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What are the differences between cursive handwriting and calligraphy?

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

One definition of calligraphy is decorative handwriting, another that it is a visual art related to writing. I believe the latter definition is more on point. Calligraphy is an art form, and one that is soaring in popularity in the recent years. But what's the difference between handwriting and calligraphy? There's actually several and I'm going to discuss them below.

Thick and thin lines

The first difference is that calligraphy has distinctive thick and thin lines. Each time you move your pen downwards, the stroke is thicker and when you move your pen upwards the stroke is thinner. Normal handwriting on the otherhand has a consistent thickness throughout.

Specialised tools

There are specific types of pens dedicated to achieving the thick and thin lines calligraphy is known for. There are dip pens which have a metal nib that you dip in ink. Brush pens are similar to felt tip pens but have a tip that helps to achieve those thick and thin lines.

Dip pen calligraphy

Speed of writing and Intention

Another difference is the speed at which you create the letters. When you are using handwriting, it is usually for the purpose of making notes and as you develop your handwriting style, you tend to write relatively quickly. There's a practical element to handwriting. Calligraphy though, is created at a slower pace as it's necessary to create neat thick and thin lines. Each letter is created slowly and with purpose.

Handwriting rules

When you are taught handwriting is school, you are taught about ascenders and descenders and ensuring that your handwriting written neatly on the baseline. There are many variations of calligraphy but a common feature of modern calligraphy involves bouncing your letters so that they're not in a straight line. There is therefore an element of unlearning when it comes to modern calligraphy.

Calligraphy rules

Although calligraphy is more individualistic in its style, there are some letters that tend to be created in a specific way such as the letter r and f. They are typically only found in calligraphy and not in handwriting. Feel free to check out my YouTube video about the calligraphy alphabet if you want to learn more.


Your letters connect in different places dependent if you're using cursive or calligraphy and that is because cursive is often about speed and calligraphy is about going slow to create extra tidy letter formations. If you want to learn more about connecting letters in calligraphy, check out this post next.

Hopefully you're now clearer on the ways that cursive is different to calligraphy. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or get in touch.


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