The Difference Between Calligraphy and Lettering

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From the photo below, can you identify which is lettering and which is calligraphy? We will answer this at the end of the post.

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It may be difficult to see at first glance, and even when you can see clearly, there may still be some confusion. It's because these terms are interchanged more often now than before. With the prevalence of tablets and digital tools, the lines between them are getting thinner. However, it is important to distinguish between them, especially if you are dabbling in this form of art or if you are commissioning a piece.

So how do you define them?

To put it simply:

Calligraphy is the art of writing in a single stroke.

Lettering, on the other hand, is the art of drawing letters.

Although both of them generally follow the same set of basic rules on spacing, weight, contrast, among others; each of them is a discipline on its own, and have its own set of guidelines to be followed.

Are you confused already?

Let's go through them in more detail.

Calligraphy vs. Lettering

Sometimes, calligraphy (B) and lettering (A) may look alike, but they are different.

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Calligraphy is done using a single stroke of a pen or a tool. You're probably more familiar with the use of the fancy pens with pointed nibs. However, calligraphy is not just limited to that. You can practically use any tool and still end up with calligraphy. You can use broad nibs, brushes, ruling pens, or even vegetables. As long as you create the strokes in one motion, it is considered as calligraphy.

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To understand calligraphy, there is an emphasis on discipline. It is a very structured approach, and there is usually a prescribed way of writing - as in Copperplate, Spencerian, Uncial, Italics, Roundhand, and a lot more. It takes a lot more than a year of daily practice to master each style.

Lettering, on the other hand, is about drawing and creating multiple strokes. This is normally done by hand (thus, it is sometimes known as hand-lettering). If it is not calligraphy and type design, it most likely falls into the realm of lettering. In lettering, there is no strict way of doing things.

It's important to understand the innate characteristics of each letter, and work according to what feels natural to the eye, but are free to break the rules here and there. To understand lettering, there is an emphasis on balance and readability where the focus is on the overall piece as a whole.

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It is not the tool that says whether it is calligraphy or lettering, but it is the HOW. In fact, you can use a pencil and do calligraphy!

Why does it matter?

These are two very different disciplines, but having even a basic understanding of the differences helps a lot. Whether you are someone who is interested in learning and finding your own style or someone who needs to commission a piece to be done. It's important to understand the difference, so you can appreciate what goes behind the artist's mind. It's also one way to know that the one you're hiring is legit.

Whether it is calligraphy or lettering, there is a lot of effort that goes behind each work. Each letter represents years of hard work and practice.

The important thing is to understand the goal of calligraphy and lettering - which is to present words with impact, showing the right voice with legibility and readability. Written or printed words become more powerful when the right method and style is used.

Let's go back to the first question.

It was a trick designed to fool you. (teehee!) Both are lettering!The image on the left was faux calligraphy (that was as close as it can get to real calligraphy) using a normal pen. If you look closely especially at the flourishes, you'll notice that it was done in stages and not as 1 single stroke. The image on the right was lettering done by starting with a calligraphy and slowly painting to put emphasis on certain elements using a brush pen. If you look closely at the letters, you'll notice that some of the letters have darker shades in some parts, and it shows that it was painted over multiple times.

If you want to get better at identifying the difference, this is a good place to start:The Lettering vs. Calligraphy project by Martina Flor and Giuseppe Salerno can be a good exercise for you to identify whether it is lettering or calligraphy.

Try it out!