Hand lettering vs brush lettering vs modern calligraphy: What the heck is the difference?!

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

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If you were to seach #moderncalligraphy on insta, you'll find 4.4 million posts. And this is what you'll find:

A vast array of different art techniques and styles. You may even hear (or read) someone say it's "hand lettering" or "brush lettering" or even "faux-lligraphy."

But what the heck is the difference and what do they mean?! And if you are wanting to learn one of them, how can you be sure that class your signing up for is the method you're wanting?!

Here, friend, let me explain and hopefully clear up the confusion.

Hand Lettering

This technique is where you are mimicking the look of calligraphy (thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes), without using the fancy calligraphy tools (thus why this is also known as faux-lligraphy). You can do hand lettering using an archival ink pen, felt tip pen, or even just a simple pencil.

With this method, you are not having to worry about the pressure you are applying to the instrument, which makes it enticing and less intimidating for beginners. I've also seen this term used when someone really means "brush lettering," which is our next technique we'll discuss!

Brush Lettering

This is when you are getting that same look of calligraphy, but you are using some type of paint brush or brush pen. You achieve the thick downstrokes by applying more pressure to your brush and thin upstrokes by applying less.

The most common pens used for this are Tombow Brush Pens or Fudenosuke Brush Pens, but you an also use a paint brush to get the lettering affect.

Pointed Pen Calligraphy

This type of lettering is typically where you are using a pointed nib and dipping it into ink. This is more of a formal, elegant style than the two above. This is the style I do most often see me post on Insta.

With pointed pen, you can become trained in traditional Copperplate script, Spencerian script, or even a more modern script (which usually is where the instructor has taken one of these and just added their own flair.)

Modern Calligraphy

This has become somewhat of a blanket term to describe all these lettering types. And truly, the term "calligraphy" is defined as "decorative handwriting or lettering." So while that's not necessarily wrong, it can get crazy confusing (and frustrating if you signed up for a course where you wanted to learn pointed pen but was actually taught brush lettering!)

Even in the world of calligraphy, there are SO many different forms and tools used (from the kind you do with a chisel tip pen to a fountain pen to nib and ink!) But with traditional calligraphy, the goal is to have everyone's letters look the same and all of your letters to look identical (all of your a's to look the same.) Modern calligraphy gives you a little more freedom and actually encourages you to embrace a more whimsical, free-slowing style (another reason I love it!)

And just because someone is trained in one of these areas does not mean they are in another. I absolutely love pointed pen calligraphy, while I get so frustrated with brush lettering! And I've even received inquires asking for Gothic style calligraphy (like you see on award certificates) that I've had to decline because my style is no where near that.


PS: If you are interested in learning modern pointed pen calligraphy but you're not sure where to start, click here to grab my free beginner's guide to modern calligraphy! This list will help set you up for success and minimize those newbie headaches!




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