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. It’s a creative, expressive, and freeform kind of lettering.

There are so many ways to draw letterforms, and there are no real rules. 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.

Typically, 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 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? Calligraphy or hand lettering?

Here’s my recommendation:

If you want to try doing lettering in a low-pressure, freeform way, hand lettering is perfect for you.

If you want to be able to write really beautifully (like you see in pictures of calligraphy), learning a calligraphy script is the way to go.

You can, of course, learn both (even better)!

There’s no reason why you can’t try one or the other and see how you like it.

With all the resources available online, it’s easy to get started with either calligraphy or hand lettering (yay)!

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

➡️ Want to learn beautiful brush calligraphy? Here’s a great beginner workbook on Etsy.

I hope this cleared up any questions you may have had about the differences between calligraphy and hand lettering.

Did you already know the meaning of these terms? Tell me in the comments below!

You might also like: Handwriting vs Calligraphy: What’s the Difference?

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