learn lettering

How to Choose the Right Lettering STyles

One of the most amazing things about hand lettering is its versatility, but that can also be one of the most overwhelming. You’ve mastered the basics and feel confident in tackling any lettering style (and if you haven’t – check out this juicy blog post first!), but when it comes to deciding what type of letter to actually use, how do you choose?!
The answer, my friend, is all in the details. Things like shape, proportion, and embellishments all combine to help your letters evoke a specific mood or feeling. You can play into this, like in the example on the left, or use it to an entirely new purpose, like the example on the right (curse words really are more fun in dainty cursive, am I right?!).
Like logos or colors or pictures, we all associate different types of letters with different feelings or moods. Getting the right association can seem daunting when you first start out, but like with lettering itself, it just takes continued practice at picking apart, and the applying, details.

But before we can get into those details, let’s take a look at the main types of letters:

Serif letters have serifs, or little feet. Think: Times New Roman. (Or Garamond – the font you’re reading this post in!)

Sans Serif letters are sans, or without, those little feet. 

Script is just another word for cursive.

Serif, sans serif, and script are like toast – what you put on top can make a huge difference. The details that you add to evoke a certain style are what really set your letters apart.

For example, these are all drawn with serifs, but are clearly worlds apart.

The first feels like it came straight from novel in the 1800s.

The second is both more modern and traditional.

While the third is fun and playful, with a definite 70s vibe.

So what exactly are those details that you can change to alter the feel of your letters? The possibilities are endless, but I’ve rounded up some of the biggies below:
Shape is how the letter is actually formed. Is it wide or narrow? Uppercase or lowercase? At an angle or rigidly straight?
Weight refers to the thickness of the strokes of each letter. Is the weight even throughout, or is it more calligraphic (aka faux calligraphy)? Does the weight vary a little or a lot?
Proportion is the size of the letters in relation to one another. Are they all proportionate or are some different?
Alignment is how the letters line up in relation to each other. Are they all along the base line, or do they bounce?
Serifs, if you remember, are like little feet. Do your letters have serifs, and if so, what kind? Thin lines or slabs? Maybe they’re rounded or curved like a teardrop.
Embellishments are just that – the extra things like lines and shadows that embellish a letter.

Adding and altering these details are how you can make a design capture the right feeling or association, but what do you do if you’re not entirely sure what details to use?

Let’s take a look at this logo I lettered for Pine Creek Creative (which for the sake of confusing pronouns, I’m going to add is a side hustle of mine + my biz bestie, so I’ll be saying we).

Pine Creek Creative is a small digital creative agency, focusing on helping local brick + mortars expand their online presence and foster a local community. We knew most of our target audience would be men in their 40s to 50s, so our logo needed to be fairly unisex while still reflecting our core values of creativity, imagination, discovery, growth, and fun.

My favorite logo concepts were:


We went with the top left, where I combined a bit of old fashioned sign painters with the textured monoline script I always see over pictures of nature and pine trees (if you don’t believe me, ask Pinterest!) to create:

While this wouldn’t be my go-to style if I was going to letter a quote for myself, it’s the perfect fit for Pine Creek Creative. I took details from letters that inspired the feeling I wanted and added them to my own design to capture that same feeling.

I that’s a whooole lotta information that just came your way, so here’s your strategic breakdown:

  • Hand lettering can make you feel a certain way or associate that design with a certain thing
  • Adding or altering details changes the overall feel of the letter/word
  • Look to outside sources of inspiration when you’re feeling stuck on deciding which details capture the feeling you want

It takes time, and it takes practice, but hopefully now it’s not as overwhelming or intimidating as it felt before.

Now tell me – what’s your favorite style of letter?! What kind totally intimidates you? Let me know in the comments below…