• Handwriting Versus Calligraphy: What’s the Difference?

    At first glance, the difference between handwriting and calligraphy may seem negligible. Upon further examination, though, you’ll find that the two are quite different!

    What's the Difference Between Handwriting and Calligraphy?

    I recently received an email from someone who was wondering about the difference between handwriting and pointed pen calligraphy. Specifically, they wondered if learning calligraphy would improve their everyday handwriting. In this article, I’ll talk about some of the key characteristics that separate handwriting from calligraphy. We’ll also examine the question of whether learning calligraphy improves a person’s penmanship in general.

    1. Necessary Tools

    You can create calligraphy with almost any writing utensil, including a regular pen, a pencil, or a marker. In general, however, people use specialized tools to write calligraphy, especially pointed pen calligraphy. These tools include a pen holder, nib, ink, and paper that won’t cause ink to bleed. In contrast, you can use any writing utensil and any type of paper to jot down an everyday note.

    Beginner's Modern Calligraphy Starter Kit
    You can find a list of the supplies needed to create pointed pen calligraphy here.

    In short, the artistry of most types of calligraphy requires tools that result in a specific effect. Yes, you can always write faux calligraphy with an everyday pen — but faux calligraphy’s results are limiting. Pointed pen calligraphy, with its specialized tools, offers unique qualities like fine upstrokes and the ability to blend colors seamlessly, which are hard to replicate with standard pens.

    The finished, folded envelope will end up being 6-1/4″ x 4-3/8″ (15-3/4 cm x 11-1/10 cm).
    This henna mail art envelope features color gradation and seamless stroke contrast. These two characteristics are nearly impossible to achieve using a regular pen and the faux calligraphy technique.

    2. Uniqueness

    Calligraphy, wonderful as it is, doesn’t appear in everyday life, so it stands out. Handwriting, on the other hand, is something that we learn to create in school. While it’s true that some people have handwriting that prompts a double take, handwriting is part of our everyday landscape. Calligraphy is something special, which is why so many couples spring for costly wedding envelope calligraphy and the White House employs a full-time calligrapher.

    Workshop Place Cards
    Pointed pen calligraphy (created using white ink) helps transform these place cards into works of art.

    When I have in-person workshops*, I always write the recipients’ names in flourished calligraphy on place cards. Everyone ends up taking their place card home because it’s such a treat to see your own name written in pointed pen calligraphy.

    I’m planning on teaching workshops in summer 2025! This summer, I’ll be busy finishing up writing a book.

    3. Intent and Purpose

    There’s a consistent goal behind calligraphy: create something eye-catching and beautiful. While legibility is important, calligraphy places an emphasis on aesthetics. We may want to strive for lovely handwriting, but the main goal of handwriting is communication. As you write everyday notes, you’re probably not paying rapt attention to x-height, centering your writing, or adding embellishments.

    You can make so many gorgeous projects with calligraphy.
    This calligraphy birthday card would look very different if written in everyday handwriting!

    Think about the last time you hand-wrote a note: you likely were focused on the actual content of what you were writing. Handwriting goes so quickly that we tend to think in words rather than individual letters. Calligraphy requires us to focus on individual letters and the strokes required to write them.

    4. Personality

    As I discovered when I tried to emulate my grandmother’s penmanship, handwriting is quite personal. I’m sure you have friends or family members whose writing you recognize immediately! Behind that handwriting, you can usually identify key personality traits. Though (modern) calligraphy grants considerable artistic freedom and there are some calligraphers with distinct styles, calligraphy is an art. Calligraphy doesn’t necessarily express the personality of the person who created it.

    Emulating My Grandmother's Beautiful Handwriting (Includes Free Worksheet)
    This recipe was written in a handwriting style that emulates that of my late grandmother. When writing it, I found that it was difficult to keep my own handwriting preferences from creeping in.

    Calligraphy is an art, and it usually reflects the intended vibe of a piece rather than the personality of the calligrapher. Compared to handwriting, it’s easier to create calligraphy in a consistent and specific style (even if the style doesn’t feel natural to you) because you have to focus so intently on writing individual strokes and letters.

    Many calligraphers write using Copperplate calligraphy. It’s a standard style, and the calligraphy above doesn’t reveal much about the calligrapher’s personality.

    5. Does Learning Calligraphy Improve Your Everyday Handwriting?

    Learning calligraphy can improve your everyday handwriting, but not directly or drastically. Calligraphy may cause you to be more conscientious of your penmanship. You also might find that you have better hand control and an awareness of neat letterforms. For the most part, however, calligraphy and everyday handwriting are apples and oranges. If you have a goal to improve your handwriting, it’s best to focus specifically on your handwriting.

    8 Tips to Improve Your Handwriting (Plus a Free Worksheet) | The Postman's Knock
    Practice and drills — like those found in this free worksheet — are your best bet if you want to improve your handwriting.

    While handwriting is generally more indicative of the writer’s personality than calligraphy, you can change how your handwriting looks with patience and practice. I have an intensive Elegant Cursive Handwriting Worksheet that helps you to write refined script with a vintage flair, which is nice for achieving a graceful effect with your notes.

    This delicately beautiful letter was written using a Pilot Falcon fountain pen and elegant cursive handwriting.
    Yes, you can improve your handwriting — but not through learning calligraphy. Try doing writing drills (there are plenty in the Improve Your Handwriting Online Course) or filling out a worksheet.

    6. Do People With Neat Handwriting Have an Advantage When Learning Calligraphy?

    Many people think that subpar handwriting will invariably result in bad calligraphy, but your handwriting doesn’t really impact calligraphy skills. While it’s true that people with nice handwriting might approach a dip pen with more patience, calligraphy requires a different skillset than handwriting does. In calligraphy, you hold your pen a different way, learn new letterforms, and write at a slow and consistent pace. Many of us might try in vain to alter our everyday handwriting because old habits die hard. That doesn’t mean that you won’t experience considerable success in your calligraphy endeavors!

    My Handwriting | The Postman's Knock
    Sometimes, my handwriting looks like this. The truth is that your handwriting skills have little bearing on your calligraphy skills. Handwriting is an everyday essential (though you can make it special at times, if you want to), while calligraphy is always an art.

    In short: don’t let a narrative that you’ve told yourself about having crummy penmanship stop you from trying pointed pen calligraphy. Think of your calligraphy and your everyday handwriting as distant cousins. They have letters and the general goal of legibility in common, but that’s about it.

    Quick Butterfly-Themed Calligraphy Mother's Day Card Tutorial
    These Mother’s Day cards feature flourished calligraphy that looks nothing like my handwriting.

    How to Use a Crowquill Nib
    A crowquill nib can turn writing out everyday notes into a fun — and pretty — treat. (Write with iron gall ink for best results!)

    I hope that after reading this article, you have a clear understanding about the difference between handwriting and calligraphy. The key takeaway is this: if you have a mind to learn calligraphy, you can do it. If you want to improve your handwriting, that’s certainly within your reach, too. However, your neat handwriting won’t translate into neat calligraphy and vice versa. They’re two different and delightful areas to focus on. 😊

    Thank you for reading, and happy writing!