Remembering the 90’s will get you thinking that this was an era when David Carson, graffiti, and grunge were something. The 90’s was also the era when typography started getting its popularity. Later, some artists and designers whose job was designing custom lettering were born. And now, typography is a famous discipline among other skills.
Yet, the popularity didn’t guarantee that people would understand some concepts and terms about typography. One of the most common misunderstandings about this term is that some view hand lettering and typography as the same while the fact says the contrary. Here, the writer is trying to give clear explanations and details about this discipline so there won’t be any misunderstanding. Keep reading, and you will be enlightened.
The nature of typography
Substantially, the field that learns the touch of any letterforms on a surface is called typography. This term also relates to how a certain type will be written when it is printed. Another definition of typography states that it is the final product result of the movable printing system used by most people worldwide for centuries. Typesetting and type design are often connected to typography as well. In this digital era, typography deals with fonts for everything in daily life.
Further, typography is a branch of lettering which applies letters to typefaces. Many designers make letterpress printing, including typesetting or typography, as something they love to do in their free time to complete a certain project. It makes lettering even more famous.
According to Gerrit Noordzij, a design professor of typeface from 1960 to 1990 at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Netherlands, typography is written with certain prefabricated characters. Additionally, the Typotheque founder suggests that handwriting, lettering, and graffiti differ from typography though they look almost identical.
For many people, lettering and typography are just the same. If you are a designer, you should never go with this idea, especially when having a client with you. A logo might use it, but sometimes it uses customized lettering. When that happens, you should educate your client because you are the one who understands this matter. Make sure you use the right term when speaking with your client so that both designer and the client understand each other well. A good understanding is required when you work together on a project.
The nature of the lettering
Another name for lettering is “the art of drawing letters.” It is the art of making a combination of letterforms specifically for a specific purpose. Lettering is commonly completed by hand using pens, brushes, or graphite. Yet, some designers do lettering directly from applications like Adobe Illustrator. Some terms, such as engraving, and other arts, are also connected to lettering. Don’t be confused about the terms.
Typography and lettering are two different things. Jessica Hische, a famous lettering artist, gave a clear explanation of these terms at the conference of FRONTEND 2011. Please check the video for those who haven’t seen her complete explanation. Her explanation is crystal clear that everyone who watches it would understand.
Typography and lettering are similar because both terms deal with letters in the context of their use and typefaces. It would help if you didn’t confuse your clients when using the terms, as each term has its connotation. You should accurately explain these terms because it’s an essential element for designing a career. Once you succeed in doing it, you will have a bright career in the future.
The similarities and differences
Both lettering and typography have the concept for visual purposes. Designers apply every detail in both disciplines, like letter spacing, consistent contrast, and weight. These details should be perfectly customized to create a stunning design. In lettering, the space between lines is called “line spacing”. While in typography, it is called “leading,” which refers to typeset, the leadstrip on printers that set between the lines to give some more space.
The space separating letters is an essential element in typography because there are many poorly designed designs that we witness today. Nowadays, in the type field, it is called “kerning,” referring to the adjustment made horizontally between characters.
In the old days, when typesetting was used, a kern was a glyph’s part. The molded character is extended from the type block. To give you a clearer image of this term, look at the “f” terminal image below. Therefore, you should avoid using the kerning term in lettering. There is one good example of this. The “A” and the “V” letters are not kerned; you were able to say that the space between these two letters is tightened up, not kerned.
Typography is widely used for countless applications, from stating the titles to the body text. Lettering is exclusive as it is used for display text because it seems impossible to letter some paragraphs of the written text using hands.
Instead, calligraphy would be a better solution applied in the more extended passage of text. Again, even though lettering and calligraphy are somehow related, there is a significant essential difference between these terms. Penmanship is the actor behind calligraphy, while draftsmanship, on the contrary, is the actor behind the lettering. Calligraphy is essentially writing letters, while the lettering is drawing letters.
Persevering calligraphers and scribes in the past used calligraphy and lettering to complete books as long as the bible. An incredible book sample for it is the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Book of Kells. Yet now, in the digital age, everything is much more practical; we use typefaces to do such a thing because no one would write 500 pages or more by hand. It’s a big difference. What an incredible thing!
However, some calligraphers have finished amazing projects; the St. John’s Bible, for instance, was a modern manuscript written and illuminated by hand. To complete this monumental project, the artist needed around 13 years long. The processes included the commission and completion processes, all done by traditional techniques. For example, the artist used quill pens and applied gold leaf manually. The cost for this project was around $8 million. This project reflects how the beauty and the fantastic traditional way of lettering and how the digital era, typography, and printing, have made considerable changes to our world.
These disciplines have been recognized for a long time when talking about calligraphy and lettering. The written systems were developed right after the spoken language was widely used. These systems were used for communication through a longer-lasting medium compared to speech. Lettering and calligraphy also evolved side by side, along with other lettering arts like engraving.
To take track of the evolution, we can look at the Rosetta stone, and ancient Roman inscription scribal works mentioned previously. History has given us myriad examples of calligraphy and lettering. All those examples amazingly amazed us though we live in a different era with those designers.
During the middle ages, we know that only a few people were eligible to read and write, relegated to royal and monasterial scribes; we were provided with some amazingly inspiring work that resulted during that period. But unfortunately, most people look at the beautiful lettering and calligraphy that originated from the Middle East and Asia. These two places were known for their easy accessibility to arts education. The eastern hemisphere was where calligraphy and lettering thrived very well, and now it has become an inspiration source for designers.
In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg first funded and built his printing press, the typography concept revolution that was slowly developed before. The world got a more practical way to solve the printing problem, such as using moveable type, casting methods, and metal alloy. It increased the typography discipline with various techniques like leading, kerning, and other terms that we use today. Each letter offers its characteristic of the type block on which the letter is being used, and the typesetters would arrange the type character by character.
Furthermore, typography was the top skill, and it had continuously become what it was. It needed a very long process, and many people kept trying to streamline it to increase production rates. The methods had been developed and standardized for arranging the glyph. The purpose is to make the typographer memorize the glyphs’ positions and pick them without much consideration.
It left us with the terms of lower and upper case characters. The upper case was known as drawer and usually contained capital letters, while the lower case was known as minuscule. It happened before the California Job Case, which was very popular in the US in the 19th century, mixing different cases into one larger case.
While typography never stopped, developed calligraphy and lettering still had a place in society. When printing was experimented with to keep it growing, calligraphy still had a big part in communication. Those who were educated would create some incredible manuscripts by hand with accuracy and beauty that still amaze people nowadays. Swashes, descenders, and ascenders are arranged into astounding both borders and patterns, sometimes all of them but blurring the text itself.
As you learn about calligraphy and lettering, you will notice that these disciplines followed cultural trends. The Rococo was a thing before it changed at the start of the 19th century. Something that didn’t change and passed this era to Victorian and the florid shapes of the Art Nouveau era was flowers into an ornament. The lettering, type, and words kept intermeshing, making many people like Oswald Cooper get respect and achievements for their lettering products. They were hired to design some new typefaces by type foundries.
Art Deco and Modernism were found so that they used lettering for ads, posters, book covers, and logotypes. We could also find some relative art of recent film titles to which the 20th-century illustrative lettering style was applied. The lettering experienced permutations through the late 20th century; the 70s with its organic styles, the 80s with its new modernism, and the 90s with its grungy styles. It brought us to the new era of the lettering scene. From this period, some famous designers in this era, such as Doyald Young and Herb Lubalin, have given us a valuable legacy.
The growth of lettering methods continued through the 19th century, and the world industry developed because of printing. One obvious example of printing development was printed materials of Thomas Paine and the publications of Benjamin Franklin that supported the American Revolution.
In the meantime, it was known that the investors had failed to create a practical typesetting machine although they have tried it several times. In 1884, Ottmar Margenthaler successfully built the linotype. This machine then became the revolution in the newspaper industry. If you want to know more about typography, watch a great documentary called Linotype: The Film. It is highly recommended because this will give you even more knowledge about this discipline.
The linotype was one among several machines used for typography. It was usually used to accelerate the processes in typesetting and printing, although the hand-set type was still used widely. As the era changed, the industry took over anything. The industrial type machine offered better and faster techniques.
Additionally, typography has widely explored the movement of various artworks. From Dada to Modernism and beyond, reconsidering solutions in which expression and meaning can be shown well by type. Just like in typography, both traditional and experimental, the progress and the techniques interrupt the phototypesetting. From here, the digital era started, and now we are here using previous hard work.
Typography now has a huge difference from 50 years ago. There are many applications used for designing work. In the old days, locking in forms and setting metal types were used. But today, all of them have been changed with panels in InDesign or Illustrator applications to add leading, kern, and align the type.
Recently, the digital form of lettering enacted most people’s design works. However, many lettering artists stay true to their analog media by drawing the lettering by hand. The digital amalgamation took responsibility for the confusion of lettering and typography. It isn’t very clear because lettering and typography were created using the same programs. To describe these terms, we cannot compare them. It’s like a drafting table and linotype matrices or a brush and a letterpress machine.
However, the lettering and typography cannot be similar since they have different concepts. That’s why we have to understand their differences and similarities. Surely, this will help anyone to become a better designer.
The hand-lettering guides
Are you keen on hand-lettering stuff? Let me tell you that this could be daunting yet possible to learn. You will find that the letterforms could be very hard to draw on your own. It would be best if you were determined when you want to design lettering with your hand. To give you easiness in starting hand-lettering, here are some easy guides that will help you to know about this discipline and create your compositions.
Start with tracing
Before creating a composition, you can start learning the tracing on your first day. First, prepare some pieces of tracing paper and trace some well-known typeface samples. Make sure to trace them several times until your hand gets used to every line of the typeface. By then, you must realize that even a type designer works carefully and revises their work before it’s perfectly right.
For a start, you could try Garamond and Caslon, or some exceptional recent amazing works such as Okay Type’s Harriet. If you want a good model, you should not choose free fonts. It’s because these fonts are poorly crafted.
Keep training your hand and eye using the masters’ works by doing all those steps. Keep doing the tracing, and you will get your style, although you started it by tracing other lettering designs.
Read and read
Read like there is no tomorrow. This idiom also works for one as there are many things that you can get from reading. Reading blogs, books, and other resources will enrich your knowledge about type design and letterforms. It will help you to understand the principles better. You can find many resources about type and typography.
Some recommended books are Dangerous Curves by Doyald Young, Scripts and Typography Sketchbooks by Steven Heller, and Designing Type by Karen Cheng. For portfolios, you can look at portfolios from Simon Walker, Claire Coullon, Dan Cassaro, and Jon Contino. Surely, these books and portfolios are useful for you, and you can get inspiration after reading them.
Make a photo safari
It’s always a good idea to have a tour of old buildings or a historic district, especially for those who live near those areas. You can focus on some areas where you can find good samples for lettering and typography and spend some hours on your weekend on this. You would discover lighted signs, vinyl, or painted outdoor signage examples.
Also, you can find brick walls with huge painted letters. You can find this kind of lettering samples at old restaurants or factories. Take photos of all samples you find and use them as models when you want to create some historical-style lettering. In this way, you might find your characteristics in designing work.
However, if you are away from these old sites, you can still use photos other people took. Usually, people post free copyrighted photos on the internet, allowing you to access them freely and make those photos for your lettering models. It is a brilliant idea that you might not think about.
Use and don’t use a grid
Using a grid for your lettering is sometimes needed. Yet, you will find that the perfect measurements don’t guarantee the perfect lettering look. You can draw lines to help you have even and consistent weight through your lettering work. But, when you feel something looks inaccurate, the first thing to trust is your eye, not the grid.
Moreover, it will work best when working with a curved baseline. One thing to remember: the lettering is about what people see, not measure. So, perception matters more than geometric perfection.
Hopefully, this article about lettering and typography will enhance your design knowledge and can be a starting point for improving your skills. Lettering and typography have a lot of similarities, but they also have differences. Both are part of the design, and we need to understand these terms well to become professionals in this field.
By knowing everything about type and lettering, you can become a designer who will create awesome design works. It would be best to improve yourself if you get the chance because designing work might come only once. Use your time wisely to improve yourself with better skills and knowledge.