Welcome to my FAVORITE topic when it comes to hand-lettering: lettering styles!
There are an infinite number of ways you can draw letters, all contributing to a different final style. You can add details to the shape of letters, warp them, stretch them, add embellishments and patterns and shadows… the possibilities are truly endless.
Ultimately though, as much fun as it is to experiment with all of these different styles and the limitless boundaries of letters, I think the goal over time for any artist should be to develop his or her own personal unique style.
But before you can hone that individual style, it helps to have an understanding of how you can draw letters to emit a particular style, time period or emotion.
Basic lettering Styles:
Classifications of Type
First up, let’s talk about different “classifications of type” or defining characteristics of letters that place them into different categories.
While these terms are traditionally used to describe typography and fonts, the same terms hold true when applying a certain class of type to your lettering pieces. These three basic categories are an easy place to start when applying style to a word or letter.
Letters as we traditionally think about them aren't really that interesting. I mean, we've seen an alphabet a hundred times, right?...
BUT, what happens when that alphabet gets warped and it changes proportion! Or when it becomes all curvy and decorative?!
....Well that's suddenly A LOT more fun, isn't it?!
The big takeaway here is: details make the impact when you're drawing letters.
The curve of your s, the proportions of your counters (remember from our first lesson, those are the holes in your letters!), the alignment of your baseline (the bottoms of your letter), a little flair at the end of each stroke... every detail gives off a feeling or an association that the person looking at your lettering piece will experience, just like the details of a painting make someone experience a certain emotion. That's what makes exploring those details and styles so fun!
Since there are SO many ways to stylize your letters, I like to break these details down into a few categories, which you can use as a mental checklist of sorts when you're drawing your own lettering sketch and aiming to add style to your letters.
Ways to Alter The Style Of Your Individual Letters:
- The form (Shape of the letter frame itself. Are you using capital forms or lowercase? Are you making your lowercase a with a straight stem or a shoulder?)
- The strokes (The marks you make to build the form. Are they thick or thin? Do they have details inside the strokes?)
- The serifs (The details that cap the end of your strokes. Are there serifs at all or are they "sans-serif" or without serifs? If you do have serifs, are they curved or angular?)
- The embellishments (Additional decorative elements that add details to your letters. Do you have shadows or highlights or dots or patterns within your letters?
Ways to Alter The Style Of Your Letters Within A Word:
- Proportion (The size of the shapes and visual areas within your letters. You can have consistent proportions or very inconsistent proportions for a different style like the BIG counter in the R and the baby counter in the d to the right.)
- Spacing (You can change the "kerning" aka the space between two individual letters OR alter the "tracking" aka the uniform space across all your letters within a word. This could make your word appear more casual or more sophisticated.)
- Alignment (You can keep the edges of your letters aligned to make a more traditional style OR you can vary your alignment to make a more playful and relaxed feeling.)
- Shape (You can mold the letters of your word within a containing shape, like a circle or a diamond.)
Putting It All Together
How do all those tiny details add up to a bigger impact?
Well, here's a look at a couple of different "style" prompts that I offer up inside the Better Lettering Course. In these examples, you can really see how the tiniest details have the power to evoke a different era or emotion or interpretation..
- For an art deco look, I kept my letterforms and my alignment pretty uniform, but I added a thickened stroke detail with an inline highlight.
- For a rustic, almost western style, I made the shape of my letters tall and rectangular with rounded corners and flared serifs.
- For a retro style, I created a script with curved and tapered terminals (end of strokes) like a retro hand-painted sign.
- To create a modern style, I drew simple, proportional sans serif letters that are very round and aligned.
- For a more romantic style, I drew a more embellished, fluid script with ball terminals and a diagonal flow.
- And finally, to make my lettering style feel industrial, I created rectangular, thick letters with slight serifs, shadows and inline circles to allude to big industrial signage.
I know that's a TON of details I listed out, maybe even some that you don't understand yet, but don't be overwhelmed! The most important thing to gain from all this when you're first starting out is simply to pay attention to the details and to realize how many various alterations you can explore and experiment with.
Getting acquainted with different lettering styles will come with time, study and practice!