21 Jun

Visual Lettering

By Madhukar Khare

Hello guys! Let me request you to pause for just 10 seconds and look around you and observe your surroundings no matter wherever you’re sitting or standing. Well, of course, you may see a lot of things but what I want you to see are the things you can read. If you pay attention, you'll notice that they all radiate a specific vibe, or you had the urge to read a specific line before the others despite its placement on the page/hoarding/screen/board. All of that is the result of a specific arrangement and style of letters and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So, grab a cup of coffee or a drink or a snack or … well whatever you like to grab no judgement) and just tag along.

A famous person (her name will be there somewhere in this article) had once said "To understand something, you shall start with its roots." So, let's talk about a little history of visual lettering. It's as old as ideograms and hieroglyphic images. Even today, some of its terminology and a few of its styles go back to techniques of lapidary inscription that were popular in the Roman era. The art of visual lettering finds its modern roots to the era of printing. This is when the true carving of letters into a standardized form of letters which you know now as fonts were crafted. So yeah, the history of visual lettering is older than Morgan Freeman.

Now since we’re living in the era of computers, when we talk about visual lettering, the terms that are used to define its different aspects are Calligraphy, Hand lettering (my personal favorite), Typography, Typeface and Font. Calligraphy and hand lettering are vast topics by themselves. So that's for later. We'll focus on the remaining three for now.

Most people get confused between typography, typeface and font, and some even consider them to be the same thing, which is not correct.

Typeface: Typeface is a specific style or design of type. It's a set of character styles under particular category imparting it a distinguished look and feel.

Font: Whereas font is a specific size or weight style of a typeface.

Okay, let's understand it like this. "Helvetica" is a typeface, "Helvetica Neue" or "Helvetica Bold" is a font. Typeface is like the name of a family and the fonts are family members. Let's talk more local, your neighbor "Sharmas" is a typeface and "Mr. Sharma, Mrs. Sharma, Daughter Sharma, Son Sharma" are fonts. Now you get it, right?

At last there's Typography: Typography is a process of creating the characters, the glyphs for a typeface. At least that’s easy to understand, wasn't it?

Now, every typeface is designed for a specific purpose, to convey a particular feel. So, to understand them, they are categorized as follows:

  • Serif
  • Sans Serif
  • Formal Script
  • Display Fonts

A brief explanation of these:
Serif Fonts: These are the fonts with a foot or extra lines attached to the main stroke. These are the oldest folks in the history of typeface (as far back as the 14th century). It can further be classified as the following:

  • Old Style Serifs
  • Transitional Serifs (your dad's favorite)
  • Neoclassical & Didone
  • Slab Serifs
  • Clarendon Serifs
  • Glyphic serifs

Sans Serif: These are the fonts without a foot or a line attached to the main stroke. These are more modern in appearance. (Well, if you consider 18th century as modern).


  • Grotesque (because ugly matters too)
  • Neo-Grotesque
  • Humanist
  • Geometric (the sexy ones)

Script: Script fonts are based on the concept of cursive handwriting. One character is attached to the one that follows with the help of a tail like a toot-toot train, LMAO ……No? Fine! (17-18th Century)


  • Formal
  • Casual (or as I like to call them "Flower girl font")

Fun Fact: If you write a curse word in light formal script font, it feels savage.
No? Okay fine! Screw you………Moving on!

Display Fonts: These are what I could never be in a party, spotlight stealers. These fonts have the widest variety and often used as the headlines of articles or the main text of a creative or whatever.

If we look at this more technically, many factors affect the look and feel of a typeface. Like:

  • Weights (Light, Regular, Medium, Bold, Extra Bold, Black etc.)
  • Styles (Bold, Italic or Oblique)
  • Kerning (Spacing between characters)
  • Leading (Spacing between lines)


You might be thinking, what’s the point of all this? Why so many fonts? Why not just go with like 10 fonts? If you’re not thinking about these questions I'm going to explain anyway because that's my job and there is the history lady's name to be revealed so just stick around.

So, the purpose of having different typefaces is because every typeface radiates different feel and emotion. Serif has more of a formal mood whereas cursive has a classier and a more royal look. Sans Serif are more modern whereas Display fonts are, you know, big guys. Darn it! Spotlight stealers!! Allow me to explain with an example:

Who you gonna have to plan your wedding

Choose the font for your application wisely

Well thank you for making it to the end. BTW, the history quote lady was actually my school teacher. She wasn't really famous. But she really wanted to be famous though. Maybe she still does, only if she’s alive. I don't know.

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