Letter Spacing

I’m working on the behind-the-scenes systems to set up the Membership Sites and the processing systems. That’s a rather major learning curve for me, so it might take me a week or two more to get this all put together.

In the meantime, I thought this week I would share a section that is included in the Free Intro Membership as a sample section from the Calligraphy Basics Membership.

Getting your letter spacing right goes a long way to making your calligraphy look beautiful. So here’s how to go about getting it right.


Letter Spacing

Spacing is a huge part of what makes a piece of calligraphy successful. And yet it is sometimes missed because in a way it is an invisible element in the piece.

Positive & Negative Space

In art there are two terms used which will help us here. One is called positive space and one is called negative space.

Positive space is usually what we refer to as the letter itself – the thing that we can see.

Negative space on the other hand is the space inside of, or surrounding the letter/positive space.

Positive & Negative SpacesSo for example here we have a letter “o”. The wide black lines create the positive space or shape of the letter. But there is also another space inside the letter. And there is the space surrounding the letter. These spaces are referred to as negative spaces.

There are times when those negative spaces will be more important to watch and get right – by doing them right you will actually do better at getting the positive shapes right. You’ll see and hear examples of that in the Basic Italic video lessons.

Spacing Between Letters

How you space your letters may well make or break your piece. So how do you make sure that you are doing it right?

Each alphabet and each style of that alphabet can have a different spacing. Blackletter for example doesn’t have a lot of space between letters, or within the letters themselves – that’s part of what creates the “black” or dark appearance of that alphabet.

Italic on the other hand is a more open alphabet and needs more space.

But here’s a general way to think about this matter of spacing. Think of the space between the letters as a shape of its own. Actually, this is the negative space we were talking about earlier. Just as each letter has a volume or weight of its own, so does the negative space between letters.

So let’s use some lower case italic letters to show what we mean.

Spacing Between Letters

Here we have the word minimum where all the letters are basically upright strokes. If we were to cover over the tops and bottoms of the letters, we’d have something like this:

Spacing Between Letters
Spacing Between Letters
Spacing Between Letters

See how evenly the vertical strokes are spaced apart.

Spacing Between Letters

Here the spacing is easily figured out. Just imagine the space between the letters having a rectangular shape – in pink. All the pink spaces are the same shape and volume. Here the letters themselves have widths (in yellow) the same as the letter spacing widths.

But what about letters with other shapes? Like this:

Spacing Between Letters

Well, just imagine that pink space having flexible edges so that you could squeeze or stretch the sides anyway you wanted – only the volume of the space would have to stay the same. Then you’d end up with something like this:

Spacing Between Letters

It’s the kind of thing that comes with practice – but if you can keep it in your mind that there is volume to the space between the letters and that the volume should be approximately equal, then you’ll start to get the hang of it.

12 thoughts on “Letter Spacing”

    1. Sorry about that. I’m not sure what the issue is there. I’m just in the process of updating the free stuff so by this weekend or next I should have that done and you’ll be getting the New free stuff. Thanks.

    1. Sorry about that. I’m not sure what the issue is there. I’m just in the process of updating the free stuff so by this weekend or next I should have that done and you’ll be getting the New free stuff. Thanks.

  1. This is an interesting subject–the negative space between the letters. I have always just taken the fact for granted. But I see that you are very precise in your layout.

    I am wondering if you are just “eyeballing” your letters and just know intuitively where to place one letter in relation to the next, or if in this case of the lesson, you are deliberately “gauging” the negative space between the letters?

    Thank you for your lovely and informative website. It is nice to have a “place to go” when I need inspiration—which is right about now. The project I am working on is frustrating me.
    Cheers, Debi

    1. I think when I first began I had to spend time gauging the spacing, but at this point it is much more intuitive. If I am working on a special or commissioned piece, I will often design and write out the whole piece and then cut and paste until I have everything exactly where I want it. Then I will lay my cut-and-paste copy on my light table and use that as my guide for the good piece. Or, if the surface I am writing on is too thick to see through, I will use a piece of graphite or transfer paper to lightly transfer the design to the surface and then do the calligraphy.
      Good luck with your project!

  2. This is an interesting subject–the negative space between the letters. I have always just taken the fact for granted. But I see that you are very precise in your layout.

    I am wondering if you are just “eyeballing” your letters and just know intuitively where to place one letter in relation to the next, or if in this case of the lesson, you are deliberately “gauging” the negative space between the letters?

    Thank you for your lovely and informative website. It is nice to have a “place to go” when I need inspiration—which is right about now. The project I am working on is frustrating me.
    Cheers, Debi

    1. I think when I first began I had to spend time gauging the spacing, but at this point it is much more intuitive. If I am working on a special or commissioned piece, I will often design and write out the whole piece and then cut and paste until I have everything exactly where I want it. Then I will lay my cut-and-paste copy on my light table and use that as my guide for the good piece. Or, if the surface I am writing on is too thick to see through, I will use a piece of graphite or transfer paper to lightly transfer the design to the surface and then do the calligraphy.
      Good luck with your project!

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