There is often a little confusion around what hand lettering is and what the differences are between hand lettering, typography and font. You may have questioned one or both of these things as a beginner first starting out at hand lettering, or if you have just started showing an interest in it. Until I became inspired to get more involved in lettering, I wasn’t too sure what exactly was classed as hand lettering. I also wasn’t too sure in what ways hand lettering differed from typography and font design. So if you have questioned either of the above you are not alone.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘lettering’ in the following way:
The letters inscribed on something, especially decorative ones.
This sums things up quite well, as hand lettering is exactly this, ‘inscribing letters’ by hand. However unlike the definition references hand lettering doesn’t always have to be decorative. It often is but hand lettering styles can take on any form, simple, elaborate, decretive, beautiful, bold, there are so many options.
There are many different materials that you can use to create hand lettering with too. Pencils, chalks, pens, brushes and brush pens are some of the materials hand lettering artists will often experiment with. I will follow up with a future article on hand lettering materials and supplies in more detail so keep an eye out for that. By signing up to my Newsletter at the bottom of this article you’ll always be notified of future updates so you won’t miss anything new.
We now have a pretty good understanding of what hand lettering is so now lets explore how it’s different to typography and font design.
Whereas hand lettering is the process of drawing letters by hand, typography is focused on the area of setting type, and arranging type to be viewed or to be printed. Arranging the letter and number characters of a magazine layout would be a good example of typography.
Finally we need to fit font design into this world of letters, characters, and numbers. Hand lettering does not often involve drawing or brushing the whole alphabet and all of those other characters too, like brackets, and percentage symbols, that are included with a font set. The primary agenda of font design is to create a set of letters that can be arranged in any order and any size and be used over and over again. This can be difficult to achieve with hand lettering as each arrangement of hand lettered characters when created are unique to a project.
Some fonts will however begin life as hand lettering, as a designer might draw their letter designs out by hand first. After this stage they may convert the letters digitally, then begin creating each individual character to form a font set. Allowing hand lettering to form the starting point of inspiration for font development. Hand lettering also stands up on it’s own beautifully without being developed in the direction of a font set.