Calligraphy or lettering : how to make the difference ?

It may not have escaped you, but it’s the great fashion, or the great return of handwriting and beautiful letters. If you go to deco shops or stationeries, you will find a lot of design with quotes “as if they were handwritten”. This trend has one or more names : lettering or calligraphyHow to distinguish these two techniques?


Lettering is the art of drawing letters by hand, without using calligraphy in the strict sense or typography (typefaces as imagined by Gutenberg). I’m sure you’ve seen some.

Historically, artists used to create posters by hand before the entire industrial printing process came into being.


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Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Tournée du Chat noir (1896) from Wikipédia


This technique involves drawing letters using several styles and several tools. Words to put in emphasis will have a style more important than the others.

The use of ornament is also appreciated in this technique: banner, flower or other drawings (doodle).

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Photo credit © Made By You


The tools used are very diverse. It can be paper pencils, chalk, acrylic, watercolor, felt … even a capsicum stalks dipped in ink (yes I’ve already crossed the technique). In fact, as long as you can draw with, it’s a good excuse to do lettering. By pushing well and varying the size of the “canvas”, you can almost make a graffiti.

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More and more artists vector their lettering, that is to say that they will use a vector drawing software (like Adobe Illustrator) to “transcribe” their work on computer. It’s a way for artists to be no longer confined paper but to be extend on various formats (t-shirt, engraved wood, mug …)


Calligraphy is the art of writing well and forming one’s letters. It is an ancient art and practiced by all cultures. Whatever the alphabet, calligraphy exists. Unlike lettering, calligraphy is almost “acquired” by everyone. Remember when you were at school and when you were writing beautiful handwritten capital letters. It was a calligraphy base.

The tools used for calligraphy are also diverse but often the quill comes into play. Originally, it was the quill and then the fountain pen that were used to write beautiful missives. Yes, when you do calligraphy, you put yourself in the shoes of a prince who writes to his princess.

Why is the fountain pen or the quill so important in calligraphy? Because it’s thanks to the pressure on the pen that you will have a harmonious rendering. The direction of the route is important!

If you are interested in the subject, you will see the term faux calligraphy. Often, when you do not have a quill so no possibilities to put pressure on the tool, you have to simulate this pressure. The idea is to double the descending parts of the letters.

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As I said above, there are different types of calligraphy, even within our Latin alphabet. At the moment, modern calligraphy is in vogue. It breaks all the codes of classical calligraphy but I must admit that the result rejuvenate the idea we had about calligraphy.

How to do ?

The key to success is training. Whether it’s lettering or calligraphy, you’ll need hours of training, just like in any art.

Personally, what I find the most complicated is to make natural patterns and especially at once.

Once you start to master, I find it a relaxing art that teaches you to focus and take your time (for yourself).

What I find exciting in these arts is that paper is gaining ground on new technologies. Amazing on my part but yes, sometimes you have to know how to cut yourself off from these computers and tablets to widen your horizons

Some references

Since a quite long time ago now, I follow some artists on Instagram. There is a non-exhaustive list of them. Check out their work, it’s so inspirational:


So , now, sorry but I have to leave you. I have a meeting with my my quill ! Want to join me ?

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