John Taylor Arms was born in Washington, DC in 1887. He studied law at Princeton University, transferring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, to study architecture, graduating in 1912. After serving as an officer in the United States Navy during World War I, he devoted himself full-time to etching. He published his first original etchings in 1919.
His initial subject was the Brooklyn Bridge. Arms developed a successful career as a graphic artist in the 1920s and 1930s, specializing in series of etchings of Gothic churches and cathedrals in France and Italy. In addition to medieval subjects, Arms made a series of prints of American cities.
He used sewing needles and magnifying glasses to get a fine detail. A member of many printmaking societies, Arms served as president of the American Society of Graphic Artists. An educator, Arms wrote the Handbook of Print Making and Print Makers (1934) and did numerous demonstrations and lectures.