The Value of Hand Lettering Over Fonts

Hand lettering has made a massive resurgence over the last 5 years or so. Before computers, lettering was standard in advertisement and logo creation. The technology then simply didn’t allow for automated typography (besides the use of printing presses).

As technology improved and computers became the primary tool for designing, the new age of design became much more automated and allows for easy duplication. Luckily, today there is a vast selection of fonts available for use, allowing for a more diverse toolset. However, fonts still come with a limitation in the fact that anyone can recreate another’s work.

Why is hand lettering so valuable?

Lettering is a completely custom solution. Since a hand lettered logo is originally drawn by hand, it is 100% unique. This is great news for businesses wanting to stand out from their competition.

Most logos and logotypes are created by using fonts. Since a font is a set of pre-made letters, anyone can use them. If a business uses a logotype that is made from a single font, like Gotham, then anyone who owns that font can easily recreate that logo in minutes or copy that same look for their own logo.

If you visit an area with little strip malls and plazas, chances are you’ll notice that many of the storefronts don’t have official logos and instead, use the same font as the shops next to them. This slows down the decision process for consumers, taking them longer to identify what each shop offers and if they’re worth walking into. Obviously, this is bad for business.

A hand lettered logo stands out like a red flower in a patch of dead grass. The best way to stand out from your competition is to have a brand that is completely new and different. Lettering can be tailored to any style, mood, or era to best convey the message at hand.

Below, is an example of a logo for Castakite that I redesigned in 2014 using hand-lettering.

The original on the left, used a handwritten font, with imagery of a kite attached to the C. On the right, I decided to draw a playful script with the kite and string seamlessly integrated with the C. I liked the idea behind the original logo, as it captured the idea of the product well. However, some of its major issues included it being in full-color (difficult for 1-color usage), poor kerning between the letters, and an overall unprofessional quality to it, which was all fixed in the redesign.

When designing with fonts, the designer is limited to the number of fonts they own on their computer or those they can find online. When it comes to hand lettering, the lettering artist can work with anything inside their head. This leads to endless possibilities. Letterers can utilize any style they’ve been practicing for years or experiment with new styles they’ve never tried before.

In-progress lettering I created for a sign recruiting members for a high school art club.

The Process Behind the Logo

The craft behind a lettered logotype is really what makes it unique. After an intensive research process to determine a general direction for the logo, hours are then spent sketching thumbnails of different compositions and styles. Once a certain style has been chosen, the letterer will take the initial sketch and refine it over and over again, testing out different sizes, layouts, swashes, etc.

Thumbnail sketches for a digital brand’s re-design.

Some letterers will head straight for the computer after drawing a quick sketch or after several refinements. I tend to make one final tight sketch and trace over it in ink before moving to the computer to vectorize it. This helps me truly know whether or not it is ready for final production.

Since we live in a digital age, most logos need to be in a vector format to allow for a wide range of uses from large-format printing to being seen clearly on high-resolution computer screens. The final sketch is traced on the computer and put through a final refinement process until it is ready to hand off to the client.

The Bigger Picture

The work behind the creation of fonts is totally underestimated. We’re talking countless hours of making and refining letterforms to fit cohesively with one another. However, when it comes to creating a logotype or other designed materials, hand lettering is tough to beat.