A small dip into the large world of typography



Typography and hand lettering

In my last post, I talked about what hand lettering is all about. Well, mostly what it is all about. If I would tell you everything, my post could be turned into a book. After speaking about hand lettering, I thought the most logic follow up would be to write a post about Typography. This because many people mix these two together. This is pretty explanatory since they go pretty much hand in hand.

Although they do go hand in hand, there are quite a few differences making these two entirely different topics.

In this post, I will try to explain what those differences are and after reading my two posts you will be a lettering mumbo!

The history of typography in a very compressed nutshell

The first recorded use of typography dates back to 20.000 B.C. when cavemen made cave drawings to get their words and stories passed on to others.


The very first uses of typography known to men

Around 3100 B.C. civilizations advanced and their need of communications grew. This is when hieroglyphs were invented. Hieroglyphs were used for architecture, writings and even being used in their art.


Hieroglyphs can also be typed as typography
Ancient Egypt Online

The Alphabet we know today origins from the Greek at about 1000 B.C. A fun fact is that the word alphabet actually stems from the two first letters in the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Beta!

In the Roman times, the Romans made use of the Greek alphabet, advancing it to what we know today. They invented the uppercase and the lower case system. They also invented different scripts. The formal and the informal scripts.

Typography comes from the Greek words Typos which means forms and Graphein which means to write. Combining these two words you get typography indicating the pressed word.

When it started to evolve a bit, people used it to make seals and stamps out of dies and and punches. They used it mainly to make coins and other currency.

Around 1450, a German named Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press whereby you could make individual corrections. Before this printing press, people used blocks to make prints. The downside with this system was that if a mistake had been made, the entire block needed to be revised and overdone.

Gutenberg, the inventor of the pressed book.
Johannes Gutenberg


So what is typography then?

Nowadays we know typography as a whole other ballgame. With technology making such huge advances these last couple of centuries, typography has been changed along with it. One thing that has not been changed is the fact it is still being used as its main purpose, a means of communication.

With the help of computers, typography has gotten a whole new branch to its name; Graphic Design. There are people who think calligraphy also falls under typography but I do not think these two art forms resemble much of each other hence putting them into two separate categories.

Typography is the art form of arranging fonts with technique into texts, letters and characters. See how it is more than just the design of the letters?


Just like with hand lettering does typography also come along with some rules. Off course creative intuition stands up as a straight number one! But underneath that comes a small list of rules that need attention. These are however just a tiny bite of the huge list that professional designers have to work with!

When making a designed piece you need to pay attention to several different important aspects of your design work.

  1. Choose a font. At the beginning stick with one font until you get more confident in your font choice of what works well together and what does not.
  2. Point size. With other words the font size.
  3. Word spacing is of crucial impact on your design piece. A reader doesn’t want to get lost in a jungle of text but does also not want to feel like making a way through a wast amount of mist! Another word for spacing is Kerning. 



Text that is too close together makes the reader seem like he's in a wast mist trying to find his way out
Spacing is too close


This kerning is way off. Making it look as if the C is totally detached from the word itself
This kerning is way off. Making it look as if the C is totally detached from the word itself








4.The key to great designs is contrast. Go from light to bold.

5. Double the point size. If you are using 30 pt. for the headline then use 15 pt for the rest of the body.


If we start thinking of typography in terms of biology, we see that fonts are, just like everything in the animal, plant and fungi world, split up in family names.

One of the biggest typeface family is the Helvetica family. It is one of the most popular and famous typefaces all over the world. I thought I would use this typeface as an example for this chapter.

When a graphic designer talks about a font, this person means a branch of the Helvetica typeface. As example, Helvetica Italic or Helvetica Bold.


An example of the helvetica typeface fonts


The design

As a graphic designer, the design is one of the most important things. Everything needs to come together in a way that it makes sense but also has visual appeal. The way the blocks of text are executed are key. If the words are too long, the reader of the design will loose interest and if it is too short and crammed it can make the reader feel a bit claustrophobic. The message you want to bring over is of very much importance.

Just as in hand lettering is it of importance where the designer puts his keyword. In hand lettering you can emphasize the word by putting a lovely banner around it or make it stick out in another way. In typography, a designer can make the keyword stand out by changing its color or the boldness of the word as well as its size. These are just a few examples. Can you think of more ways to make a word stand out?

Well dear reader, this was just a very small dip in the big Typography ocean. I do not want to make this post too complex but will in the future make more in depth posts about this topic as well.







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