Why Get Lettering For My Logo When I Could Use a Font?

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Why Get Lettering For My Logo When I Could Use a Font?

People often ask me what is lettering, and how it differs from calligraphy or typography, but what most people who don't do or understand lettering wonder is, what's the point of it. The conversation almost always reaches the same point: why draw custom type when there are so many fonts you could choose from?

Fonts start by lettering. Every time someone makes a typeface, it has to be drawn (manually, digitally, whatever). The difference between the two is how it's used: you use a font to compose any word you want with the exact same characters, you make a unique lettering piece for one specific word or sentence. And this right here makes all the difference.

"I get lettering for cursive, creative ligature, intricate compositions, all that, but I don't get it when it comes to serif/sans-serif."

Serif/sans-serif lettering is difficult to grasp for non-designers because they don't see all the little details and differences. They usually see it as a whole. The reality is that there are as many possible variations in serif/sans-serif as in cursive. The Facebook logo doesn't look like the Airbnb logo, yet they're both lowercase sans-serif. The Harper's Bazaar logo is different from Grazia logo, yet they're both capital slab, and in the same industry.

The Facebook logo vs. the Airbnb logo
The Facebook logo vs. the Airbnb logo
The Harper's Bazaar logo vs. the Grazia logo
The Harper's Bazaar logo vs. the Grazia logo

"Come on, people don't see the difference."

That's what you think, and not only is it untrue, but it's also irrelevant. Branding is not about what you see, it's about what you feel.

You experience the world at many different levels, what your senses catch is only a fraction of it. The way you experience a brand identity doesn't work any differently; it doesn't matter that you "see" the difference, because your subconscious catches a whole other level of detail that, with time, makes this image either a unique memory or a random piece of generic junk.

When you look at the Facebook logo, unless you're a type fanatic, you don't think how cute it is that the terminal of the "A" follows the crossbar of the "F", or how the whole piece is a lot more angular than most lowercase sans-serif logos. You see it as a whole and experience emotions triggered by those subtle details (friendliness, etc.)

"There are so many fonts, isn't it quicker and cheaper to just pick one?"

Yes it's cheaper and quicker, but is it the point? We're talking about a logo here, it's the most important piece of your branding assets. Can you afford to be generic? Do you want to be just another brand that uses the same font as everyone else for his branding?

There may be many fonts but most of the time, we see the exact same everywhere (because they're free/easily accessible, well-known, tried and true, etc.) Very few designers really experiment with exotic fonts. For example, there's a shitload of logos you know and see everyday that use Helvetica.

Logos that use Helvetica
Logos that use Helvetica

Now, I'm not at all saying that these logos aren't instantly recognizable. But let's be honest, the reason why you know most of these companies is because they can spend millions in advertising, and you've probably been bombarded with their logos your whole life.

There's one, major difference between typefaces and custom lettering: typefaces are separate letters, put together, to form words. Whatever the word you type, each letter will always be the same. When it comes to lettering, every letter you draw is influenced by the letters around it. Not only the ligatures, but the shape, the slant, every letter adapts to the other letters to create a whole. It's exactly what happens when you write something by hand, and that's why lettering pieces look a lot more cohesive than those made with a typeface.

Let's compare those two "Rio de Janeiro" brush pen pieces: on the left, the font "Gloss and Bloom" by Stereotype; on the right, a custom lettering "Rio de Janeiro" piece by David Milan.

"Rio de Janeiro" with the "Gloss and Bloom" font by Stereotype vs. "Rio de Janeiro" by David Milan
"Rio de Janeiro" with the "Gloss and Bloom" font by Stereotype vs. "Rio de Janeiro" by David Milan

Now you may be thinking, "well, this font still looks really good" and you'd be right: that's actually based off Sean Delloro's custom lettering ; it comes with alternate glyphs and contextual ligatures to make it as close as possible to real lettering. Yet, even with all these, it cannot compare to David Milan's work: his lettering is unique because he was purposefully drawing these words. The "IO" ligature, the way the "J" uses the space, the continuity between the "I" and the "R"; the letters fit perfectly together because they were meant to be. If we were to break them down into separate letters to create a font, a form new words, they would look a lot less good than in this specific piece.

Now I'll give that to you, lettering isn't for every brand. Not all companies need custom type logos. It is however a perfect fit for brands that want to be perceived either as unique, authentic, creative, or close to people, because a custom type logo will be tailored exactly to your business. At the end of the day, the difference between a logo made with a font and a custom type logo is the same between a ready-to-wear and a tailor-made suit: the former can be of great quality, but it can never top the fact that the latter is made exclusively for you.

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