Handwriting vs. Hand Lettering

Handwriting vs. Hand Lettering
March 2, 2016 Daniel Palacios

Do you have to be good at handwriting to be a lettering artist?

The short answer is no.

You don’t have to be good at handwriting (cursive).

Writing is a separate art form compared to lettering, but they can compliment each other.

For example, you could start off by exploring ideas with a brush or pointed pen to generate letterforms, which is also known as calligraphy, then make adjustments and refine the original calligraphic sketches (lettering).

The end result will be a hand-lettered composition because you manually tweaked, traced and refined before settling on something you’re happy with.

Handwriting

This often gets mistaken for hand lettering. They are actually two independent things. Handwriting is what you probably learned in elementary school growing up. We all have a unique handwriting style, which can be developed over time. The most common examples are our individually personalized signatures.

Wikipedia does a decent job of summarizing the characteristics of handwriting below:

  • specific shape of letters, e.g. their roundness or sharpness
  • regular or irregular spacing between letters
  • the slope of the letters
  • the rhythmic repetition of the elements or arrhythmia
  • the pressure to the paper
  • the average size of letters
  • the thickness of letters

Aside from being a good foundation to lettering, it isn’t a prerequisite to be good at cursive if you want to be a lettering artist. There are various styles and forms of lettering, such as, script, serif, sans serif, slab serif (Egyptian) and blackletter. All of these can be hand-drawn with no prior handwriting experience. You can learn lettering by studying and practicing.

Hand Lettering

Other than having the word hand in common, hand lettering is different. The most common characteristic of lettering is that the letters are drawn, not written. Even if you start by using calligraphy and end up making subtle adjustments, then it’s technically lettering. It becomes lettering when you start altering your original hand-written sketch.

The important takeaway from this is to dissociate the idea that your handwriting is directly related to lettering. It can certainly help if you’re comfortable at handwriting, but your normal writing style and lettering style should be different. Don’t be surprised by this.

Emulation

Can you emulate a handwritten style by drawing? Sure.

Anything is possible, but it takes time. As you get comfortable with calligraphy, you can manually add weight to a monoline script or “skeleton” using a pencil or pen to create the thick strokes. The problem with doing it this way is that you can lose some of the handwritten qualities, like the natural rhythm and flow. It can also take several months or years of experience before you get to this level, but know that it is an option.

If your goal is to create a handwritten style logo, then be intentional with the tools you use and make adjustments accordingly.

Handwriting isn’t exactly the golden ticket to becoming a good lettering artist, but it’s a great companion. You can always practice.