It’s important to differentiate between lettering styles and fonts. Where lettering refers to stylistic, custom typography, a font is defined as a set of characters and letters in one uniform style and size. While you can adjust the kerning and size of fonts, they’re more rigid to work with than creating your own. But starting with a font — rather than starting each letter from scratch — can save time and spark new ideas for creating custom lettering. “When you’re learning, starting with a general typeface design isn’t a bad idea,” designer and artist Robin Casey says. It gives you a frame of reference to start from, and you can use it as a wireframe.”
Exploring different lettering styles.
Calligraphy is the design and creation of hand lettering with a brush or other writing tool. Traditional calligraphy covers specific hand-lettering styles, like Copperplate and Spencerian, that were created with distinct strokes and formations. Rules govern the shape and execution of these letters, similarly to a font.
One traditional form of calligraphic lettering is Gothic, sometimes called “black letter.” This script style was used extensively throughout medieval Europe and was created by making heavy downstrokes with the brush. Forms of it were also used in early printing presses. Nowadays, you’ll often see black letter or gothic lettering in tattoos or signage.
Modern calligraphy is any form of calligraphy that’s untraditional in its looser, more organic form. Script, cursive, and brush lettering are all viewed as modern calligraphy, contributing to its recent rise in popularity. While traditionally done with ink or brush pens on paper, new apps like Adobe Fresco are bringing calligraphy into the digital world.
Serifs are the small lines or marks added to the ends of letters in certain typography styles. These tapers are sometimes called “tails” or “feet” and can lend a more formal look to your lettering. Serif letters can also take on an ornate, stylistic look when flourishes are added for decorative purposes.
Sans serif lettering.
Any lettering without serifs is categorized as being in the sans serif style. Without tails, this lettering style looks modern and clean. Styles like monoline (where lines are all the same weight) and block letters (where the letters never connect or touch) fall into this category.
New lettering styles.
New lettering trends are always emerging and changing. Consider different styles like graffiti lettering or Bauhaus fonts that developed from cultural trends and took on a life of their own. Current events impact design, so always keep an eye out for new fonts and lettering styles that arise with the times to stay on trend.
How to achieve stellar lettering with digital tools.
Entering the world of lettering is an artistic endeavor, one with even more creative options when done digitally. With the right software, you have control over every curve and line to achieve the exact letterform your project demands. Here are a few lettering tutorials and insights to get you started.