Until the introduction of paper in the tenth century, the common writing material was parchment. For some of the better-preserved manuscripts, the parchment was of an exceptional quality, allowing the ink to retain most of its density until the present day; it was thin and soft as paper, bright, sometimes simply white. There was naturally a variety of parchment in common use at this time, ranging from thick pieces of varying quality in the early years, to these aforementioned higher quality specimens; much of this was of course a function of the wealth of the supporting patron or monastery for which a piece of work was commissioned. The quality of parchment was affected by whether it was well treated on both sides or not. It was made from the skin of domestic animals, with the most appreciated pieces taken from the skin of a lamb or a dead-born animal. Especially refined parchments (vellums) were used in Cilician Armenia and were most likely imported from Western Europe and the Crusader’s Kingdoms. The earliest dated Armenian handwritten manuscript on paper was created in 981 by the priest Davit and his son, calligrapher Gukas.
Calligraphy was a well-established practice in medieval Armenia, with a calligrapher typically in possession of a wide assembly of tools. Early writing tools were made of metal, which were later replaced by reed pens – “kalam”. Quill pens were used as well. The perfected tool became the pen-and-ink bottle, which made the action of dipping the pen in ink obsolete.
Many early Armenian manuscripts employed brown ink containing an iron oxide rather than the dark black of an Indian or Chinese ink. The inks were tested on marble plates and were prepared in containers made from clams. There were virtually hundreds of recipes for ink, prepared chemically or from natural pigments and minerals. Apart from basic components such as clay and metal, egg yolk and honey, other natural elements were used. Water was used to mix the ink and by the end of the process, gold, silver or wax polish was often applied to the surface. Black and red colors were most frequently in use, along with some usage of brown, green and blue, which were famous for their quality across Europe and the East. Arab writers and calligraphers often used and praised Armenian colors, especially “vordan karmir – որդան կարմիր” known in Europe as “Porphyrophora hamelii” or “Armenian red”, and in the Arab world as “kirmiz” – a deep crimson dye extracted from an insect (Pseudococcus) common to the Ararat Valley.