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Updated on May 4, 2011

Lettering is the graphic art of forming letters by hand for use on posters, signs, advertisements, and other written materials. In its commercial application , lettering is generally simple and extremely easy to read, unlike calligraphy, which is ornate and decorative.

Lettering styles vary according to the nature and purpose of inscribed matter. Block, or sans serif, letters, which have a uniform thickness, and italic letters, which are slanted, are ordinarily used on posters and signs. Script, which resembles handwriting, is often used on invitations and other social announcements. The most common type of lettering in newspapers, magazines, and printed documents is the roman style.

For special effects, a style of lettering known as black letter, or Old English, can be used.

Lettering may be done in capitals, in lowercase letters, or in combination of both. In general, a simple sign or poster is lettered in bold capitals. In more complicated or lengthily worded material, however, lowercase letters are generally used and key terms are emphasized by the use of boldface, capital, or italic letters, either singly or in combinations.

In preparing a sign or poster, the first step is to determine the style, size, and spacing of the letters. To maintain uniformity in the height of letters, horizontal guidelines are drawn lightly across the lettering surface with a pencil and ruler. Four guidelines are generally used for lowercase letters and two for capitals. Vertical lines may also be added to ensure straightness.

After the guidelines are drawn, the letters are sketched in with pencil. Straight-edge letters, such as H, N, I, and T, are placed farther apart than are wide or round letters, such as W, M, O, and D. As a result the spaces between letters have a balanced appearance. The letters may then be painted in with a brush or inked in with a special pen. For producing strokes of an even thickness, a pen with a round point is most suitable. To obtain letters with strokes of varying widths, it is best to use an edged pen. Contrasts in the thickness of strokes can be achieved by slanting the edge of the pen or by varying the pressure applied to it. Lettering done by hand can be duplicated through various printing and photographic processes.


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