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Block letters make up a certain type of basic penmanship that is usually viewed as a beginning form of writing. These printed letters are simple in appearance and usually made without the ending tails known in typography as serifs. Young children often learn to write block letters during their first two years of elementary school, and mastery of these basic letters is often a prerequisite to learning cursive writing in the next grade levels. The term block letters is generally attributed to methods of typesetting that precede word processing fonts. Letters cut from blocks of wood are traditionally carved in the simplest shapes that depart from more intricate typography fonts.
The ability to form neat and correct printed letters is usually a skill to be learned before connecting the letters for cursive writing. Some young students find the transition more challenging than others, as cursive letters often have more round and flowing shapes than many block letters. Although printing by hand is taught in the schools of many countries, the school systems of some nations choose to skip this step and focus on teaching cursive writing starting in the beginning elementary grades.
Due to the prevalence of word processing, the relevance of printed and cursive penmanship is sometimes open to debate. Some people argue that learning this skill is less important that in the past, although others maintain that block letters have a definite purpose in specific areas such as typography. Without a working visual knowledge of basic block letter shapes, font designers would generally not be able to continue creating the wide variety of font choices that are available in modern word processing software programs.
The use of block letters can also be found in some fine art fundamentals. Beginning visual artists often practice drawing these types of letters with three-dimensional and shadow effects to hone their skills in accurate perspective drawing. Some may go on to create text for print or web-based graphic design projects. The ability to render visually pleasing block letters either by hand or with design software is often considered essential in this creative career field.
Printed letters can be found in some craft projects as well. Personalizing various items, such as backpacks or purses, with block letter stencils can usually be done quickly and in different colors or designs. A letter stencil is typically placed flat on top of the item's surface and then covered with a coat of fabric paint.