They did not use an alphabet. They used phonetic signs and ideograms, which are pictures embodying concepts to explain things or actions. They used pictures of things from their local environment, such as human and animal figures, plants and trees, celestial bodies, furniture and buildings, and sacred and secular tools and emblems.
Words were not separated. Determinatives were added to mark the end of a word and to help communicate meaning.
Words were written in groups and squares, vertically from top to bottom, or horizontally from left to right or right to left, and within a symmetrical arrangement. Egyptians used pens made of reeds and wrote on papyrus. They used black and red inks in cakes or powder form.
Four ancient scripts were used. The first was the hieroglyphic or sacred carving script, a pictorial script that was written on temple and tomb walls. The signs were written artistically with full details and are easy to recognize. Hieroglyphic script was used from the beginning of the dynastic era.
The second script was called hieratic. It was a rapid and cursive sacred script. It was mostly written on papyrus by the priests in religious and funerary texts. It was also used in letters, literary texts, and business documents. It was in use from the Old Kingdom onward.
The third script was called demotic. It was more cursive and rapid still. It was used in all types of documents in later Pharaonic and Greco-Roman periods. Demotic was in use from the ninth century BC until the fourth century AD.
The fourth script was Coptic. It was used beginning in the fourth century AD. It is the last one used for writing the ancient Egyptian language in the later periods. Coptic was based on the Greek alphabet. Seven characters, that were derived from the demotic script, were added for phonetic values that do not exist in Greek.