look hand-drawn but that does not make the output "calligraphy".

In summary:

(1) Calligraphy is the art of WRITING letters and symbols in an expressive, harmonious and skill-full manner; (2) hand-lettering is the art of DRAWING beautiful letters, while (3)typography is the art of arranging a system of repeated letters or symbols (e.g. typefaces or fonts). 

For more information, I find Caroline Kelso Winegart's article ("Hand-Lettering, Calligraphy, Typography: What’s The Difference?) most helpful. She even teaches you how to identify whether a certain piece is a product of hand-lettering, calligraphy or typography.

That's it! I hope the confusion has been cleared somehow. I hope you learned something new today.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert about this topic. I'm writing about this because I seek to get to the bottom of this confusion. To get feedback from calligraphy/hand lettering/typography artists will be highly appreciated. Please help us understand the difference among these terms. Thank you very much!

Very helpful to the creation of this article are the following sources:

[1]Alessio, Joseph, and Joseph Alessio. "Understanding The Difference Between Type And Lettering". Smashing Magazine. N.p., 2013. Web. 15 May 2017.

[2] Beckett, Katharine. "What Is Calligraphy Really?". N.p., 2015. . 6 
May 2017.

[3]"The Definition Of Hand-Lettering". N.p., 2017. Web. 17 May 2017.

[4] Merriam-Webster. "Definition Of CALLIGRAPHY". N.p., 2017. . 6 May 2017.

[5] Merriam-Webster. "Definition Of TYPOGRAPHY". N.p., 2017. Web. 17 May 2017.

[7] Wikipedia "Calligraphy". N.p., 2017. Web. 6 May 2017.

*All images were taken from under creative commons license free for commercial use, no attribution requried

Up Next: Calligraphy Styles


  1. Helpful. I've always been confused between the terms myself. I also read Caroline Kelso Winegart's article, but I have to say your explanation was much clearer. ^_^ That said, I think it's safe to say that what I'm doing, or trying to do, is calligraphy.

  2. I'm so glad I read your post I now know the difference between all three. You are a very good blogger I'm sure I can learn alot from you. ��

    1. Thank you Cynthia! I'm learning these things myself. I decided to put my learnings on a blog so that I can make my learning concrete :)


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