Learning Calligraphy Alphabet Variations

Calligraphy is the art of beautiful handwriting. The word calligraphy comes from the Greek words kallos, meaning beauty, and graphein, meaning to write (https://www.calligraphy-skills.com/what-is-calligraphy.html). Though calligraphy has existed for thousands of years, it saw a revival during the middle ages when scribes painstakingly copied and illustrated religious texts by hand. Today, calligraphy remains a popular art form and hobby.

The four most common calligraphy alphabet styles are:

  • Italic – Flowing, slanted letters
  • Gothic – Heavier, medieval-looking letters
  • Copperplate – Light, delicate letters with thin and thick strokes
  • Spencerian – Ornate, flourished script with a mix of thin and thick strokes

Calligraphy requires the right tools, including pens with flexible nibs, quality paper, and ink. With practice and an understanding of letterforms, anyone can learn the basics of pointed pen calligraphy.

Supplies Needed

To get started with calligraphy, you’ll need some basic supplies like nibs, pen holders, ink, paper, envelopes, and practice sheets.

Nibs are the metal tips that you dip in ink to write with. Popular nib choices for beginners include Nikko G, Zebra G, and Tachikawa G nibs. These provide flexibility and are forgiving for new calligraphers. You’ll also need a pen holder, which is used to grip and secure the nibs. Oblique pen holders allow you to hold the nib at an angle, giving your lettering more flair.

High quality calligraphy ink is creamy and thick, allowing it to glide across the paper smoothly. Stick to black ink as a beginner until you get more comfortable with technique. Some recommended inks are Sumi ink for Asian calligraphy, iron gall ink for Gothic styles, and India ink for general writing. Use acid free artist grade paper that is smooth and heavyweight, like Bristol paper or mixed media paper. This takes the ink nicely. You’ll also need envelopes and practice sheets to practice your penmanship.

Good beginner supplies can be found at art stores like Blick Studio or online at JetPens.com, which offers calligraphy starter sets for convenience.

Holding the Pen

Proper pen grip is essential for good hand control and fluent lettering. According to calligraphy teacher Lindsey Bugbee (How to Hold a Calligraphy Pen), the grip should be relatively relaxed, with the pen resting between the thumb and index finger. The index finger should have a slight bend to it. Avoid clenching the pen too tightly, as this can cause hand cramps and unsteady strokes.

Additionally, pay attention to the angle at which you hold the pen. For Italic and Copperplate styles, the pen should be held at a consistent 30 to 45 degree angle relative to the paper. This allows the nib to lay flat against the paper and create those thin and thick strokes that define elegant calligraphy. However, the pen angle may vary for other styles like Gothic and Spencerian.

Posture is also key. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor to give your writing arm a solid base. Use your free hand to rotate and angle the paper, rather than twisting your wrist. This prevents strain on your wrist. Refer to online video tutorials to see proper calligraphy pen grip and posture in action.

Alphabet Styles

There are several popular alphabet styles used in calligraphy. Some of the most common include:


Italic calligraphy uses a slanted, cursive style. The letters have an elegant, flowing look with thin and thick strokes 1. Italic works well for both formal and informal uses.


Gothic calligraphy has very straight, rigid lines with sharp angles. The letters have a formal, serious look. This style developed during the Gothic architecture period 1.


Copperplate features thin, delicate lines with hairline variations in stroke width. The style has an ornate, refined look. Copperplate is one of the most popular calligraphy styles worldwide 1.


Spencerian calligraphy has elegant, looping letters with thin and thick strokes. It has a flowing, cursive style that is excellent for writing prose and correspondence 2.

Italic Variations

Italic calligraphy became popular during the Renaissance among scribes and scholars in Italy. Some key figures who developed and spread italic writing include Ludovico Arrighi, Giovanniantonio Tagliente, Giovanni Battista Palatino, and Geoffrey Tory (source). Arrighi in particular helped establish chancery cursive, an influential italic style, in his writing manual La Operina in 1522.

There are several italic alphabet variations that evolved over time. Ludovico Vicentino degli Arrighi was instrumental in developing one of the earliest and most elegant forms. His italic script had fluid connecting letterforms and subtle thick and thin strokes (source).

Another influential Italic alphabet was designed by Giovanniantonio Tagliente in 1524. His letters had a more upright and roman appearance compared to Arrighi’s cursive italic. Tagliente’s typeface inspired a number of other Italian printers and type designers in the 16th century.

In the 1700s, calligraphers like Charles Snell and John Ayres continued to expand on italic letterforms. Snell helped popularize the English Round Hand script. Ayres introduced the Adaptive Style which built upon Round Hand with its own variations.

Today, italic calligraphy remains popular for its elegance and readability. Modern calligraphers continue to develop new italic alphabet styles, making it a diverse and expressive form of lettering art.

Gothic Variations

The Gothic alphabet, also known as Blackletter, originated in the 12th century and has several variations that developed over time. Some of the main Gothic alphabet styles include:


Textura is the oldest and most calligraphic Gothic script, dating back to the 12th century. It has very straight, angular strokes and narrow letters. Textura was used for important religious texts like the Gutenberg Bible.


Rotunda emerged in the 13th century as a more rounded version of Textura. The letters have curved strokes and wider counters, creating a more open and legible script. Rotunda was often used for rubrics and special texts.


Bastarda first appeared in the 14th century as an intermediate style between Textura and Rotunda. It combines letterforms from both scripts. Bastarda has some angularity but also soft curves, making it both elegant and legible.


Fraktur developed in the 15th century and became popular for German printing. It has exaggerated thick and thin strokes, unlike the uniform strokes of Textura. Fraktur letters often have intricate decorative flourishes.

These Gothic variations add visual interest and diversity to calligraphy. Practicing different Blackletter styles develops skills and flexibility as a calligraphy artist.

Copperplate Variations

Copperplate calligraphy has several major variations that evolved over time. The earliest version is known as Roundhand which was popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It features delicate thin and thick strokes with subtle contrast between them. Roundhand letters have an upright axis and oval shapes (Source).

In the 18th century, English Roundhand emerged which had sharper contrast between thin and thick strokes. The letters appear more dramatic and dynamic. This style was used for important documents like the Declaration of Independence.

Bickham Script evolved from English Roundhand in the mid-18th century. It has a dramatic look with high ascenders, descenders, and flourishes. The thin strokes end in fine hairlines. George Bickham created this style and it was widely used in America and England.

Engrosser’s Script emerged in the late 18th century as a less flourished version focused on practical business use. It has a clean, simple look with restrained embellishments. Engrosser’s remains popular for addressing wedding invitations and diplomas.

Learning the major Copperplate variations allows you to develop a range of styles from formal scripts to lively embellished fonts. Mastering the thin and thick stroke contrasts is key to producing the Copperplate look.

Spencerian Variations

The Spencerian script was developed in the mid-1800s by Platt Rogers Spencer as a form of ornamental penmanship for business and personal correspondence.[1] It incorporates flourished capital letters and a mix of thick and thin strokes for enhanced readability. There are several distinctive variations of Spencerian script:

Ornamental Spencerian

Ornamental Spencerian has very elaborate capital letters with extended flourishes. This style may include shaded backgrounds and other decorative elements surrounding the text. It was used mainly for ornamental diplomas, invitations, and other formal documents.

Business Spencerian

Business Spencerian simplifies some of the ornamental flourishes to create a more legible hand for correspondence and accounting. The letters have a vertical slant and mix thick and thin strokes. Capitals may have small flourishes extending from the tops and bottoms.

Madarasz Spencerian

Madarasz Spencerian is named after the penman Louis Madarasz. It has exaggerated ascenders, descenders, and capital letters with extreme extensions. The style combines Spencerian letterforms with influences from Copperplate and Macrhurs Hand.[2]

Adding Flourishes

Flourishes are fancy embellishments added to letters and words to make calligraphy more elegant and decorative. Some common flourishes include:

Swashes: Sweeping strokes that extend from the letters, like off the tops or bottoms of letters. Swashes can create dramatic ascenders and descenders.

Ascenders: Upward swashes that rise above the body of a letter, like on the letters b, d, or h. Ascenders add height and movement.

Descenders: Downward swashes that drop below the baseline, like on g, j, p, q, or y. Descenders add elegance and balance.

Ligatures: Connecting strokes between letters, often replacing the space between letters to form a single flowing shape. Common ligatures are ct, st, and ff.

Start by adding simple swashes and minimal flourishes. With practice, you can add more elaborate curls, loops, banners, and other decorative elements. This guide provides tips and practice sheets for learning flourishing.

The key is adding flourishes intentionally, not going overboard. Thoughtfully placed flourishes can turn simple calligraphy into an artful, eye-catching design.

Practice and Improving

One of the best ways to improve your calligraphy skills is consistent and focused practice. Here are some key ways to practice and see results:


Start with basic stroke drills to build muscle memory and consistency. Practice straight and curved downstrokes, undercurves, overcurves, ascenders, descenders. Aim to fill pages with consistent strokes before moving onto letters. Check out the Letter Daily guides for practice drill worksheets.


Use printed alphabet guides to practice full alphabets. Trace them first then practice without tracing. Focus on one alphabet at a time. Consistency across each letter is key. Grid paper guides can help ensure even sizing and slant.

Entry Level Resources

After drilling strokes and alphabets, beginner books and online tutorials are a great next step for building skills. Resources like The Ultimate Guide to Modern Calligraphy by Letter Daily walk through fundamentals at an easy pace.


Connect with other calligraphy beginners for tips, feedback and inspiration. Local groups, online forums and social media groups like The Newbie Calligraphy Society provide community while learning.


Continue looking at accomplished calligraphy artists for inspiration on styles, flourishes and letter variations. Save your favorite examples to imitate and put your own spin on. Connecting with calligraphers can also provide mentorship.

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