The major distinction between different calligraphy brushes is the material used to make the tip of the brush. Many brushes are made using animal hair; those that use goat, sheep, or even cat hair are typically called "white-hair brushes" and are often fairly soft and supple in use. The other common type uses wolf, rabbit, or horse hair and are referred to as "brown-hair brushes," which are typically firmer and more stiff. There are also calligraphy brushes that combine both types of hair into a single unit, allowing the artist to gain the benefits of each one, and different materials can be used to make the handle.
Some of the most common types of calligraphy brushes are those called "white-hair" which typically have an appearance that lends them this name. Different types of animal hair can be used to make them, though goat and sheep hair is quite common, and they usually have a more rounded brush. These types are fairly soft, holding a good deal of ink, and can be more easily used to make fluid, curved designs.
There are also calligraphy brushes that are referred to as "brown-hair," which are usually darker in color, either in their entirety or toward the tip. These are often made from wolf or rabbit hair, though horse hair can also be used; this provides a more stiff and coarse brush. Artists often use these calligraphy brushes for sharper, more direct lines and shapes. A master of this craft can control the brush so that white from the paper that is left in strokes of ink, due to the splitting of the stiff brush, contributes to the overall work.
Some calligraphy brushes include both types of hair, allowing an artist to realize the benefits of both of them at once. The inner core of the brush is typically made using stiffer, brown-hair, while the outer layer and tip consists of the white-hair bristles. An artist is able to use this type of brush to capture broader, more rounded strokes from the outer layer, while also gaining some of the sharper, stiffer lines provided by the core.
Different types of materials can also be used to make the handle of these calligraphy brushes, though they are commonly categorized based on the brush type. Bamboo is fairly popular, since it creates a light brush and allows the artist to balance the weight of the bristles through hand control. Wood in general is commonly used, and a small strap is usually included on the back of each brush to allow it to be hung upside down for drying.