What are the differences between Typography, Lettering & Calligraphy?

What are the differences between Typography, Lettering & Calligraphy?

Typography, hand lettering, brush lettering, calligraphy… Aren’t they just different ways of saying the same thing? In fact, they all refer to very different things and are different disciplines that are often easily confused. 

Typography, Typefaces & Fonts

Typography, in it’s very generic term, refers to the art of procedure of arranging type. People generally use the term typography to talk about a collective form of letters, however, designers and creatives can get a little more specific.

A typeface is a form of typography that has been prefabricated where letters have been crafted to work together as computer characters. The name for the digital file that holds a typeface is called a font.

Type design is what you do when you design a typeface. Type designers are basically type engineers with highly technical skills that build a system of letters that work in combination and then convert to a font that people can use on the computer. Type designers create typography while graphic designers use those files as part of their digital artwork. Type designers work on all the tiny details involved such as the spacing of variations of characters, all which generally go unnoticed to the untrained eye of the person using the font. 

Creating a typeface is the most design-intensive of the terms, often, typefaces can take years to design! Think of all the endless combinations—type must work on large scales, as well as small, in masses of paragraphs as well as headlines. Each letter must work and interact with every other character in the entire font, including glyphs besides the alphabet such as punctuation.

Hand Lettering

Hand lettering refers to the illustration or drawing of letters rather than writing them. Lettering artists construct letters by hand and later refine them using various techniques, similar to how an illustrator would sketch and create a finished artwork.

Hand lettering isn’t necessarily great for an entire alphabet of text, but rather focusses on detailed, singular letters and the illustrative composition as a whole. These compositions are unique, timely and labor-intensive, where no two projects are ever the same.

Hand lettering is normally executed with a pen, pencil or marker, although you can also use a nib and ink and of course eventually transfer to a computer. Hand lettering encompasses any form of handmade lettering, such as letters created with food, tangible objects, embroidery, etc.

Brush lettering is a form of hand lettering where you use a brush (eg. Tombow marker, Crayola marker, a simple brush) to create type. A bit misleading in its name, I would essentially add this to the calligraphy category, as you essentially write a script style in stroke similar to calligraphy.


Calligraphy is a discipline of writing letters with a dip pen and ink. The movement of writing is done in one gesture and calligraphy focuses on the flow of writing letterforms.

Calligraphy is always about the direct expression of the hand and although can look lightweight and effortless, it is most of the time executed very planned and deliberate. It is more than just beautiful handwriting, it is a penmanship, an expressive, harmonious form of typography.

It is important for calligraphers to master the rhythm of their hand and tools as part of their skill and technique. 

All this said, there are similarities between these definitions—they all focus on the same basic principles when it comes to spacing of letters, consistency, weight and contrast.

Where these definitions get a little confusing is when there is some overlap. Maybe someone’s calligraphy is digitized to form a font—where by the calligrapher then becomes a type designer who has just designed a typeface that then a graphic designer can use as typography within their design… Still with me?

Brush Lettering Guide Sheets

Brush Lettering Guide Sheets

Spotlight: Embossing Powder

Spotlight: Embossing Powder