Handwriting vs Calligraphy: What’s the Difference?

Handwriting and calligraphy are both forms of writing done by hand, so how are they different? 

If you’ve ever asked that question, this post is for you! I’m going to break down the differences between calligraphy and handwriting so you can see how the two actually compare.

Example of handwriting vs modern calligraphy.
Handwriting vs calligraphy.

Handwriting vs calligraphy

Despite the sometimes confusing terminology out there, handwriting and calligraphy are not the same. Both are forms of writing done by hand, but the methods used and the purpose of each is different.

The differences between handwriting and calligraphy include the tools used, the methods used, the purpose of each, and how the end result looks.

First things first, here’s a brief overview of what both handwriting and calligraphy are defined as.

What is handwriting?

Handwriting just means “writing done by hand,” or it can refer to someone’s style of handwriting. The purpose of handwriting is to communicate or record information.

Everyone has their own style of handwriting, whether it’s cursive, print, or a mix of both. It’s the writing we use every day for all sorts of purposes. Words are often written without ever lifting the pen from the paper, which allows for fast writing and flow of thought.

Everyday handwriting is quick, functional, and necessary, although the importance of it has become diminished due to keyboards and computers.

What is calligraphy?

Calligraphy is the art of beautiful writing using a pressure-sensitive tool, like a brush pen. The goal is to write beautifully, not quickly.

Calligraphy letters are written by combining a series of foundational strokes, usually called the basic strokes. If you can write those strokes, you can do calligraphy!

Technically you could say that calligraphy is handwriting since it’s writing done by hand. A calligrapher will tell you that it’s more than just fancy handwriting, though.

Calligraphy is an art form that is learned, practiced, and developed. It takes more time, more precision, and more effort than everyday handwriting.

Something that differentiates calligraphy from regular handwriting is that calligraphy is written using a pressure-sensitive tool to create thick and thin lines, and the pen is lifted from the paper between strokes.

Here’s a table showing the differences between everyday handwriting and calligraphy.

ToolsPurposeMethodAppearance
HandwritingAny writing utensilWriting quickly and legibly to communicateOften continuous writing for increased speedCan be cursive, print, or a mix of both
CalligraphyA pressure-sensitive writing toolWriting beautifullyLetters broken down into small strokesThick and thin strokes, connected letters, sometimes flourishes

To break these things down a little further…

  • Tools: Handwriting can be done with any writing utensil, while calligraphy requires using a pressure-sensitive tool – like a brush pen – to get thick and thin strokes.
  • Purpose: The purpose of handwriting is to communicate quickly and legibly in writing. The purpose of calligraphy is to write beautifully, and it’s done slowly and carefully.
  • Method: Everyday handwriting is done pretty quickly, so words are usually written continuously without lifting pen from paper very often. Calligraphy letters are broken down into small strokes, and the pen is lifted from the paper after each stroke is written.
  • Appearance: Handwriting can be cursive, print, or a mix of the two and reflects the style of the writer. Calligraphy is commonly done in a script style with connected letters (although there are other styles), has thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes and sometimes flourishes, and may or may not reflect a person’s style.
Calligraphy is not just handwriting.

Cursive vs. calligraphy

Cursive handwriting is similar to calligraphy because both are a script style and have connected letters. At first glance, they might look like the same thing, but calligraphy is not the same as cursive writing.

A noticeable difference is that in cursive, the pen isn’t lifted from the paper until the end of a word, while in calligraphy, the pen is lifted repeatedly. This is one reason calligraphy takes so much longer than regular writing.

The purpose of cursive writing is to write quickly, which is why the letters are connected so the pen doesn’t have to be lifted from the paper as often.

The purpose of calligraphy is to write beautifully, and it takes more time to write neat, consistent strokes. The pen is lifted after each stroke, unlike cursive, because the goal is beautiful writing instead of speed.

That said, cursive can be an art form all its own. Some styles of cursive handwriting are simply beautiful to look at! I’m sure it takes plenty of practice to write elegant cursive, too, just as it does for calligraphy.

You don’t need to know cursive to learn calligraphy. The two are similar in some ways, but the writing process is not the same.

Can a person write in calligraphy as their everyday handwriting?

I don’t know of anyone who uses calligraphy as their everyday handwriting. It’s just not practical, since calligraphy takes much longer than cursive or print writing!

Most calligraphy videos on social media are sped up a lot, including mine. In reality, calligraphy is written slowly (sometimes very slowly). If the videos were real-time, you’d get bored very quickly. Calligraphy is not a fast way to write.

Calligraphy is perfect for adding a special touch to handwritten notes, envelopes, cards, and so many other things. It can also be fun to practice your calligraphy by writing out everyday things with it. 

But if someone were to use calligraphy for all their writing needs, it would be very time-consuming to write the simplest notes. Again, it’s just not practical.

Do you need good handwriting to do calligraphy?

You do not need good handwriting to do calligraphy. Handwriting has little effect on calligraphy skills. The process for writing calligraphy is totally separate from your regular handwriting.

Calligraphy letters are broken down into little individual strokes called the basic strokes. All you need to do is learn those basic strokes – along with pen or brush control – and you can put them together to create the calligraphy alphabet. Nowhere is neat handwriting required.

Good handwriting doesn’t automatically make you good at calligraphy, and bad handwriting doesn’t make you bad at calligraphy, either! Many calligraphers have messy handwriting and still do beautiful work.

If you want to learn calligraphy, don’t let your handwriting stop you. You can learn to do calligraphy regardless of how your everyday handwriting looks!

The basic strokes of calligraphy.
The basic strokes of modern calligraphy.

Does calligraphy improve handwriting?

It’s possible that calligraphy will help improve your everyday writing, but learning calligraphy will not automatically improve your handwriting. It will still take effort and practice to write neater. 

Learning calligraphy helps you be more mindful of things that will improve the consistency of handwriting, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to apply these things to your writing.

When you learn calligraphy, you’ll learn to pay attention to letter spacing, sizing, and consistent strokes, all with the goal of writing consistent letters. You’ll also build muscle memory the more you practice the strokes. Most importantly, you’ll have to slow down and focus on each stroke.

These same principles will also improve handwriting, but just like with calligraphy, it takes plenty of practice. Handwriting and calligraphy are two different areas to focus on that don’t overlap very much!

I personally haven’t chosen to work on my regular handwriting (a mix of print and cursive), so it remains the same after 6+ years of doing calligraphy.

If you want to improve your handwriting, here’s a helpful blog post with tips to improve handwriting over at the Postman’s Knock blog.

Comparison of handwriting, hand lettering, and calligraphy.
A comparison of my handwriting, hand lettering, and modern calligraphy.

Is calligraphy a skill or a talent?

Calligraphy is a learned skill, not a natural talent. Anyone can learn calligraphy by consistently practicing the strokes. While it takes some time to master, it’s not a hard skill to learn. It’s pretty easy to pick up a pen and start learning calligraphy.

A person can go from no experience (and messy handwriting!) to writing beautiful calligraphy simply by practicing consistently over time. Calligraphers usually spend years developing the skills necessary to turn ordinary words into works of art. Everyone starts as a beginner!

It’s easy to look at someone’s work and exclaim, “Wow, they are so talented! I could never do that.” (I do this myself.) But the fact is, while some may have natural talent in a certain area, the skill still had to be practiced before it developed into what we see now.

There is so much effort, practice, mistakes made, and learning that goes into any skill, and these are things that many people never see. Someone who has been doing calligraphy for ten years makes it look effortless, so we assume they just have a natural talent that we don’t have.

All that’s really needed, though, is a willingness to learn and develop a skill. As Bob Ross said, “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.” 

Handwriting and calligraphy are similar in some ways but very different in others. It comes down to the method and the end goal of each. Both serve a specific purpose and both, I think, can be used to turn words into works of art.

I hope this post was helpful, and if so, I would love it if you’d take a moment to share it!

Related: The Difference Between Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

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