Calligraphy: A Dummy’s Classification


Try saying ‘I’m into calligraphy’ to some random people outside your calligraphy guild, and ask them to describe the image that pops into their mind. You might get different answers. Technically, they all may be correct, because, truly, calligraphy is a vast kingdom.

Having self-studied calligraphy, I can only try to classify it to the best of my understanding, and I cannot guarantee the formal reliability. Fortunately, this also gives me a unique (if faulty) beginner’s perspective. So here it goes.

  1. Based on Tool
  2. Based Era
  3. Based on Origin
    • Western/Latin
    • Chinese
    • Arabic

  1. Based on Tool

Less than the actual ‘tool’, I mean to talk about more of the tool’s tip, which in turn defines the lettering’s shape. You can create BEC (Broad Edge Calligraphy – a self-made, completely unofficial acronym) with a broad pen, a flat brush, or a bamboo pen… anything with a broad edge. That said, you can recreate BEC, or any calligraphy, by mimicking the look using anything that leaves a mark, perhaps a pencil or a chalk.

    • Broad Edge

Before the boom of ‘modern’ calligraphy (see below), whenever I think of ‘calligraphy’, the broad edge comes to mind. Of course, I didn’t know what it was – I hadn’t even thought about pointed pen as calligraphy. Whether pen, or brush, or anything else, BEC is executed with a broad adged tool, which is to say, the forms have pen widths to depend on. BEC’s signature uniform (almost stiff) performance is created by manipulating the pen edge’s angle. BEC also comes in many different forms (or hands), the first one that comes to mind is Gothic.

  • Pointed

Read my lips: Copperplate. If you know one, you know the other (more on the terminology here). Pointed pen calligraphy offers a more fluid, curvy look, thanks to the manipulation of pen pressure. It is also very capable of uniformity, but the overall result would still be softer than broad edge. I think it’s safe to say that PPC (Pointed Pen Calligraphy) is more popular than BEC, probably because it’s closer to the ‘beautiful handwriting’ realm.

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  1. Based on Era

It’s not that anything created prior to the xx-th century is by all means ‘traditional’, but we’re talking more about the artistic tendencies.

  • Traditional

I think the best way to classify this is any calligraphy created with the intention of conforming to its (old) rules as closely as possible. As with any traditions, some calligraphic hands are firmly established, and they are enduring for a reason.

  • Modern/Contemporary

When we think of ‘modern’ calligraphy nowadays, the images that we could easily find all around the web (since 2014) might come to mind. But the fact is, any deviation from traditional form can also be called a modern application of calligraphy.


In this piece by Gemma Black, the calligraphy form might be closer to traditional, but its application on the overall design is very contemporary.

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  1. Based on Origin


Disconnect meaning from shape, and you might notice that this classification yields more distinctions on form. Take a moment to conjure each region’s musical nuance in your mind and notice the wondrous difference. Western, Chinese, or Arabic, they’re all calligraphy.

    • Western/Latin
    • Chinese
    • Arabic

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