The DIY Origins Of Script Typefaces

A new book from Laurence King delves deep into the rich typographic history of script fonts.

Script fonts may have a reputation for being the curlicue go-to for wedding invitations and inspirational aphorisms, but their use is actually much more varied. Think of the dramatic flourishes of 1970s ads or the lettering on vintage car bumpers and neon signs, where one letter always connects to the next. Script fonts and their likeness have lent a sense of personality and authenticity to countless book covers, posters, and advertisements, across many different decades and styles.


The new book Script Fonts by Geum-Hee Hong delves into this rich typographic history, which stretches back to long before the advent of printing. Ultimately, of course, all script fonts are based on handwriting (a fact that’s echoed in the recent trend of digitizing the handwriting of everyone from Albert Einstein to Sigmund Freud to use as fonts). But different styles of script have emerged out of a variety of places and time periods, from 18th-century English copperplate engravings to the ornate swash characters of Chinese calligraphy.

The evolution of scripts over the years can be attributed largely to different writing utensils and the techniques they inspired. The flexible pointed nib used in English calligraphy, for example, produced an elegant lettering that could easily be engraved onto copper plates, which made it a favorite among the 18th-century British aristocracy. The ornate flourishes made a comeback in lush ’70s advertisements, and is commonly used today to give off a retro vibe or one of distinguished elegance. Brush scripts have their origins in Asia, where calligraphy was executed with a brush instead of a pen. The brush gives it a DIY characteristic–the imperfections make it look like it’s made by hand–which is perhaps why it has resurfaced in so many digital fonts today. Grafitti-esque digital fonts, for example, often take existing fonts and give them a distressed look with the use of filters. Others add swashes to resemble Arabic or Chinese.

If the style of script was once determined by the limitations of material and writing instrument, now digital tools give designers the ability to experiment with swashes, filters, and flourishes all they want. “There are virtually no limits to the imagination, since neither readability nor overall harmony within the font are a factor,” Geum-Hee writes in the book. “Such decorative typefaces often serve for single headlines or logos. Dozens of them are produced every day, and are circulated via font platforms for enthusiasts to use and enjoy.”

For 12 examples of awesome script fonts (and their origin stories) click through the slide show above.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.