Traditionally, the practice of calligraphy would be found among caliphs, sultans, viziers, sheikhs, imams, teachers, businessmen, soldiers and many other professions. Calligraphy skills often stayed within families, and were usually passed down from father to son. It was not uncommon to find entire families who earned their livelihoods as calligraphers.

If a young male demonstrated artistic potential, he would be selected to study under a master calligrapher and learn the basic scripts. He would also be trained in arts such as ink-making, paper-making and illuminating. Most of his time, however, would have been spent copying the work of his master, until he was good enough to work on his own. At this point, he would be awarded a certificate or license (ijaza) that allowed him to teach and practice on his own.

Calligraphers typically entered a variety of trades. They could become papermakers, gilders, stationers, scribes, binders, librarians, or government clerks. Most often, calligraphers specialized in the writing of the Quran or worked for the government, usually as part of the royal chancery (the office that produced official documents of state).

Royalty also practiced calligraphy, since it was an esteemed art form. The Ottoman sultans Bayezid II (1481-1512), Ahmed II (1642-1695), Mustafa II (1664-1703) and Mahmud II (1785-1839) studied calligraphy with various masters. Starting in the 19th century, calligraphy was a regular part of the Ottoman crown princes’ education. The Mughal emperors Jahangir (1569-1627) and Shah Jahan (1592-1666) were also avid practitioners and collectors of calligraphy.