Calligraphy Dictionary

Welcome to DPC’s Calligraphy Dictionary of terminology, definitions, vocabulary and terms used in calligraphy. (My goal is to eventually have images included as well)

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Ampersand • The “&” symbol used instead of the word “and”.
Apex • The pointed tip of a letter, ie, the top of the A.
Arch • The stroke in lowercase letters that curves out of the stem of the letter – ie, in h, m, n, etc.
Ascender • Parts of letters which extend up past the waistline or Capital height line
Ascender Line • The line to which the ascenders rise.
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Baseline • The “line” on which the basic body of the letter sits.
Beeswax • Used to lightly wax thread for bookbinding. Also for creating batik patterns.
Blackletter • A general name used for alphabets created with thicker strokes and narrower letters, giving the impression of a darker or blacker alphabet.
Blotting Paper • A porous paper used to blot text written with ink so that it dries quicker and doesn’t bleed.
Body Height • The height of the lowercase or capital letters – measured in pen widths
Bookhand • A general term for the scripts or alphabets used prior to the printing of books.
Body Height • The height of the lowercase or capital letters – measured in pen widths
Bowl • The curved strokes of certain letters that form an enclosed space or counter, ie, in d, b, g, etc.
Broad-edged • Refers to nibs with a broad or chisel edge.
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Cadel • An ornate Gothic capital letter consisting of interlacing pen strokes.
Calligram • A picture or graphic created from letters.
Calligraphy • Called the “art of beautiful writing”
Capital • The uppercase or majuscule letters.
Capital Height • The height of uppercase or majuscule letters.
Capital Line • The upper line to which capital or majuscule letters are written. This line is usually slightly lower than the ascender line.
Carolingian • One of the alphabet hands or styles.
Caroline Miniscule • One of the alphabet hands or styles.
Carpet Page • An ornate decorated page preceding the written pages in a book.
Chisel Edge • The flat or broad edge of a nib.
Conjoined • When the bowls of two letters are overlapped or joined.
Copperplate • One of the alphabet hands or styles.
Counter • The spaces inside of letters, may be fully or only partially enclosed.
Crossbar • Horizontal strokes on letters such as t, f, H.
Cross-stroke • The horizontal strokes on E, F, T.
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Davey Board • Also known as bookboard – the thick, compressed paper used for book hardcovers.
Deboss • To create a downward indentation.
Dental Pumice • Used to degrease vellum.
Descender • A stroke or part of the letter that extends below the baseline.
Descender Line • The line to which descenders extend.
Display Capital • Decorated capitals used at the beginning of a section of text.
Downstroke • The part of the pen stroke when the nib is moving downward. Often used in copperplate calligraphy when extra pressure is added to the downstroke to create the thicker parts of the letter strokes.
Dragon’s Tail • The tail end of certain letter strokes created by raising the pen on one edge as the stroke is being completed.
Ductus • The order and direction of the strokes used to create a letter.
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Ear • The small stoke that projects from the top right corner of the lowercase letter “g”.
Emboss • To create a raised indentation.
Eraser • Used to remove pencil or marking lines.
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Flourish or Flourishing • The added strokes or swirls used to decorate or enhance letters.
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Gilding • The process of adding gold leaf to art or lettering.
Gold Leaf • Sheets of extremely thin gold used to gild art, letters or objects.
Gothic • Also known as the blackletter hands or alphabets.
Gouache • An opaque water-based paint.
Graphite Paper • Paper with a graphite surface on one side, used to transfer designs from one paper to another.
Gum Arabic • Used when writing with watercolors to keep the paint from smudging.
Gum Sandarac • Used to “sand” paper so that it receives ink better.
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Hairline • The thinnest part of the stroke.
Headline • Also known as the waistline – the line to which the tops of letters are written, excluding the ascenders.
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Illumination• The decorated parts of pages or letters.
Ink • The liquid substance used for writing letters.
Ink Stick • Chinese ink that comes in a dry compressed form and must be ground with water before using it.
Interletter Space • The space between letters.
Interlinear Space • The space between lines of letters.
Italic • One of the most common alphabet hands or styles.
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J • xxxx.
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Knot or Knotwork • Intertwined lines and patterns often found in Celtic calligraphy.
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Letterform • The form or shape of a letter.
Ligature • The stroke that links letters together.
Link • The stroke that connects the upper and lower portions of the lowercase “g”.
Loop • Created when a stroke joins back into itself or crosses over itself.
Lowercase • Also known as the small or miniscule letters.
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Majuscule • Also know as the large or uppercase letters.
Manuscript • A book or document written by hand.
Masking Fluid • A liquid removable rubber used to mask out areas that are not to be painted or covered.
Minim • A body-height downstroke.
Minim Height • Also known as x-height, the height of a basic lowercase letter without ascenders or descenders.
Miniscule • Also known as the small or lowercase letters.
Monoline • Letters written with a single width of stroke.
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Negative space • The space inside or surrounding a shape or stroke.
Nib • The tip of a pen. Can be attached, or can be a separate piece which is then inserted into the handle or stick.
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Oblique Cut • When a nib is cut at an angle instead of at 90 degrees. Often used for left-handed pens.
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Papyrus • An early form of paper made from the papyrus plant.
Parchment • A writing surface made from sheep or goatskin, now also used to refer to a kind of paper.
Pen • A writing instrument with a nib.
Penholder
Penwidth • The width of the broad or chisel edge of a pen. Used to measure the height of a particular hand or alphabet.
Positive Space • The space enclosing a stroke or shape.
PVA • An acrylic-based glue used in bookbinding.
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quill • A pen made from a feather – usually from the tail or wing feathers of larger birds such as geese or turkeys.
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Reed • A pen made from the reed or hollow stem of a marsh plant.
Reservoir • A piece attached to a nib to increase the amount of ink it can hold.
Roman • One of the most well-known hands or alphabets, from Roman times.
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Sandpaper • Very fine or diamond grit paper used to sharpen nibs, etc.
San-serif • Refers to alphabets or letters that don’t have the extra strokes, ie, Arial
Score • Using a tool to create an indentation in the paper – usually to make a fold line in the paper.
Screwposts • Used in bookbinding to hold sheets of paper together.
Seal • A carved design made of jade or soapstone, usually of Chinese letters, the red symbol seen in Chinese writings
Serif • Refers to the extra strokes on certain alphabets or letters, ie, New Times Roman
Slant • The angle at which a letter is written, or the angle of the board or table upon which the writing is done.
Slope • see “slant”
Soapstone Marking Pencil • used to make marks on darker papers
Spencerian • One of the alphabets or styles.
Spur • A small stroke coming off a main stem.
Stem • The main vertical stroke of a letter.
Stroke • A line created by a pen or brush.
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Tail • A diagonal line such as the one that comes off the Q or a y.
Terminal • The end of a letter stroke without a serif.
Transfer Paper • A paper, usually with a graphite surface on one side that allows one to transfer designs from one paper to another.
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Uncial • One of the hands or alphabets.
Uppercase • Also known as the capital or majuscule letters
Upstroke • The movement of the pen in an upward stroke. Most commonly used in Copperplate or Spencerian calligraphy.
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Vellum • a writing surface made from calfskin (Sheila Waters’ “Rondel of the Seasons” was done on vellum)
Versals • One of the hands or alphabets.
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Waistline • The top “line” to which lowercase letters (excluding ascenders) are written.
Waterbrush • A brush you can fill with your own water-based inks.
Watercolor • A waterbased paint.
Weight • The heaviness of a letter – ie, a blackletter has more weight to it than a thin monoline letter.
Word Space • The space between words – usually measured by the width of the n of that alphabet.
X A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z To the top
X-Height • The penwidth height of a particular hand or alphabet.
Y A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z To the top
Y• xxxxx.
Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z To the top
Z• xxxxx.
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