Typography, lettering and calligraphy: what’s the difference and when to use them

In the first of our series on tricks of the trade from the world of calligraphy and design, we unpack some of the basics around lettering, calligraphy and type. We explain some of the terms and the differences between each one, and suggest when you might use each one.


What is typography?

It’s a system of letters that creates a cohesive, complete alphabet. All the characters share similar characteristics, with few variables. A ready-to-use typography set is more commonly known as a font, and can either be in the form of a digital font file or a set of metal or wooden type blocks used in printing presses, from which type originates.

Why would you use it?

To write large blocks of text and in general everyday communications. Some other benefits of using typography are that it’s easily replicable and uniform, it’s varied, perfect for long copy or text, and easily identifiable.

When would you use it?

Frequently. From traditional to modern, or even handwritten styles, there are so many styles of fonts to choose from that can help communicate any message. Really, it can be used for absolutely anything, from books to digital content, and in identifying a brand across all communication channels.


What is lettering?

In lettering, each character is illustrated and custom-made. Every letter adapts to the needs of whatever you need to communicate, and every character interacts with each other in a unique way. Such is the uniqueness of letters created in this way, they don’t usually translate into alphabets to be used in font.

Why would you use it?

To communicate something in a unique way, and when you want the actual imagery of the letters to complement the message you’re getting across, or the look of the overall creative. Lettering is a great option if you want the text to appear front and centre, and really stand out.

When would you use it?

When designing anything from book covers to music albums, or marketing/social media campaigns.


What is calligraphy?

Calligraphy is the art of writing, and your chosen tool determines your style, whether that’s traditional or modern, formal or expressive, legible or abstract. Tools include traditional calligraphy pens, flat brushes, Japanese brushes, ruling pens, brush pens and DIY tools.

Why would you use it?

When you want a custom, handmade touch to make a project feel more special. The use of paper and ink can offer an exclusive, luxurious experience. Depending on the style of calligraphy it can also be expressive, even abstract, blending the line between design and art.

When would you use it?

On book covers, music albums, Invitations or personalised cards or gifts, luxury brands and art, or when you want to communicate something traditional, handmade. Or simply when you can’t find another way to get your message across, and you need something specific to your project.