Before you go into lettering, you should first know the difference between this three things. You don’t want to face a client and say that typography and lettering are the same thing.



In calligraphy we write letters. Not draw letters.

What you see above is an example of calligraphy. As you can see, it was written by hand. You do one stroke at a time. One letter is made by one single stroke and is a one time creation. It’s like a hand writing, but it focuses on the shape and the beauty of the letters.

Compare to lettering and typography, it consumes fewer amount of time. For example, to create a letter Q, it takes only seconds in calligraphy. While in typography or lettering, it will take hours or days to make it.

So it is more likely to use calligraphy in longer passages of text.

One way to duplicate a word in calligraphy is to write it once more, and more, and more, and more…..

Legibility is an important factor in calligraphy, since its purpose is to be read and to be understood.

Calligraphy can be applied to logo, wedding invitation, letter, note, etc.


In typography you design letters. Just like architecture, but in two dimension.
It’s a study of letters applied to typeface.
It’s about uniformity.
It has a system and rules, and all that system and rules will be applied to every single character you made.

Typography is a bit stricter than the other. There are some rules you got to obey. If the o looks like this, then the c, e, a will look like that. Every letter was made with insane precision and accuracy. Just like architecture, you don’t want your building leans to one side.

To build a typeface family usually takes pretty long time. Do you know how much amount of time Paul Renner spent to finish his Futura? Four years, yeah four fucking years! And guess what, Futura is one of the most popular typeface today, and the first typeface who went to the moon.

Today, you can duplicate your word or sentences easily, just press ctrl-c and then ctrl-v. And when you make a little mistake, you just erase it with backspace. So easy. But in the old days you will spent your days swearing when got a job to duplicate some document. Because it means you will come home late…..

Most of the time a typeface must be legible, since its purpose is to be read and to be understood quickly. When you look at a logotype and you can’t find what the fuck is that, then it’s surely a bad logo. But, there’s always an exception.

When someone cannot read your type, you can say, “Well, sometime typography is more art than science.”

You can use typography as a logo, text on book, etc.



In lettering you draw letters. You don’t write it.

Although calligraphy and lettering is made by hand, and possibly by pen, there is a huge difference between these two. Lettering builds the form of each character from multiple strokes, while calligraphy builds in one stroke.

Legibility is an important factor in lettering. But, not the most important.


Lettering is more like a free style, where legibility is a secondary factor. The key point is on visual appearance, technique, and style. There are no specific rules you must obey, as long as it look beautiful. You can do whatever you want with your letters. You can stretch it, wreck it, tear it apart, all the wildest thing you can imagine. But in the end, it must be good, it must look good, and you gotta nail it.

In lettering, vision is more important than calculation. I mean, grid is important, but you gotta believe your own eyes.

You can use lettering as a display text.

With hand lettering the only way to duplicate it is to do it all over again. And you wont get the same result. Of course if you do it in Adobe Illustrator, you can duplicate it rather easily.


Joseph Alessio (2013), Understanding the Difference between Type and Lettering, Smashing Magazine.
Ellen Lupton (2004), Thinking with Type, Princeton Architectural Press.
Bruce Willen & Nollen Strals (2009), Lettering and Type, Princeton Architectural Press.