The field emission properties of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) from various sources are investigated for the application of field emission displays. Comparisons are made between graphite with Ni metal as catalyst and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon as precursor by the arc discharge method. Cathode deposits are examined using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) to determine microstructure. Carbon structure is studied using Raman spectroscopy. Electron field emission characteristics are measured with the diode method at 10-6 torr pressure. In this study, SEM micrographs of cathode deposits show dense random fiber-like carbon nanotubes. The HRTEM images clearly exhibit characteristic features of multiwalled carbon nanotubes. Microstructural investigation provides evidence that both the metal catalyst and the precursor can be used to synthesize carbon nanotubes. The Raman spectrum shows a stronger peak at about 1580 cm-1 indicating formation of a well-graphitized carbon nanotube. The degree of carbon nanotube graphitization is high and is in good agreement with the HRTEM result. From field emission measurements, the lowest onset field is about 1.0 V/μm and can be attributed to highly sharp tips and the high density of carbon nanotubes. Based on microstructure characterization and field emission measurements, the influence on field emission properties including turn on voltage and threshold voltage of carbon nanotubes synthesized from different sources is discussed.