This blog is powered by the leading online school of visual arts.

Select Page

Print Picks: The ABC of Custom Lettering

by Taylor Slattery | September 27, 2022

The art of lettering, knowledge traditionally passed down through apprenticeships under sign painters, is equal parts beautiful and intimidating. As technology has made it easier than ever to create custom signage using a printer or vinyl plotter, the number of shops looking for the specific skill set and aesthetic sign painters have to offer has decreased. Sadly, so have the number of working sign painters as a result. Those who may have once entered into an apprenticeship under a master painter have instead enrolled in a graphic design program, leaving many businesses without a member of the next generation to carry on the torch.

The art of sign painting and lettering is undoubtedly disappearing, but thankfully, there is a growing number of loyal devotees making efforts to keep the art form alive. The ABC of Custom Lettering, by the Barcelona-based ex-graphic designer turned calligraphy and lettering artist, Ivan Castro, is a complete guide to the dying art of lettering.

While audiences outside of Spain, except for the most die-hard of type fans, may not be familiar with Castro, you might know Ken Barber, of House Industries fame. When the foreword is written by the typeface design director at House Industries, you know you’re in for a treat.

The book begins with an introduction defining the terms calligraphy and lettering, explaining how the two relate and where they diverge. After a brief overview of the anatomy of type and the tools of the trade, the rest of the book is divided into two main sections, with the first dedicated to calligraphy and the second to lettering.

While the book is meant to be worked through in sequence, serving as a practical guide for self-study, each section also functions as a standalone reference for those looking for more targeted information. The reason for this order is that the information contained in the calligraphy portion provides the why, while the lettering provides the how. In a sense, at least.

Both are similarly structured and outline the full working process of constructing each respective style, but the calligraphy portion offers historical insights into how preferences and standards for type forms and legibility developed over time. These standards in turn inform decisions made in lettering, hence the order.

This inclusion is especially helpful for those approaching either calligraphy or lettering for the first time, as it helps to connect dots for those self-teaching that might not have been immediately obvious. The ABC of Custom Lettering is a great tool for self-study as it provides you with not only the practical how-to of creating custom lettering, but the foundational theory to guide your journey and understand why certain decisions are made within the broad world of type. It’s a great book for any graphic designer, beginners and experts alike, who are looking to add another tool to their tool belt or develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for lettering.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


This blog is powered by Sessions College, the leading online school of visual arts.

NoD Newsletter

Enhance your inbox with our weekly newsletter.