With so many different lettering types, it might be difficult to decide which type of calligraphy you want to work on–or even to know which type is which.

We want to show you the difference between two contrasting styles: Traditional and Modern Calligraphy.

If you’re new to traditional calligraphy, we recommend learning more about the art and history of calligraphy. You can also find out the difference between cursive and calligraphy as well as what calligraphy actually is. There’s so much more to it than pretty writing!

But as you can see, traditional calligraphy is much more “old fashioned” looking compared to modern calligraphy. What are the differences, really?

Once you start to look at the details, you can compare the characteristics of these styles.

Elegant and sophisticatedFun and whimsical
Rules that must be followedYou can break the rules (with intention!)
Script is more slantedSlant is more upright
Basic letterforms, such as a traditional 'r'Modern letterforms, such as a loopy 'r'
Lots of history involvedMore current and more popular
Consistent lines, angles, and spacing throughoutProportions can change to suit the artist’s style
Neutral color paletteBrighter colors
Typically associated with pointed penTypically associated with brush pens or digital mediums


Learning the Rules of Traditional Calligraphy

We think it’s important to learn the rules of traditional calligraphy before giving modern calligraphy a try. Without a strong foundation of calligraphy letterforms, it’s more difficult to understand how to make adjustments to suit your own style. You have to learn the rules before you can break them, right?

Traditional calligraphy comes in a variety of hands, such as Copperplate and Spencerian. Each specific hand has its own set of rules, so it’s helpful to know which one you want to learn before getting started. The vast majority of our students get started with a Copperplate hand, and that’s the one we recommend starting with.

In addition to rules, you’ll want to learn some of the key vocabulary so when you take tutorials you know what to look for. Some of the vocabulary you’ll want to learn includes:

Ascender lineDescender line
DownstrokeEntrance stroke
Underturn strokeOverturn stroke
Compound curveAscending loop
Descending loopOval

Learn more about these vocabulary terms starting at about the 2-minute mark here:

Where Modern Calligraphy Comes In

While traditional calligraphy is very consistent from project to project, modern calligraphy allows you to have some fun! You can adjust your lettering to fit the project, so you can make invitations to a Halloween party a bit edgy and spooky, while baby shower place cards might be more bubbly and fun.

Modern calligraphy is more casual, with many different looks that you can research and emulate. And if you mess up? Well, since you’re breaking the rules anyway, no one will even know!

When you’re ready, there are a lot of different ways you can make modern calligraphy your own. Just a few ideas include:

  • Play around with the baseline, even making it slanted, curved or bouncing
  • Use different ascender and descender line heights in the same word or project
  • Vary the t-crossings and flourishes
  • Use upright letters or slanting letters instead of an exact predetermined angle
  • Experiment with different letter spacing such as expanded or condensed
  • Use a variety of large and small letters within the same project or word
  • Explore the hashtag #moderncalligraphy on Instagram for even more inspiration

When you get proficient in traditional calligraphy and learn its rules, you can have a lot of fun with your projects by breaking all the rules and really putting your own personality and style into your craft.

We’d love to help you get started!

Our free faux calligraphy course will teach you the fundamentals of traditional calligraphy, but using ANY tool you already have, such as a pen or pencil. Get started now.