The Difference Between Calligraphy and Hand Lettering

Calligraphy vs. hand lettering: what’s the difference between the two?

The difference between calligraphy and hand lettering is the method used to create the letters. Calligraphy is the art of writing letters broken down into strokes, using a pressure-sensitive tool. Hand lettering is the art of drawing letters with any tool.

"The difference between calligraphy and hand lettering" written with black pens on paper.

Even though the script styles in the picture above look basically the same, the way the letters were created is different. The word “calligraphy” was written stroke by stroke using a brush pen, while the words “hand lettering” were drawn and filled in using a regular pen.

What is hand lettering?

Hand lettering is the art of drawing letters, and it usually involves sketching, erasing, and revising before arriving at a final piece of artwork.

Any tool can be used to create hand lettering, whether that’s a pencil, pen, brush pen, or another writing tool.

There are many styles of hand lettering. Some of the most basic are serif, sans serif, and script styles. Hand lettering can also include illustrating, adding embellishments to letters, or incorporating other elements into the design.

Hand lettering can be as simple as drawing basic block letters, or it can be complex, like drawing letters in 3D. There are so many ways to draw letterforms, and the sky is really the limit with this art form!

Related: How to Start Hand Lettering

"Hand lettering" written with a pencil on paper.

What is calligraphy?

Calligraphy is the art of writing letters using a pressure-sensitive tool, like a brush pen or pointed pen.

It is also referred to as the art of beautiful writing, which originates from the Greek word “kalligraphia.”

In calligraphy, letters are broken up into a series of strokes called basic strokes. Each letter is written stroke by stroke, with the pen being lifted from the paper between strokes.

The downstrokes are thick and upstrokes are thin, according to the pressure applied to the pen.

Calligraphy has different forms, including traditional, which follows structured rules, and modern, which is more freeform and less structured.

There are many different styles of calligraphy, too, not just script styles.

Calligraphy can also be described by the pressure-sensitive tool used to write, such as pointed pen calligraphy or brush calligraphy.

For an overview of the history of calligraphy, check out this article by Loveleigh Loops.

"Brush calligraphy" written in a modern calligraphy style with a black brush pen.
Modern calligraphy created with a brush pen.

What is lettering?

Lettering is a general term that encompasses both hand lettering, calligraphy, and any kind of letterforms no matter how they were created.

The dictionary definition of lettering is “written or printed words.” Printed letters, written letters, and hand-drawn letters can all be described as “lettering.”

Calligraphy vs. hand lettering

Hand lettering and calligraphy are two art forms that use different methods to create letters.

While hand lettering artists draw and illustrate letters with any tool, calligraphers write letters stroke by stroke using pressure-sensitive tools.

Both art forms include script styles, serif styles, and sans serif styles, to name a few.

"Calligraphy: the art of writing letters" and "Hand lettering: the art of drawing letters" written with a black pen on white paper.

Should I learn calligraphy or hand lettering?

Now you might be wondering… which one should you learn?

It’s totally up to you!

Many people start with calligraphy, where you learn to create letters using a series of basic strokes. Once you’ve mastered calligraphy, it can be easier to hand letter since you already learned about letter structure and how letters are built.

An understanding of calligraphy principles makes it simpler to draw the downstrokes that you normally create with a brush pen.

On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges to learning calligraphy is learning how to control a pressure sensitive tool and achieve smooth transitions between thick and thin lines.

With hand lettering, you don’t have to worry about that; but it’s still important for you to understand the structure of letters and how they are built up.

(Want to start hand lettering today? Read this simple beginner’s guide to get started!)

Whichever one you start with, you’re going to learn a lot about letters.

I hope this cleared up any questions you had about the difference between calligraphy and hand lettering. Did you know the meaning of these terms before? Tell me below!

Related: Handwriting vs Calligraphy: What’s the Difference?

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