30+ Calligraphy Terms

Calligraphy is an art form that has been around for centuries. It can be used to create beautiful pieces of art, and also as a way to write words in cursive. The latter is what we will focus on today. This blog post discusses basic calligraphy terms that you should know if you want to learn the craft.

  • Ascender: a part of a letter that extends above the height of other letters.
  • Baseline: an imaginary line on which most characters rest and to which they are aligned. For example, in the word “basis,” the ‘a’ is at baseline while all other letters sit above it.
  • Blotting Paper: paper that absorbs ink so as not to smudge or spread when pressing onto paper with pen/pencil. Fountain pens can also use this technique by dipping into water periodically during writing process.
  • Bookhand: (also known as text hand) style of handwriting used for everyday purposes like personal correspondence, taking notes, filling out forms etc., rather than calligraphy specifically; often written casually with minimal attention paid to neatness or form.
  • Broad-edged Pen: a pen with a blunt edged nib that spreads ink across the width of paper, often used when drawing straight lines; can be helpful in calligraphy for lessening discomfort from shaky hands and/or building up strength to make thinner strokes.
  • Cap Height: size of an upper case letterform relative to other letters on a line; measures how tall each capital letter would be if it were sitting at baseline. The example below shows that cap height is indicated by an ‘x’ following the number representing its measurement.
  • Copperplate: style of script derived from 17th century engraving trade requiring thick downstrokes and thin hairlines (the opposite as most scripts).
  • Counter: the (usually) oval or sometimes square area at the beginning of a letter.
  • Deboss: an effect achieved by pressing pen/pencil into paper, leaving indentation that is then filled in with ink.
  • Descender: part of some lowercase letters that extend below baseline; these are often confused for ascenders because they sit high on the page, but are actually going down from where other letters start their ascent.
  • Drop Cap: when large initial capital letter appears at beginning of text and descends over several lines to rest atop line closest to next ‘a’ following it; usually used as way to signify opening paragraph or new chapter in manuscript setting.
  • Embossing Folder: tool which creates raised design on a piece of paper by pressing it against the heated metal surface; often used in conjunction with rubber stamps for decorative purposes.
  • Flourish: a design or illustration that embellishes another, such as an eleborate initial at beginning of letter.
  • Font: typeface (a set of letters) which shares same characteristics and style but varies in size, weight, etc.; also refers to digital font files on computer programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
  • Hairline: thin line created using pen/pencil so that words appear more refined than if they were written with broad-edged pen; can be drawn over top ink outlines or left blank then filled with black ink. Minuscules: lowercase alphabetic characters used to represent a language, with the exception of letters ‘a’ through ‘z’ and digraphs such as “th” or “ch”.
  • Hierarchy: the order of importance or dominance. In calligraphy, this means that certain letters are more important than others. For instance, in a word like “success” the letter ‘s’ is hierarchically higher than other letters because it appears at the end of the word and also has an accent over it to show that it’s pronounced differently than other letters.
  • Letterform: the physical shape of a letter, such as the capital ‘A’ or lowercase ‘a.’ It is important to remember that these are not simply an arbitrary design on the page; each individual letter has its own unique form and placement depending on whether you’re writing with pens, pencils, or paint.
  • Majuscules: uppercase alphabetic characters used to represent a language. Both majuscule and minuscule are types of lowercase alphecates; they differ in ascender height (majusescules have more) but share same characteristics otherwise.
  • Monoline: an adjective describing typeface design which has no variation between thick/thin strokes within letterform–characteristic of sans-serif fonts like Helvetica, Arial etc.; opposite term is variable stroke width.
  • Nib: pointed end on pen that creates ink flow when pressed against paper.
  • Point Size: a measurement in points (pt) which indicates the size of type relative to page; this is often indicated by ‘point’ symbol as opposed to using px or cm.
  • Sans-serif: an adjective describing typeface design with no serifs and minimal variation between thick/thin strokes within letterform–characteristic of fonts like Helvetica, Arial etc.; opposite term is variable stroke width.
  • Serif: an ornamental extension at end of some letters that helps create contrast when designing typography on paper–required for font styles such as Times New Roman, Garamond etc.; these are also called “endmarks”.
  • Stroke: ink flow from pen nib as it is pressed against paper.
  • Tracking: amount of space between letters in text, affecting the overall legibility and readability; can be adjusted on a computer program like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop.
  • Typeface: font design which differs from other fonts because of its unique characteristics and style (i.e serif typefaces vs sans-serif).
  • Underline: a line drawn under text which may be used for emphasizing content or indicating italics in typesetting. If you want your words to stand out that much more then use this technique sparingly! The most common convention is two lines underneath (also known as double underscore). This will usually set off all caps text from regular sentence case.
  • Upstroke: lines that are drawn by pen/pencil above an existing line instead of below (opposite as most scripts); these help refine letterforms further to create lighter hairlines for words written with broad-edged pens. X Height: height measurement from baseline up to midpoint between descender and ascender in lowercase alphabet characters such as ‘x’.
  • Weight: thickness of lines created with pen/pencil, as well as the size of type relative to page.

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