Have you ever received an invitation with perfect lettering on the envelope and thought, “Wow, I wish I could do that?” Well, you can. It just takes knowledge and practice. (Likely lots of practice.)

First, it’s important to understand the basics of hand lettering and what makes up those beautiful letters. Let’s get started.

Types of Hand Lettering

The different types of hand lettering, illustrated. 
The different types of hand lettering, illustrated. 

What is Calligraphy?

The art of writing letters. The letter is constructed by strokes created by a pen used at a constant angle and pressure. The movements are repetitive, and this results in a consistent rhythm and flow.

What is Lettering?

The art of drawing letters. Lettering is a unique piece and letters are drawn in a certain order that is fixed and can’t be rearranged or modified.

What is Typography?

A system of designed letters. A typeface is designed to be “set” (if it’s metal type) or typed (digital) any number of times in any order. It can be rearranged.

A Few Things to Consider in Hand Lettering

The basic elements to consider when drawing letters.
The basic elements to consider when drawing letters.

Each letter has a form and counterform. The form is the actual letter itself. The counterform is the space contained or within the strokes of the letter.

  • The space between the letters should be optically even. 
  • Round and diagonal shapes have an overshoot to compensate optically and make them appear as if they have the same height.

How to Define Letterforms

There are many variables to consider when creating a new hand letterform. But, defining each of the variables gives your lettering a consistent and cohesive look. Also, if you’re not sure exactly what you’d like your letterform to look like, considering these variables can help you brainstorm.  

What defines the differences in hand letters.
What defines the differences in hand letters.

Construction

What type of letter do you want to draw?

  • Serif or sans serif?
  • Script or blackletter?
  • Brush or ornamental? 

Proportions

Is the height different between upper and lowercase small or large?

Extenders

Do the letters have short or long extenders?

Width

What’s the width of the letters (condensed, regular, extended)? 

Weight

What’s the weight (thin, light, medium, bold, etc)?

Contrast

Is there high contrast? Medium contrast? Light contrast?

Slope

What is the angle of the letters (mostly used for scripts and italics)?

Dimension, Outlines, and Inlines

Is the letter going to be outlined? Inlined (a line that runs over the border of the letter itself)? 

If you find yourself stuck or overwhelmed with the amount of decisions to make, seek out good typefaces to use as inspiration. For example, if you are unsure about where the thick and thin lines should go, look at letter models from common fonts or other letter designers. There are so many examples out there, so use them!

Download the Full Guide

Learn Even More About Hand Lettering

Good Letters, Great Words: Drawing a Cohesive Hand-Lettered Piece.