Different Kinds of Lettering


Lettering refers to both the different styles of letters used in written content and the actual act of creating those letters. Lettering by hand is an art form that has been transferred to the computer using fonts to replace the handwritten letters. There are numerous kinds of lettering. Learning to recognize the different types of lettering and how to apply them to your projects can help you deliver your message effectively.


Serif lettering styles are letters that have tails on them. Tails are decorative, often curved flourishes found at the end of a letter's descending stroke, which may rest on or below your baseline. The diagonal stroke on a Q or R would be likely spots for tails. If you examine a font on the computer or text in a book, you will notice that some letters have tails and some consist of straight lines. Popular serif fonts or letter styles include Times New Roman, Bodini and Baskerville. Serif fonts are usually easy on the eyes when reading and work well for body text.

Sans Serif

Sans Serif lettering is a style that has no tails on the letters. These letters are made of straight lines. Popular lettering styles or fonts that fall into this category include Courier, Gill Sans and Ariel. These fonts are used for their consistency in spacing, particularly in computer applications.

Gothic Styles

Gothic style lettering typically features very sharp edges, based on the styles of Gothic architecture. Gothic lettering is often used for headlines and titles, but it doesn't work well for body text. The sharp lines make it difficult to read when used as body text, primarily because the letters often run too close together. Gothic is a decorative lettering style and, as such, used less frequently for functionality.

Calligraphy Styles

Calligraphy style lettering is characterized by lines that alternately thin and thicken. The style is similar to Gothic, but with smoother edges and fewer points. Calligraphic lettering often takes on a ribbon-like effect and is used primarily for headlines.

Block Lettering

Block lettering is a plain, straightforward lettering style that is characterized by letters that are typically very large and written in all capitals. This is a headline style lettering that features straight lines and a blocky appearance.


Graffiti style lettering is characterized by fat, rounded characters or by sharp-edged characters. Graffiti lettering is often done with three-dimensional shading as well. Graffiti lettering can take on elements of Gothic or calligraphic lettering.


Within each of the lettering styles are sub-styles that can be applied to the main lettering types. Roundhand and cursive, for example, mimic classical penmanship where letters flow from one into the next. Italic puts a right-leaning slant on letters, while bold makes the strokes thicker. Old English is more decadent in its flourishes and design, while contemporary takes a simple, minimalist approach.