Discovering Kilian Capitals: Hermann Kilian's Unique Lettering Style

Mar 28, 2024

Hermann Kilian, a notable German calligrapher, type designer, and book designer, was known for his captivating graphic artistry. His work exuded a remarkable simplicity, yet it carried a distinct tension and character. 

Unraveling Kilian Caps:

Kilian's capitals isn't just a lettering style; it's a balance between calligraphy and graphic design. Developed by Hermann Kilian himself, this unique style is characterized by its interlocking letters, unique line weight distribution, and distinctly quirky forms. Kilian's method of knitting or weaving letters allows us to create compositions that are as visually interesting as they are meaningful. To understand Kilian Caps is to delve into the essence of Kilian's artistry—a blend of tradition, innovation, and boundless creativity.

Above and cover image: by Hermann Kilian using a ruling pen


Discovering Kilian's Style:

Through careful observation and practice, one can begin to unravel the nuances of Hermann Kilian's artistry—the subtle curves, the distinct placement of weight, the perfect balance of form and space. It is a journey of discovery, filled with moments of insight and inspiration, as one examines his works and constantly notices more interesting details.

I was initially drawn to these letters during an IAMPETH* demo lesson by Sabine Tack, a talented German Calligrapher who has become a dear friend. Sabine stumbled upon Kilian's woven capitals style, but faced challenges in researching him due to limited online resources. Undeterred, she meticulously studied the few available pieces of his work, uncovering a wealth of insights and inspiration in just those four samples.

Embracing A Different Tool:

As Sabine delved deeper into mastering Hermann Kilian's revered style, she encountered a surprising revelation taught by Josie Brown: she could use a pointed pen, her preferred calligraphy tool, to unlock a new dimension of creativity inspired by Kilian's letterforms and design elements. While Kilian's mastery with the ruling pen was undeniable, Sabine was elated by Josie's creative adaptation. Her affinity for the delicate strokes of the pointed pen offered her a unique perspective! With the pointed pen combined with Kilian's inspirational samples, Sabine discovered a finesse that resonated deeply with her artistic sensibilities. Embracing this newfound approach, Sabine seamlessly merged tradition with innovation, breathing fresh life into Kilian's timeless style with her own distinctive flair.

Above: by Sabine using a pointed nib


Sabine Inspires Exploration:

Drawn by Josie and Sabine's inventive interpretation of Hermann Kilian's style, I was intrigued by the notion of exploring various artistic tools on my own. Once I grasped (enough to play) the letterforms under Sabine's guidance, I was excited to simply experiment. I dove into the process, crafting four short pieces using a pointed pen with gouache, a glass dip pen with fountain pen ink, watercolor pencils, and a ruling pen with gouache. Each design was done first in pencil and then transferred to an exploration of textures and effects on watercolor paper or handmade paper. While my journey into this unique style has only just begun, the allure is undeniably infectious.

Above: by Kestrel Montes using a glass dip pen


Expanding Access to Kilian:

Intrigued by the difficulty Sabine had in finding samples of Kilian's own work to study, I made it a bit of a personal mission to unbury more samples.  Tell me something can't be done, and I'm on fire! After a visit to the San Francisco Library, the Letterform Archive, and browsing piles of my own calligraphy books and guild publications, I pieced together multiple works that will offer us countless more hours of insight and discovery. 

Dive into Kilian's Creativity:

Embark on a journey into the art of calligraphy with the Hermann Kilian Retro Caps course at, instructed by calligrapher Sabine Tack. This class introduces participants of all skill levels to Hermann Kilian's unique script. No mater your tool of choice, join us in exploring the art of Hermann Kilian Retro Cap under Sabine Tack's guidance.

See More of Kilian's Works:

And please enjoy this collection of Hermann Kilian's works I was able to gather. A special thanks to the San Francisco Library, the Letterform Archive, the Friends of Calligraphy guild.  


*IAMPETH, International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting


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