The Difference Between Typography and Lettering

Throughout the past decade there has been­­ a resurgence of interest in typography. Many of designers have made their careers out of designing type or custom lettering and it has become common for designers to list typography as a graphic skill. I have often heard (and used myself) the term “hand- lettered typography” and although this may seem to make sense, hand lettering is not typography. Let’s define our terms and see what makes them different.

What Is “Lettering”?

Lettering is most simply defined as “the art of drawing letters”. It takes a skilled craftsman to making lettering look right. Youtube videos may make it look easy, but let me assure you, it’s not. The purpose of lettering is to craft a specific combination of letterforms for a single use and purpose. Lettering is frequently hand-drawn, with pens, pencils, brushes or brush pens, although some designers skip the sketchpad and start their work directly in Adobe Illustrator.


Above is the work of Sergey Shapiro , Yury VeslovForefathers GroupMichael SpitzMatt Vergotis and Ryan Hamrick.

What Is “Typography”?

Typography can be defined as “the style, arrangement or appearance of typeset letterforms.” Unlike lettering, a typeface can be used in a variety of places and it’s appearance can be altered by adjusting its point size, leading, tracking and kerning.

(Leading is line spacing, Tracking space between groups of letters and kerning is the space between pairs of letters.)

The definition of typography is a product of the movable type printing system that the world has used for centuries. Typography not only refers to typesetting, but can also include typeface design. Typography, in our digital context often means designers working with fonts on a daily basis.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 12.41.24 PMImage source

Although lettering and typography differ in definition, their similarities cause the two words to be frequently used together. Some lettering artists may tag their work as typography so that their portfolios come up in searches when someone is looking to hire a designer for a “typographic” project. Our clients won’t know all of  the proper terminology so, designers should make their work easy to find on the web.

Interested In Learning Hand Lettering?

Lettering Artist Ryan Hamrick has some awesome tutorials that can be found here.


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