Exploring Different Calligraphy Styles

Calligraphy is the art of beautiful handwriting. The word calligraphy comes from Greek and means “beautiful writing.” Calligraphy focuses on creating artistic letterforms and words using pens and brushes.

Calligraphy has a long history spanning cultures all over the world. Some of the earliest forms of calligraphy developed in ancient China, Japan, and the Middle East. Calligraphers wrote on materials like bamboo, silk, vellum, and paper using tools like brushes, reed pens, and quills. Over centuries, unique calligraphy styles emerged from different regions and cultures.

Today, calligraphy encompasses many diverse styles. Some major calligraphy styles include Western calligraphy, Chinese calligraphy, Japanese calligraphy, Arabic calligraphy, and more. While each style has its own distinctive forms, tools, and techniques, they all share the common goal of turning handwritten letters into artistic creations.

Western Calligraphy Styles

Western calligraphy has four main styles that originated in Europe and are widely practiced today:


Roman calligraphy is characterized by simple vertical and horizontal lines with thin and thick strokes. It originated from ancient Roman square capitals inscribed on monuments (Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/Calligraphy/comments/3blqe7/how_many_western_calligraphy_styles_are_there/). Roman letterforms have an elegant, classical beauty and are some of the most readable and versatile calligraphy styles.


Gothic calligraphy emerged in the 12th century with thick and thin strokes, strong vertical emphasis, and exaggerated arches. The style developed from Carolingian and evolved into various regional hands known as Textura, Rotunda, Bastarda, and Fraktur. Gothic styles create a somber, medieval mood and are popular for religious documents and design pieces.


Blackletter evolved from late Carolingian and Gothic hands in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is calligraphy with strong vertical downstrokes and broken strokes, compact letterforms, and dense, heavy texture. The style looks severe yet ornate and is ideal for short texts like invitations.


Italic calligraphy was developed in Italy in the 16th century as a cursive hand inspired by humanist scripts. With a sloped, fluid style and feathered thin strokes that swell and narrow, Italic looks elegant and graceful. It became popular for letterwriting and is easy to write quickly.

Chinese Calligraphy Styles

Chinese calligraphy has evolved into a number of distinctive styles over the centuries. Three of the major styles are Kaishu, Xingshu, and Caoshu.

Kaishu (regular script) is the most common style. It emerged during the Han dynasty and features relatively uniform characters written with neat and balanced strokes (source). Kaishu strikes a balance between precision and strength.

Xingshu (running script) involves a cursive style with flowing strokes that connect characters together. Xingshu allows more freedom of form and expression compared to Kaishu. It emerged from abbreviated handwriting and emphasizes motion and rhythm (source).

Caoshu (grass script) is a highly cursive, abbreviated style that is closer to handwriting. It features sharp contrasts in thickness of strokes and unconventional stroke orders. Caoshu expresses the artistic individuality of the calligrapher.

These major script styles reflect the long heritage of written Chinese. Mastering their different techniques and aesthetics is key for calligraphers.

Japanese Calligraphy Styles

Japanese calligraphy uses three main scripts: Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana [1]. Kanji are Chinese characters that were imported into Japan. Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic alphabets developed in Japan.

Kanji characters came to Japan from China around the 5th century CE [2]. They are logographic characters, with each character representing a word or concept. There are over 50,000 kanji characters, but only about 2,000 are commonly used today. Kanji remains an important part of written Japanese.

Hiragana was developed in the 9th century as a simplified phonetic script for writing Japanese. The cursive style was Female Hand (onna-de), while the angular style was Male Hand (otoko-de). Hiragana is used for native Japanese words and grammatical parts of sentences.

Katakana emerged around the same time as Hiragana. It was developed by Buddhist monks to represent the On’yomi (Chinese reading) of Kanji. Today it is mainly used for foreign words and onomatopoeia. The angular style of Katakana contrasts with the cursive style of Hiragana.

Arabic Calligraphy Styles

Arabic calligraphy has a long and rich history stemming from the early Islamic period in the 7th century CE. There are several major styles that have developed over the centuries, three of the most notable being Kufic, Naskh, and Thuluth.

Kufic is one of the oldest Arabic scripts, developing in the city of Kufa in modern-day Iraq during the 7th century CE. It is characterized by its angular letterforms and heavy, rectilinear style. Kufic was commonly used for early Qur’anic manuscripts as well as architectural decoration. It remains a popular style for titles and inscriptions. Read more on Kufic calligraphy here.

Naskh, meaning “copying,” emerged as a calligraphic style in the 10th century CE. It features rounded letterforms and a cursive aesthetic. Naskh became popular for writing lengthy manuscripts of literature, religious texts, and documents. It remains one of the most ubiquitous styles today. Read more on Naskh calligraphy here.

Thuluth originated in the 13th century CE as a decorative script for panel inscriptions and titles. The name translates to “one third” referring to the size of the letterforms. Thuluth is characterized by its elegant curves and exaggerated, sweeping strokes. It requires great skill to execute and remains popular for calligraphic compositions. Read more on Thuluth calligraphy here.

Tools and Materials

Calligraphy requires some specialized tools and materials to get started. Here are some of the essentials:


Calligraphy pens have nibs with flat edges that create the thick and thin strokes. Common pen styles include dip pens like the Speedball pen that require dipping in ink, and cartridge pens like Pilot Parallel pens that use ink cartridges (Source).


Pen nibs come in a variety of sizes and shapes for different scripts. Popular options are Nikko G nibs for pointed pen scripts, and Brause nibs for broad-edged scripts (Source).


Calligraphy inks are water-based and formulated to flow smoothly from the nib. India ink and sumi ink are commonly used. Colored and metallic inks can add flair.


Smooth paper textures work best for calligraphy rather than rough tooth papers. Bristol paper, calligraphy paper pads, and vellum are excellent choices.


Guide sheets help maintain consistency by guiding pen angle, height, slant, and more. Pre-printed guideline sheets are available, or can be hand drawn.

Basic Calligraphy Techniques

When first learning calligraphy, it’s important to focus on foundational techniques like pen grip, pen angle, pressure, and strokes. Proper pen grip is key for controlling the pen and creating consistent letterforms. According to Brush Writing: Calligraphy Techniques for Beginners (https://shop.stlartsupply.com/products/brush-writing), many calligraphers recommend holding the pen between the thumb and index finger, resting it gently against the middle finger. The ring and pinky fingers can rest curled underneath for stability.

Pen angle refers to the slant of the pen in relation to the paper. Calligraphy styles often use an angled pen position rather than holding it straight up and down. A 30-45 degree angle is common, but the exact angle can vary by style. Applying consistent pressure when forming letters is also important for even strokes. Finally, mastering basic strokes like thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes will provide the building blocks for creating letterforms.

With practice and focus on fundamental techniques, beginning calligraphers can gain skills and confidence. Reference guides like Brush Writing provide step-by-step instruction for foundational calligraphy methods.

Flourishing and Decorative Styles

Some of the most artistic and decorative calligraphy styles include Copperplate, Spencerian, and modern calligraphy.

Copperplate calligraphy features thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes to create an elegant, flowing style. It was developed in the 17th century and uses a pointed pen nib. Copperplate has many applications, from invitations to diplomas and awards.

Spencerian script emerged in the mid-1800s and was taught in American schools to improve penmanship. It has thin and thick strokes like Copperplate, but its letters are rounder and more ornate. Spencerian continues to influence many calligraphy styles today.

Modern calligraphy breaks free of classic rules to be creative and innovative. It uses a diversity of tools beyond pen nibs, such as brush pens and acrylic paint markers. Modern calligraphy experiments with colors, textures, letter variations, and abstract flourishes. See examples at The Different Types of Writing Fonts: Calligraphy ….

These decorative styles allow imagination and individuality within calligraphy. Embellishments like swirls, banners, and shaded effects transform simple letters into ornate works of art.

Learning and Practicing Calligraphy

If you want to learn calligraphy, there are many resources available to help you get started and improve your skills. Books and online tutorials can provide step-by-step instructions on calligraphy techniques. Some popular books for beginners include Learn Calligraphy by Margaret Shepherd (Learn Calligraphy: The Complete Book of Lettering and Design), and workbooks like Hand Lettering 101 and Calligraphy Workbook for Beginners which provide practice sheets and guides.

Classes and workshops are another great option if you want in-person instruction and feedback. Local art centers, craft stores, community colleges, or calligraphy societies may offer classes at various skill levels. An experienced teacher can demonstrate techniques, correct mistakes, and provide encouragement as you gain confidence.

When starting calligraphy, it’s best to begin with basic alphabets like print or cursive. Mastering the strokes and shapes of simpler letterforms will provide a foundation before moving on to more elaborate styles. Practice individual letters until you can confidently recreate their form. Drilling the basics helps develop muscle memory and control before tackling decorative fonts.


Calligraphy is a beautiful and expressive art form with a rich history. We explored some of the major calligraphy styles from regions around the world, including Western, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic calligraphy.

Despite the prevalence of digital communication, calligraphy remains popular today for its artistic qualities. Calligraphy continues to be used for event invitations, diplomas, certificates, logos, restaurant menus, greeting cards, and more. Many people also enjoy learning calligraphy as a relaxing hobby and creative outlet.

While various styles have emerged globally, some common threads connect the artform. Calligraphy focuses on beautiful letterforms, creative expression, and masterful technique. With practice and the right tools, calligraphy allows writers to turn handwritten words into art.

As we’ve seen, calligraphy encompasses a diverse range of styles across cultures. It continues to captivate people around the world who appreciate both its rich history and artistic beauty.

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