Is It Hand Lettering Or Calligraphy?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between hand lettering and calligraphy? There are similarities between the two and in some cases they even look alike.

There is a fine line between calligraphy and hand lettering. Both take practice and discipline to learn. And both require fine muscle-memory. The difference is the methods and tools used to create when using them. They may look alike at times, but they are two completely different approaches to executing letter shapes. And both are well worth exploring.


Hand lettering and calligraphy are related. However, the different nature of each impacts their artwork. 

Calligraphy is an ancient text form that spread globally across different cultures. It usually uses a pen, nib and ink to create thick and thin lines through varying amounts of pressure in a single stroke. Downward strokes are thick, while upward strokes are thin. It also has set letter-style “rules” differing by the culture and era. This requires practice and studying the historic styles as you learn. 

Hand lettering also displays thick down-strokes and light up-strokes. It’s illustrating letter art or fancy cursive style often focusing on just a few words. It takes careful decision-making on how each curve or shape should look as you control the letters’ results yourself.

Hand lettering is usually written without a nib. I’ve used sharpies, ball-point, brush and gel pens. Even colored pencils. 


It’s great that throughout history people learned how to tease different shapes creating new scripts and hand lettering while maintaining readability. The confusion comes with their descriptive terms.

I’ve seen hand lettering and calligraphy terms used interchangeably. But mixing them is puzzling for people with less or no experience. People – including me – unintentionally interchange the terms. For some, the differences between them just don’t seem important.

But if you’re new to either how do you learn if you don’t know the proper terms? Can you tell which medium it is when you look at a sample?

If you’re just learning you want to know their differences. Once you know and understand they’re easier to compare and contrast. You learn how they are each best used. Which works best for your project or the medium on which you want to focus.

It’s up to you to figure out what suits you or your project better. Calligraphy is about hand control, muscle memory, and script knowledge. Hand lettering is about how each letter works and combines creating an eye catching display.

There are SCA scribes who also enjoy hand lettering. Being definite with the terms when you interact with others within and without the letter-forming community is important. Using the terms interchangeably can discredit your reputation even though – like me – all you meant to do is engagingly compose a text.

Categories: Calligraphy

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