Hand-lettering is a very niche area of the art and design world, and I always get a confused face whenever I try to explain what I do to other people, so here is a brief explanation of what I do, why I do it, and why hand-lettering is important:
Letters and words are prevalent in all facets of design. Very rarely do we see a design that is merely an image with a lack of words. This is because words are our best means of communication and we use it to tell stories or convey long and complicated ideas.
In design, we display words through fonts that have been chosen and typeset carefully for legibility and impact. An important thing to note is that fonts are designed by people. Just as books have authors, fonts have authors too. There is a common misconception that fonts are just there, likely because many technologies come with pre-installed fonts, when in reality, designers have spent days and even months to end with a result of a well designed set of alphabets.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LETTERING AND FONTS?
Fonts and typefaces have been designed for it to be re-arranged, repeated and easy to use at a designer’s convenience. It can be created or deleted with the simple push of a key.
Lettering, on the other hand, is an artform. Just as artists draw people, trees, or objects, letterers illustrate letterforms. And unlike fonts, these letters cannot be re-arranged, but is meant to be admired as it was designed to be.
SO WHY NOT JUST USE A FONT?
I have been asked this question more times than I can count. Why spend so much time drawing letters when there are already plenty of fonts out there at your disposal?
Because of its incredible ease of use, fonts are used by both designers and non-designers, so much so that the design industry has become abundantly saturated by it, making most designs lack authenticity and personality.
Not to say that one should never use fonts. Fonts are impactful at the right place and at the right content, but recently, many fonts are being designed to mimic the look of hand-craft, but they still appear cold. The warmth of authenticity can only be achieved through the art of lettering, and things that are mimicked can never match up to the real thing.
THE BEAUTY OF IMPERFECTIONS
This would be the main distinction that hand-lettering has to offer: it is imperfect. In a digital world where most designs use perfect shapes and straight lines, lettering stands out from the crowd because its hand-drawn aesthetics gives it a human feel, which in turn gives it personality. This is why sign-painting appeals so well to the eye; because its color palette and design has all been done by eye, and we are seeing the skills of painting letters that took years to master.
PERSONALITY BEHIND WORDS
Fonts are standard. They are designed to work across multiple platforms, and because they themselves do not carry any tone, fonts do not clash or take away anything from a design.
They do not add anything either.
They are there merely to communicate information. Through hand-lettering however, we are able to put meaning into a design. Lettering a word can make it vibrant, quiet, serious, or fun. This is what makes lettering so powerful: we can put personality and voice into an otherwise toneless word.
This can be applicable in all areas of design, whether it be packaging, apparel, posters, or marketing material. Think of how much more they would stand out with the use of hand-lettering.
As we have established earlier, fonts are standard. Because they are so common and cast a very wide net, this leads to generic and empty designs.
In contrast, hand-lettering is specific.
Think of a business. A successful business is one that stands out. The very first thing a person sees in a business is its logo, which is why a logo is often referred to as the face of a business. It would be very difficult to make a lasting impression with something that is standard, common, and generic. It would be difficult for a business to stand out when they use something all other businesses have access to.
Hand-lettering offers a solution: the ability to provide designs custom-tailored to the needs of a business.
The logo for Contact was designed by Jessica Hische. This is a good example of a custom logotype as you can see that the two “t’s” and “c’s” differ, but still the logo conveys harmony as a whole. You can see from her process how she got from her initial sketch to a refined final through subtle changes. From working with her hands, she treated the logo with care and attention.
Letterers are often asked what font they used to design their logo. This question is asked so hopefully others can be able to replicate it, but the fact is they cannot because a font does not exist. Lettered logos are one of a kind and are truly unique and they stand apart from the generic ones.
Hand-lettering is not merely decorating. Rather, it is a powerful tool that provides exact solutions for specific design problems. As a bonus, it puts personality and authenticity into words, making an eye-catching design, which gives great first impressions, as well as leaving it memorable and easily recognizable. This is the key to excellent branding.
- Fonts are designed by people
- Fonts are designed to be easy and convenient; Lettering is an art form that takes slow process
- Lettering offers authentic design
- Hand-lettering can give a voice and personality to an otherwise toneless word
- Imperfections give a human-feel, which makes a design appealing
- Fonts are standard and are for general use; lettering is specific, exact, and customizable
- Hand-lettering offers custom-tailored solutions to design problems
- Hand-lettered logos are one-of-a-kind because a font for it does not exist