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An Introduction to Typography


Typography is the art of arranging the written word and other text sequences. It is enjoyed across the world. Under the umbrella of this art form lies several different beautiful types of expression. Some of these forms have been practiced for eons, while others are becoming modernized forms of classic art.

Each type design brings joy to different artists. Many people find their happiness in the act of hand lettering or calligraphy. It’s calming and expressive all at the same time. Best of all, you can take your art virtually anywhere. Imagine being inside on a rainy day. As the drops of water hit your nearby window, you sit down and masterfully begin to maneuver your tools into exquisite art. Not only are you learning and creating, but you’re also relaxing and unwinding in the process.

In fact, the act of creating is part of the relaxation process. Whether you are a cook, a sculptor, or a writer, creating and expressing your art is a rewarding feeling. The same can be said for the textual arts community as well. Artists that profits off their type designs can find income and peace in their work. From invitation lettering to designing typefaces and fonts, typographic works can bring joy and dollars into an artist's life. 

Concerning happiness, lettering art is just like any other expressive art form. We get to break from the confines of the mundane. We create fonts and other text designs that express ourselves in ways that words sometimes can’t do on their own. Tapping into our creativity gives us this immense fulfillment. After years of pursuing the craft, the joys of creating our own work on those rainy days is hard to comprehend, even with the right font.

In addition to its calming effects, typographic art of all kinds helps us improve mental capabilities. From calligraphy to typography to hand lettering and beyond, we can improve our attention and productivity through practicing these forms of art.  

The Huffington Post reported that new research from Germany points working on visual art improves quality interactions between different parts of our brains. The study focused on a small group of retired seniors (age 62 to 70). Its findings "concludes that making art could delay or even negate age-related decline of certain brain functions." With these benefits, it’s no wonder that people tend to try learning about art.

One problem many beginners struggle with is knowing where to start. The search can take time, and may even involve a few false leads. Remember, there’s no harm in trying different forms until you find your preferred medium. However, once you discover the right art form and classes, it all becomes natural learning. Even when the courses can prove themselves confusing, you’ll find yourself loving the chase for the correct answer. Soon, it will all feel easy to pick up.

When considering typography styles, you have a few choices. The most popular tend to be:

Calligraphy: The Lost Art

If you love traditional forms of art, then calligraphy might be for you. In this medium, artists use brushes and special pens to create beautiful hand-lettered designs from scratch. People have learned and practiced calligraphy since around the seventh century. The art of calligraphy is found in the way designers create their works using single strokes for almost every creation. It takes many calligraphy classes to master the art, which makes it much more than just beautiful writing.

 However, calligraphy is called a "lost art” as it fades out of practice from modern culture. The training is time-consuming and is not well-equipped for teaching modern audiences. Additionally, tech advancements in touchscreens only helped the decline as pens and brushes move towards obsoletion. Thus, less and less artists understand how to create a beautiful work of calligraphy. Sadly, this means that fewer creatives know how to shape the letters into their creative devices.

 Those calling for calligraphy’s passing may have spoken too soon, though. While the medium is still somewhat tech-averse, that doesn’t mean its artists are. Today, calligraphy is finding itself as a social media darling on more visual platforms. Instagram, for example, is a hotbed for the niche community. In doing so, they helped expose beautiful art to audiences that otherwise may not have taken notice.

Today, artists like Seb Lester, Linda Yoshida, and Artem Stepanov are just a few names racking up views and followers -- as well as inspiring a fresh wave of new typographic artists. Followers are falling in love with these three and much more. In the case of artist John Stevens, viewers are going gaga over his calligraphy renditions of classic logos and graffiti hybrids. “People want to see people doing human things,” Stevens told The New Yorker. The social data seems to be proving itself correct.

 Visual mediums are now vital to online consumption for artists and viewers alike. By harnessing video, artists took a dwindling art form and gave it a breath of life. Today, it's transcended the tech barriers it once ran up against. Now, calligraphy is part of the modern conversation once again. While creating it online isn't in the mix, for now, calligraphy has indeed found its home in the tech world. That is a win for culture and us as creative learners.

 There are not many things as fine as seeing a pen gracefully create works of art in single strokes. Putting this motion into application is intimidating for many beginners. However, learning shouldn't be fearful. Instead, it should be embraced.  

Take each step knowing that it will take time. You won't understand your calligraphy script or letters or any text design in a day. Leave yourself plenty of time to practice. Also, learn about your materials and tools. Understand what it takes to make your art. Soon enough, you'll be enjoying how each piece flows through the strokes of your pens and brushes.


If you have a preference for modern, consider this medium. In this form of digital art, you will use fonts and different programs to achieve your desired image. Typically, typography involves working with pre-designed fonts and letters. If you want to work with typefaces and fonts, consider typography. In this field, designers create type that transcends layouts to maintain consistent form.

Many designers and artists alike believe that typography is merely the evolution of calligraphy. However, that is a misconception. While similar, they both offer unique aspects that you won't get in other forms. In typography's case, consider it a bit more technical than calligraphy's association to being an art form. While both require clarity, the artistic aspect of calligraphy allows for more abstract lettering. Meanwhile, typography emphasizes clear font lettering. This is easier than calligraphy clarity, however. Due to typography's use of technology, creating letters is much easier. Instead, clarity lies in your kerning and tracking.

Typography, like calligraphy, is used in many things, and not just art. In fact, typography factors into works like:

  • Logo design
  • Advertising
  • Business communications
  • Promo materials
  • Product instruction manuals
  • Product designs

In short, typographic design is everywhere in our lives. That’s why learning typography is such a great idea. Not only can you brand yourself as a typeface design expert with some classes, but your newfound knowledge of font families and other typographic design essentials could open doors professionally.

Brands known the world over have embraced typography much like they once did calligraphy. In the soft drink sphere, famous logos from Coca-Cola and Pepsi have always had roots in calligraphy. As time progressed, they incorporated typography into the work for a modern feel without abandoning their iconic brands.  

The same can be said for clothing and personal brands. Whether wearing your own designs or famous garments, typography almost assuredly is in the work. From art to wearables to everything in between, whatever product or image you want to portray, chances are, you can incorporate typography into it and transform anything into a work of art. Especially when paired with graphics, typography can go a long way in helping you develop the perfect design.


Hand Lettering

Hand lettering also comes with some confusion amongst the creative community. Many people feel that hand lettering should be a part of calligraphy. Hand lettering uses many of the same principles as calligraphy. Whether learning calligraphy or hand lettering, you’ll notice the same usage of thick (downward motions) and light (upward motions) strokes.

 While they have a case, a counter can also be made. Subtle differences demonstrate the gaps between the two art forms. The most prominent factor would be in your strokes. When practicing calligraphy, you are almost sure to use a single stroke in each letter. With hand lettering, multiple strokes are encouraged. Furthermore, hand lettering blends fonts with numerous shapes and styles.

 A second and equally important factor is the mindset of the two. The two overlap in the sense that both take a great deal of practice to master. Yet, they are two different styles of art overall. Calligraphy, while beautiful and artistic, can be considered writing in many ways.

With hand lettering, it’s more drawing letters. By creating with multiple strokes, you allow a broader range to create with. In the case of calligraphy, you are a bit more confined to the rules, like cursive. The distinctions are small, but make a big difference worth appreciating.  

Hand lettering is also composed of typography elements that bring the digital process back into handcrafted work. In some cases of skilled artists, the untrained eye can be confused between how the letters were produced.

If you’re a beginner, give hand lettering an extra bit of consideration. It’s noted for being an incredibly beginner-friendly medium. Classes are rather easy to grasp and quite fun.

 That isn’t to say that it has its own difficulties, though. Hand lettering is like any other style of art.  It takes commitment, practice, and repetition to succeed. However, persistence will pay off. One advantage to pursuing this form of art is improved wordplay. That doesn’t mean witty banter. Instead, you can work with letters and words in artistic ways. This gives you the foundational knowledge to then embark on calligraphy and typography. Consider hand lettering to be its own style, but also 101 courses for two other critical artistic endeavors.

Hand lettering is also an excellent source of professional success for full-time and freelance work. Hand lettering opens doors for jobs in designing invitations, print and packaging, labeling, and much more. On larger projects, hand lettering is often preferred, as calligraphy could be more time-consuming. With hand lettering, you have more control of the flow of your work. Thus, can usually control the project’s time a bit easier.

If you are a beginner nervous about your learning curve, or if you want an in-demand professional skill, hand lettering may be the art form for you.

Choosing the Right Materials

A similarity that these three mediums share with the rest of art is its tools. Without the right instruments, your words will never come alive as intended. Below, you’ll find the tools needed to succeed on any path you choose:



Calligraphy extends beyond pens and brushes. Though important, other elements also decide the outcome of your art. Each category comes with a range of styles that each serve different functions. Over time, trial and error will help you understand what works best in any scenario. Then, the fun comes when you pinpoint the tools that help create the art that best suits your personal brand. If you’re ready to learn calligraphy, make sure you have some of these for your class:


Calligraphy pens come in a variety of functions. The traditional tools you use sound just like your typical office writing tools (ballpoint, fountain, felt tip, gel, rollerball). Others are specifically for calligraphy and are even called calligraphy pens so you know their exact purpose. Others will serve a niche that fit in certain design elements, like comics and manga.

 When beginning, felt tips are what you should consider starting with. They help you learn your ink levels as well as how to correctly apply it to the paper. As you move along in your studies, you'll work with fountain pens where you'll work with nibs and ink cartridges more (we'll get into those in just a bit). Eventually, you'll master the standard tools and begin working with more complex pens likes dips and brush pens.

This isn’t a hardline rule by any means, but if you begin with advanced tools you could run into issues such as:

  • Brush Pens: Brushes comes in a variety of thicknesses. All present a different learning curve, making it less than ideal to start your studies with. For example, mastering a thin brush is difficult for a learner of any level. It takes a greater deal of pressure control to get the ideal amount of ink onto the page. When studying how to write on paper, it isn't the best time to also learn how to apply pressure with your brush properly. 
  • Dip Pens: The three facets of a dip pen (handle, nib-holder, or shaft) make it more complicated than beginner pens. With nibs and reservoirs moving positions from tool to tool, this can add an extra degree of difficulty a new learner might not be ready for.  Eventually, dip pens are likely to become one of your most commonly used devices. You can use others, if you prefer. However, learning how to use both pens are must-learn materials for the medium. With dip pens, you afford yourself more freedom to adjust your three pen components to the specifics you prefer.
  • Nibs: Nibs are what an artist touches the paper with. The nib and its holder are just as important as any other calligraphy component. When lettering art and script in calligraphy, the right nib and holder are crucial to your work's outcome. Key factors include: 
  • Shape (Nib): Choosing between italic and point nibs comes down to design needs. For a more substantial line that remains consistent, italic is the way to go. It's also the obvious choice if your letters or alphabet requires an italic appearance. Point nibs offer more variety in their lines. You will use points in most projects, from logo design to contemporary calligraphy. When choosing a pointed nib, flexibility also comes into consideration. For thin lines, select a point with minimal flexibility. However, minimum flexibility does result in limited line variations.
  • Mount (Nib): Your mount size depends on the nibs you choose. Mapping nibs work best on smaller bases (around 3mm), whereas regular nib options tend to be around 9mm bases. When choosing your mount, always go with the best fit for your instrument.
  • Size (Nib): Size is categorized by either its fineness (medium, fine, or extra fine) or its size in millimeters (C-1 to C-4). Depending on which you choose, line thickness and consistency will vary. A medium tip will produce a thicker line with a more defined end point. Meanwhile, an extra fine will leave a bit of a tail and narrower path. For a thicker line, a C-1 will do the trick. Regardless which millimeter size you opt for, you should see lines as thick or thicker than a fine tip. Each should also produce an end line closer in appearance to a medium tip.
  • Form (Nib Holder): The choices are oblique or straight. For hard to design angles, use an oblique. However, straight holders offer a range of sizes and shapes that help achieve looks that an oblique couldn't. 
  • Material (Nib Holder): Here, you have a choice that all boils down to how they feel in your hand: plastic or wood.


There is no shortage of options when it comes to brushes. From marker to brush tip, each can significantly alter your text designs and art. It takes extraordinarily high patience to create with brushes.

Brushes are categorized based on five distinguishing traits:

  • Firmness: Brushes can either be firm, medium, or soft. For firm, familiar strokes, artists choose firm tips. Medium brushes give your strokes a bit more freedom. However, they can just as quickly get away from an untrained designer. Soft brushes are often the hardest to learn, as it's all about subtlety. Any wrong minor movement can throw off your delicate effects.
  • Fineness: Fineness refers to fine, medium, and broad tips that define line thickness. The distinctions are rather self-explanatory from there. The more detail you'd like, the finer you need to go.
  • Elasticity: Categorized as pressed, halfway, or lifted, this category refers to the flexibility of your brush. If you want a brush that holds its form well into a project, you'll find yourself opting for elastic tips. 
  • Ink Flow: Do you want your paper wet, medium, or dry? That's the question when determining your brush's flow. For a darker flow, wet is the way to go. Meanwhile, dry leaves lines that, at times, create exquisite gradations. To achieve a dark, yet slightly inconsistently-spaced line, a medium is the tool for the job.
  • Pigmentation: Though the categories are broken into gray, light black, and dark black, some calligraphy does use color. The more you want your work to stand out, the blacker your brush should be. If you need a more subdued, supporting element, go with gray.


Ink is key to conveying your work accurately. As you develop your personal style, ink becomes increasingly more important. Do you work with acrylic or water-based? Or, is oil your preferred method?

 The choices are wide and hinge on the work you are doing. Depending on if you use fountain or dip pens, you'll have access to certain inks. You'll also need to consider the base of your ink. Do you prefer pigment- or dye-based? This also works hand in hand with the pen you choose to use. With cartridge pens, you gain more flexibility with your ink at times, thanks to converters. However, if your cartridge ink isn’t convertible, it’s best to use the manufacturer recommended ink.  


Don’t use regular paper in calligraphy. Choosing to do so almost assuredly results in bleeding. You want to select a higher-quality paper that will retain its form and your ink. Picking paper for practice and work varies as well. Some are better for presentation and final products, but aren’t worth the cost if you’re just practicing,

Depending on your pen and/or other tools, you'll notice your ink holding or feathering more than others. Artists sometimes find that a 70gsm piece of paper will bleed, while 80gsm or higher is better for retaining the form they desire. However, some designers opt for another angle and adapt the ink to their paper through diluting the ink.


Learning calligraphy can take you down other styles as well. For example, learning pencil sketching can improve your pressure skills when holding your pen or brush. Even taking an illustration course can open your mind to the creative process in calligraphy.

Despite it being an important and often tricky medium, calligraphy is an art form you can learn. If you feel stuck, take a pause and learn from a different guide. The beauty of art is that you can make an example out of anything and apply it to your preferred style of art.  


Hand Lettering

With the right tools, you'll be well-equipped to practice this new medium. By having the right tools and the desire to learn, you can learn hand letter fonts and letters in no time:


Pens are one of hand lettering's essential tools. They come in a variety of products and all serve a purpose. Some of the more common types include:

  • Felt: An excellent option for outlining, felt pens are perfect for outlining and filling in fonts. However, don't use felt tips when writing a letter. They're not that kind of pen. 
  • Nib: This is where hand lettering and calligraphy really cross over. Mix old and modern with a nib. You could spend years trying nibs for different effects. From fine and refined to broad and bold, nib pens offer a plethora of options. 
  • Brush: For more line versatility, choose a brush pen. With these, you can choose between hard and soft brushes. For more control, opt for harder brushes. 
  • Flat: Flat pens work best for everyday use. If you're in a pinch and need a writing tool, a flat pen will work. They also work well on sketches and text that's looking for noticeable font and letter differences.

In addition to pens, hand lettering works with a variety of other creative utensils as well. Some standard tools you may come across are:

  • Markers: Beginners may not have realized that their earliest school days were introducing them to hand lettering. Use your Crayola's or preferred brand to get a basic understanding of the craft. From there, expand into more intricate markers. Some will contain dual uses for fun new projects. While others help create bold, fine lines. 
  • Lead Holder: This is a multi-use tool that could extend well beyond its hand lettering usage. Learn how to craft everything from handmade invitations to font families. If you like mechanical pencils, this is the tool for you. Just remember to keep it sharp!


You paper matters in any art form. With hand lettering, it's particularly important. While bleeding issues and other concerns are less than in calligraphy, that doesn't make your paper choice any less important here.

From its look to its touch, paper makes a significant difference. Sometimes you can tell by your first look or feel.  In other cases, it takes a bit more. However, just like calligraphy, paper for work and practice will vary, as will it depending on the project. When working in hand lettering, consider these options:

  • Sketching/Beginner Studies: When starting out, the paper is less of a concern. Here, it’s about learning hand lettering. Don’t worry about your paper so much, unless you are working with certain pens, like a soft brush. In that case, look for a heavier, smoother paper. Laser paper from your standard printer should be suitable.
  • Grid Paper: Grid paper is excellent when you need an extra bit of guidance when creating typographic art. It's not the best paper for your final product. So, remember to use a better final paper then.
  • Marker Pads: For affordable options to stop ink bleeding, use a marker pad. Top quality marker paper provides you with the thickness needed to hold the ink, while leaving a smooth surface for you to create on.

Some of the more reliable names in paper include Canson, Rhodia, and Fabriano.

Guides: If you thought calligraphy offered outside the box options for learning, you’ll find even more with hand lettering. Since it is rooted in several styles that combine modern and classic elements, learners can gain helpful information from an array of classes including:

  1. Drawing with Colored Pencils: Basic Blending Tips & Techniques
  2. Design Your Own Fonts: From Paper to Screen
  3. Pen and Ink Illustration: The Basics for Creating Magical Drawings
  4. The abcs of Brush Pen Lettering - learn the miniscule (lowercase) alphabet in 20 minutes!

There are many more guides that also help your skills. Find what intrigues you and apply it to your hand lettering lessons.



Designing typefaces and fonts is intriguing to design experts and novices alike. Type design can be overwhelming if you don't know where to start. It’s easy to get lost with multiple programs needed to achieve the best website font possible. Many apps and programs are on the market, so which works best for you?

Font Editing Software

To get started, you’ll need to choose your font editing software. Depending on your preference and budget, you can select a high-end option like FontLab Studio. On the other end of the spectrum is freeware like FontForge and Birdfont that offer fewer features, but the same end result for the most part.  

Some designers,  are set with their font designing software. In other cases, as many creators find themselves, they opt for adding more software to the process. Multi-software referrers like the ability to edit images (raster editing) and work with vector graphics (vector editing) that font editors don't match up with. When choosing which programs to choose, vector and raster editing choices are to be made.

Raster Editing

With raster, you can choose several options. With raster, you're usually working with larger files and bitmaps. The pixels in bitmaps make your files larger due to their high dots per inch (DPI).

The industry standard is Adobe Photoshop. It’s a high-quality program for refining your font’s errors, just like it is for other imagery. You can even use Photoshop to do some vector editing. However, this is not the best idea for your designs. Only try it after you’ve gotten a good handle on the path tool.

If you need to keep costs low, Gimp is an excellent free option. It does most of the same work as Photoshop, but often comes with extra steps. You will sacrifice efficiency for cost here, but Gimp will still allow you to make the revisions needed for your work.  

Vector Editing

Vector editing programs offer you more options for creating fonts. Again, Adobe is the industry standard, as Illustrator provides several tools to create your works. To get started, explore some interesting tutorials. Start with the basics of the shape builder and the pen and pencil tools. Then, explore more advanced topics. A free option that many professionals use is Inkscape.

 In Illustrator, you can work with different types of typography so you can better understand text and display creations. Designers choose Illustrator because of the depth of tools it has. It also has useful features that update imported text documents into typography-ready texts and smart quotes. Illustrator helps streamline the process so you can focus on the real typography work you want to use the program for.

There are plenty more options out there to consider. Some jobs will require you to know Adobe programs, so keep that in mind. However, it never hurts to explore new and exciting technology that can help make your typographic art look its best.

Fonts and Typeface Packs

Fonts and typefaces are quite different, though the industry has seen the two words become interchangeable in some circles. In reality, a font is a singular entity, such as Garamond Bold. Meanwhile, typeface represents the families that fonts make up.  

That being said, it’s important to have packs of both to achieve the look that you want in your design. Many come at a price, while you can get some for free. Some of the best sites to find free fonts are Dafont and FontSpace.

If you want to stay up on the hottest designs in the field, you’ll need to go at a premium. While the free options listed above sometimes have similar styles, a designer can spot the difference. Each year, the design world praises hot newcomers as well as classic designs. This year, you can find praise for the modern sans serif font family that is Undeka. Meanwhile, Tazugane Gothic is adored for its ability to blend modern and classic Japanese design in its work.

Analysis by Hongkiat found these 10 typefaces to be the most popular premium typefaces in the design community:

  1. Helvetica
  2. Gotham
  3. DIN
  4. Futura
  5. Neo Sans
  6. Adobe Caslon
  7. Skolar
  8. Kautiva
  9. Caecilia
  10. Fedra Sans

The most popular free typefaces were:

  1. Myriad Pro
  2. League Gothic
  3. Cabin
  4. Corbel
  5. Museo Slab
  6. Bebas Neue
  7. Ubuntu
  8. Lobster
  9. Franchise
  10. PT Serif

Explore these options. Then, discover more to determine which packs influence your style and inspire your next typographic designs.

Other Useful Tools

The following tools can certainly help your typography work. Yet, they are far from mandatory. In the beginning, there’s no need to buy everything. If you have access to them, great. Just don’t worry if that’s not the case.

When you are ready and able to invest more in your pursuits, consider these essential tools:

  • A tablet or convertible PC: Tablets are great options for designing anywhere you need. They allow for more mobility than a PC or laptop can afford you. As phones become better at design, some designers may opt for mobile instead of a tablet. However, don't be fooled be mobility. A tablet's larger screen does wonders for you when it comes to editing your creations.  A good convertible PC also works. For those that like to diversify their workstation, this may be the best route for you. If you prefer a traditional setup, this works as well. No matter which device you choose, make sure it’s high-powered and capable of the workload that comes with designing. 
  • Digital Pencils/Stylus: Any good tablet needs a good stylus for designing. Today, digital pencils and styluses act as close to the real thing than we’ve ever used before. Now, the reaction time between your tool and the screen is mere milliseconds. Try to spot the lag! 


Today, learning calligraphy, typography, and hand lettering is easier than ever. With access to classes online, beginners and experts alike can learn about the art form as a whole or can focus in on specific facets. In short order, you can find yourself going from beginner to intermediate. And with persistence, becoming a master at your craft isn’t as far away as it once seemed.

Whether pursuing for a profit or for personal use,  all three art forms are excellent choices. In the professional field, designers are always in demand. With both modern and classic methods of designing work, companies seek creatives that know how to create in both areas. With the understanding of how to take a hand-lettered design into a program like Illustrator, you begin to outline your professional credentials.

 The benefits of personal use are just as valuable. From developing traits like time and patience to the joy of creating typefaces, art makes us better. So, choose whichever medium speaks most to you. Start today by enrolling in online classes and getting your materials ready at the craft store. Beginners can find kits to get them started without overspending.  Then, begin the course. Go at your pace and understand each lesson before moving on.

In time, you’ll develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for these incredible art forms.


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