What’s the Difference Between Lettering and Typography?

We see type every day. Most type looks pretty insignificant. In our technological world, the typed word is much more common than the written word. For the majority of us, it simply fulfills the primary function of relaying a message. For the typographer, the font and arrangement of the letters play a significant role in communicating the mood as well as the sophistication of a message. It needs to look good.

The letterer has the same goals as a typographer but takes it a little further. What’s the difference? Letter and illustrator Jessica Hische explains:

“Lettering is essentially illustrations of letters, words, and phrases. As a letterer, when I’m hired to draw the word “holiday” I don’t first draw the entire alphabet in the style I wish, then position the letters to spell out the word. I draw the word as a unique image. This means that in a lot of lettering, if you rearrange the letters it would look pretty crappy—it’s meant to be seen and used in that configuration and that configuration only.”

A key word for the letterer is “unique”. It is a level of customization that goes beyond typography (as cool as typography is). The letterer goes back to the roots of the written word. When quoting or seeking a quote for a job that requires this level of handmade work, keep in mind that the cost should be adjusted accordingly.