Humans have been writing for over 5,000 years. From cuneiform and hieroglyphics to medieval manuscripts, our race has a long and storied love affair with the written word. But it wasn’t until 1440 AD that Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and in turn, the first font. We’ve come a long way since the Renaissance, but written communication isn’t done evolving. In fact, one revolutionary form of writing is changing the way millions connect—digital handwriting. But what is digital handwriting and why is it unique?
What’s the difference between digital handwriting and fonts?
So what exactly is digital handwriting? When most people hear the term “digital handwriting” they picture cursive fonts. It’s easy to understand why. Open Microsoft Word or Google Drive and you’ll discover a wide variety of font styles. These options aren’t just available in writing programs. Editing apps like Canva make creating things like amateur web banners and social media graphics easy. As more people design and share graphics and documents, we’re exposed to more unique fonts on a daily basis.
Calling these writing styles “fonts” isn’t entirely accurate. Technically, Times Roman is a typeface. Times Roman Bold Size 12 is a font. What’s the difference? A typeface refers to a family of fonts where the shape of each specific character is determined. A font also specifies other features like size, spacing, and even color.
Remember the printing press? Discerning between the terms font and typeface was incredibly important in the past, when thousands of metal blocks were required to produce ink printing. Today, even design experts largely agree that the terms are interchangeable.
American type designer Tobias Frere-Jones explains: "For most people in most situations, those terms can swap around without any trouble. The distinction would matter in type design, obviously, but also contexts which involve engineering, like app development or web design."
So if you use the term “font” when you really mean “typeface” don’t worry—the experts say it’s okay.
Does that mean typeface, font, and digital handwriting are the same thing?
If typography experts are using the terms typeface and font interchangeably, does this mean digital handwriting is the same thing too? No—digital handwriting is different from fonts and typefaces. Here’s what makes digital handwriting unique:
Glyphs are the key. What exactly is a glyph? While the term “character” represents a specific meaning in a language, glyphs differ by appearance. For example, each letter of the English alphabet represents a single character, but each of those characters can be written in almost endless ways. There’s no limit to the number of glyphs that can be created to represent a single character.
Typically, a font will assign two separate glyphs for each letter—one uppercase and one lowercase. No matter how many times these letters appear in a document, they’ll always look exactly the same. With digital handwriting though, a letter (and punctuation symbol and character) will appear as multiple different glyphs. Their style is similar enough to create the impression that they were written by the same hand, but slight variations give them a human feel.
Simply Written doesn’t create digital handwriting by randomly selecting glyphs, though. The Simply Written system analyzes surrounding characters and context to select each glyph. Some styles even join characters to create ligatures. These special characters add an extra dimension to Simply Written text to create a “human-like” writing result.
Digital Handwriting: A Scalable Solution
Today, marketers struggle more than ever to rise above the din of spammy ads and junk mail. To create a personal connection to consumers and build brand loyalty, many are turning to digital handwriting. Simply Written’s handwriting library offers more than 200 unique styles to match your needs.
Choosing a style that reflects a brand’s personality (or even mimics the handwriting of a brand’s founder, director or CEO) has never been easier.
Digital handwriting is also scalable. Imagine being able to send digitally handwritten thank you notes to all your best customers or prospects in a couple of minutes instead of spending days writing them by hand or settling for a font. Large-scale loyalty or sales conversion projects that would cost endless hours of manual labor are a breeze with the help of digital handwriting. So while direct mail pieces and other print projects may be produced in groups of hundreds or thousands, each looks as if it were penned by hand. Pieces produced with fonts look like every other printed document, but Simply Written projects have the personality to stand out!
Typography for Beginners: Bonus Glossary
Learning about digital handwriting is a lot like taking a crash course in typography. Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz, but understanding the world of text and type begins with remembering these basics:
While many aren’t familiar with the term, most of us learned to use baselines as we practiced handwriting as children. These are the imaginary lines on which characters rest.
A single number, letter, or punctuation mark is called a character. A character is defined by its meaning and function in a language. A character can be expressed in many different styles.
A font is a typeface with each of its design options clearly defined. These include style, weight, condensation, width, slant, italicization, ornamentation, and size.
A glyph is a specific design for a single character. Digital handwriting uses multiple glyphs for each character to more accurately reflect penmanship that’s produced by hand.
Ligatures combine two separate characters into one. Like handwriting, digital handwriting often includes occasional ligatures.
The “buffer zone” between characters is referred to as spacing.
Also referred to as a “font family,” a typeface is a complete set of numbers, letters, and other characters with the same general style. A typeface has a defined shape for each character, but can vary in size and weight. For example: this text and this text are both members of the same typeface.
Weight defines the thickness of the strokes in a typeface. Weight can also refer to font styles like italic, bold, condensed and more.
Understanding the concept of digital handwriting is one thing, but truly experiencing it is another. Luckily, you can begin by designing your own Simply Written note today! See how fast and easy it is to connect with clients and consumers on a personal level.