Calligraphy vs Hand Lettering Photo

Calligraphy VS. Hand Lettering VS. Fonts – What’s the difference?

Calligraphy. Modern calligraphy. Brush calligraphy. Hand lettering. Brush lettering. Fonts. Typography. ALL OF THE THINGS! 

…how do you differentiate between them all? 

Let me break it down for you!

First Things First…

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Supplies Used

Rather watch than read? No problem! You can watch me explain the differences in real-time by clicking the video below!

Let’s Get Started!

Disclaimer: Definitions for each of these things depends on who you’re talking to. In this post (and video), these are MY definitions and MY understandings. If you disagree, that’s okay! I’m not here to get into the history of each one or dispute where they came from. I’m just here to simplify the meaning so that beginners can differentiate.

First off, let’s start with the big question: What’s the difference between calligraphy, hand lettering, and fonts?

These are the ones that I see confused the most. Once you understand this difference, you can apply it to understanding most of the other confusing parts. 


Calligraphy is literally defined as beautiful writing – the art of writing letters. You’ll see this characterized by those thick and thin lines – thick down strokes and thin upstrokes. This is calligraphy. Those different strokes are achieved by using special tools (pressured tools like a brush or a pointed pen or a broad edge nib. 

For me, calligraphy is also characterized by strokes. Each letter is broken into little pieces (individual strokes) – it’s not writing in one fluid motion, like cursive. For me, strokes are a big differentiator and a big, important piece of calligraphy. 

Within calligraphy, you’ll also hear the terms: modern calligraphy, traditional calligraphy, pointed pen calligraphy, copperplate calligraphy, blackletter calligraphy, and all sorts of others. They can look super different from each other. 

For example, this is modern calligraphy that I did, and this is blackletter calligraphy done by my friend, Tamer, of Blackletter Foundry.

All of those terms I listed above refer to the style of calligraphy being done. They can look totally different, but they’re all under the umbrella of calligraphy. 


Now let’s talk about hand lettering. 

Hand lettering is drawing letters. As opposed to writing letters (aka calligraphy), you can do hand lettering with any tools – they don’t have to be specialized like calligraphy.

Just like calligraphy, there are infinite styles of hand lettering – it can be so many different things! In the photo below, I drew each letter. I did not write the letter, and I didn’t write any strokes. I drew them and filled them in with a super basic pen. 


Now, the third thing we need to talk about is fonts. Fonts are digital. You’ll also hear the word typography – like typing from a keyboard.

There’s a lot you can get into when it comes to fonts and typography, and the difference between even those two. For the purposes of this post though, let’s just differentiate fonts and typography from hand lettering and calligraphy by saying that hand lettering and calligraphy are done by hand, and typography and fonts are digital characters (literally what comes out of a keyboard). 

This often comes up with clients! For example, clients will ask if I can them show the font that I use for my wedding signs… but I don’t use fonts. Fonts are digital, and for signage, I use hand lettering and make it by hand. From there, I can show them what my style of hand lettering is. I can never promise that it’s going to look like a font because fonts are digital, and they’re perfected. Hand lettering (and calligraphy) aren’t perfect. 

Let’s Recap!

Calligraphy is writing letters with specialized tools, broken down into strokes.

Hand lettering is drawing letters using any tools you want.

Fonts are digital, consistent characters that come out of a keyboard (not out of a hand).

What about trickier, more confusing questions?

So many questions!

What about faux calligraphy? Is that technically hand lettering since you’re drawing the letters?

To me faux calligraphy could really be called either – it could be hand lettering or calligraphy. Honestly, you’re using hand lettering to create the look of calligraphy. 

I call it faux calligraphy since the goal is that it looks like calligraphy, and you use strokes to create it. However, other people call this hand lettering since it involves drawing letters and filling them in. No right or wrong here. 

What’s the difference between brush lettering and brush calligraphy?

People use these interchangeably a lot… and this is one of the trickiest things to kind of wrap your mind around. You won’t get in trouble for ever saying one or the other. It’s totally okay to use either one. 

If I personally had to separate them, here’s the way I see it. I call this brush calligraphy because I’m using a brush to create it, and it’s broken into the calligraphy basic strokes with thick and thin lines.

I call this brush lettering because I’m using a brush to create it, but it’s not calligraphy strokes. It’s just drawing fun letter styles. 

Each of these could be called brush calligraphy OR brush lettering. Calligraphy or lettering. So much of all of this can be debated… And depending who you speak to, they may have a totally different interpretation than the person beside them. 

But to me, none of this is life or death. Whether you call it calligraphy or hand lettering, as long as you’re creating pretty letters and you’re having fun doing it, I’m happy for you. 

And That’s A Wrap!

Hope this was helpful for you! If all of this is new to you and you’ve never learned any of these skills at all before, I think this post will help. 

And finally, your dad joke…

What’s the difference between a piano and a tuna?
You can tuna piano, but you can’t piano a tuna.


  1. I have always wanted to write like this. But I’ve heard that left handed people can’t master it. Is there any truth to this?

  2. I made the practice sheet for block letters as you suggested and am really understanding letter formation. Do you have any suggestions for cursive fonts? I am struggling to find one that is clear and useful.
    thank you in advance.

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