The Differences Between Calligraphy, Handlettering and Typography

Last Updated on September 24, 2023

I believe the confusion between the art forms ballooned with hashtags, because similar topics are usually tagged with each other and these three are very intertwined. It is well known in social media that you don’t have to be correct when you hashtag anything, so naturally over time the lines between them blurred a bit. Then again, I should not get frustrated at this fact, as many of us who have delved deep into calligraphy, hand lettering or typography found the art form through these sorts of channels. It is not a huge problem to solve, but in principle it is important to be able to differentiate between the three terms.

What is Hand Lettering?

The difference between drawing and writing is the main point of confusion between calligraphy and hand lettering. If someone uses their hands to make letters, surely art forms like calligraphy would be a subset of hand lettering, right? Wrong, it is what tool you are using and how you use it differentiates between the two. If you draw the outline of the letters with a pencil and subsequently colour them in, you would be considered to be doing hand lettering. Often hand letterers mimic calligraphy by drawing the outline of the letter and colouring it in later, we would call this faux* calligraphy (*french word for fake*). Which, though it has calligraphy in the name, is actually hand lettering.

What is Calligraphy?

On the other hand, calligraphers write rather than draw letters. Writing is when your tool completes the letter in a few strokes rather than multiple steps of sketching. The calligrapher has control over the flow, pressure, speed, direction and angle of each stroke where they can vary them to produce decorative writing. By this definition, monoline calligraphy, printing and cursive are all hand lettering scripts*.

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*A small aside.. (Script vs Font)

While we’re on the topic I would also like to clear up another misunderstanding. One thing the first two art forms share is what the output alphabets are called: scripts. Scripts are hand made alphabets or styles of letters that vary minimally due to a human’s ability. Meanwhile, anything a computer outputs should be called a font as the letters are exactly the same. Mini rant over, please proceed.

What is Typography?

Typography is the odd one out and it is also where things get a little trickier. See, you could hand letter or sketch an alphabet, then scan them into a computer and work at arranging them to create a font. This would be typography, because typographers arrange letters to make a “set” or alphabet by balancing legibility and aesthetics.


Simply put,

Hand lettering is drawing letters by hand.
Calligraphy is writing beautiful or decorative letters.
Typography is designing a set of letters to be used in a font and or in print.

Am I right? Do you disagree lemme know your thoughts, questions, comments and concerns. Comment down below.

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