TypeTalk: Hand-Drawn Type

TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above.

Q. Do you have any inspirational suggestions for creative type treatments to start off the new year?

A. Hand-drawn lettering is an excellent alternative to a traditional typeface. I’m not (necessarily) talking about fancy calligraphy or professionally drawn hand lettering, but informal letters that look like (or are) actual handwriting.

Figure 1. Seven styles of hand-drawn writing mirror the message in this poster by Jen Mussari, who says she “tries to maintain the integrity of each letterform”.

Here are some reasons why I like this organic approach:

• The unique results can speak to your audience in a personal way
• Because it’s so customized, it can match layout needs and target audience preferences precisely
• It can appear to come from a specific person or voice, such as a child’s scrawl, a famous person’s handwriting, etc.
• It can be cheaper than using a font!

Figure 2. One advantage of hand lettering is that it can fit any shape without the distortion of computer scaling.

Figure 3. This writing appears to be drawn on an arm, but it was most likely drawn and combined with the illustration to fit the shape of the arm, then overlaid on the photograph.

While you can certainly hire a professional lettering artist or illustrator to create the kind of writing you need, that isn’t the only way. Do you, or does anyone you know, have eye-catching handwriting? Have you ever received correspondence with writing that’s attractive, interesting, or even quirky? These are all possible sources. Give it your best shot, or ask you friends, family, coworkers to write a sample.

Figure 4. This hand-drawn lettering compliments the illustration perfectly. In fact, they were most likely done by the same person.

Figure 5. Two different styles of beautifully written lettering are a thoughtful reflection of the title, A Love Letter…

Once you find a style you like, then what? Digital technology has accustomed us to multiple undo’s, and happily, the final version of your lettering doesn’t have to be created in one attempt. Here are steps to go from concept to final artwork:

1. Write (or have written) the actual text several times at a size close to the desired final size. The letters can stand alone or be part of an entire word.
2. Use tracing paper to revise and redraw as necessary.
3. Scan and import the drawings into Illustrator or whatever software you like to create workable, editable vector images.
4. Choose the letterforms and/or entire words you want to appear in the final layout.
6. Assemble the letters and words in your layout.
7. Adjust the size, weight, spacing, alignment, and color as desired.

Figure 6. All of the lettering on this book cover, including that on the glove, is drawn to perfectly fit the well thought-out composition.

Figure 7. Not so much handwriting as constructed letterforms, this treatment creates a powerful focal point for this striking book cover.

Figure 8. Hand-drawn lettering on the cover of a high-fashion magazine makes it stand out from the crowd of mostly font-based covers.

If you’re willing to forgo some individuality for a faster and relatively inexpensive alternative, there are many hand-drawn fonts that might serve your purpose. Check out YouWorkForThem for a sampling.

Figure 9. Font or hand-drawn type? My guess is font, but it doesn’t really matter as this eye-catching treatment emphasizes the message for this website.

Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

Posted on: January 11, 2012

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

3 Comments on TypeTalk: Hand-Drawn Type

  1. Neat stuff! Check this out

    Joesy Jer at TJs

    TJs NB Wall Art

    One of my pet peeves is the use of “type” describing something hand-drawn. I have had some folks look at my calligraphy and ask, “What type font is that?’ My answer is standard: We use calligraphic “hands” or “styles” when referring to hand-lettering. Using the word “type” for hand-lettering is a misnomer.

    Gerald Moscato/Principal
    Calligraphic Variations
    Moscato Design

  2. Point well taken, Gerald. And I should have known better. I mostly referred to “lettering” in the article, but I did slip up a few times (including on the title ARGHHH!) – will see if that can be rectified!

    .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O
    Westport, CT

  3. I bought a book on hand-drawing type for scrapbooking, and tried it out for the Sketchbook Project this year, including a bunch of “spoonerisms”.

    In fact, most of the pages use one type of hand-drawn font or another. Great fun!

    Chris Raymond

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