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Choosing nibs, inks and paper

Starting Calligraphy – nibs, ink and paper

If you have decided to use a dip pen or nib for your calligraphy the next decision to make is which nib to use.  There are a wide range of nibs available.  They fall in to 2 categories; edged nibs and pointed nibs.  The style of lettering you want to learn will determine the type of nib to use.

Edged nibs have a straight edge. Typically, the edge varies in width from about 0.5mm wide to 5mm wide.  In general, the wider the nib the bigger the writing.  Edged nibs are used for a wide range of lettering styles including Roman Capitals, Foundational Hand, Italics, Gothic and Uncials.  Edged nibs are usually cut straight across, but many nibs are also available cut left-oblique.  Left oblique nibs are cut such that the right-hand edge is higher than the left-hand edge i.e. the edge slopes down towards the left.  They are cut this way to help left-handed people hold the nib at the correct angle. So, right-handed people want square-cut nibs and left-handed people want left-oblique nibs.  The main ranges of edged nibs are William Mitchell Round Hand Nibs, Chronicle nibs, Brause Bandzug Nibs and Speedball ‘C’ Style nibs.  Some of these are cut right-oblique!  The most popular square-cut nibs are the William Mitchell nibs and Leonardt Round Hand nibs.

Leonardt Round Hand Nib

Pointed nibs have a pointed tip rather than a straight edge! In calligraphy a pointed nib is used for Copperplate and Spencerian styles of writing. They are also used for Ornamental Penmanship.  A wide range of pointed nibs are available.  The choice of Pointed nib is based upon how flexible it is and how thick the point is.  The more flexible the nib is the thicker the line can be produced when pressure is applied. The thickness of the point will determine the width of the line without any pressure applied.  The most popular nib for Copperplate and Spencerian is the Leonardt Principal EF nib

Leonardt Principle EF Nib



There are many inks available for calligraphy, but not all of them are ideal for lettering.  Many inks do produce a very dense black, which is what most calligraphers want, but some inks are watery whilst others are too sticky.  Other inks are too think and do not flow well in a dip pen.

There are two types of bottled ink; waterproof and non-waterproof ink.

Waterproof Inks contain shellac, which is what makes it waterproof.  Writing with waterproof ink is difficult as the ink can clog up the nib. Therefore it is best for calligraphers to avoid waterproof ink.

Non-Waterproof Inks Fountain pen inks are not generally suitable for calligraphers.  This is because usually they are watery so they can be used in fountain pens without cloggy the mechanism.  However, this does not always produce satisfactory results with dip pens – often you will be able to see where two strokes have overlapped.  Sometimes if you write over a guideline it will show through the pen strokes.  That said, we have developed a range of Scribblers Calligraphy Inks that are equally suitable for fountain pen and dip pen lettering.

Even though calligraphy inks are purposely designed for dip pens they can still be still watery, sticky, thick or do not flow very well.  Sometimes thick or sticky ink can be diluted to help it flow. But you must be very careful and not over do this – only add a few drops at a time so the ink does not become watery.  If you can, ask someone else what their favourite ink is.  Many of our customers use Higgins Eternal Ink for every day use. It gives a dark, dense black and flows well. 

Higgins Eternal Ink


Most art shops stock a bewildering range of papers. With such a wide choice, which do you use for calligraphy?

The choice of papers for calligraphers is not as great as it may first seem. This is because calligraphers require a smooth paper with a tooth or edge so that the letters are sharp. In comparison, water colour artists do not need a smooth surfaced paper and therefore have a much wider choice of papers available.

Paper choice

When beginning calligraphy you are going to use a lot of paper, so you want to select the cheapest that is suitable to use.  Some photocopier papers are suitable, but many of them will make the ink bleed in to the paper.  Also, the most readily available size of photocopier paper is A4.   A4 paper is frequently too small for calligraphy writing.  A3 paper size is recommended.

Layout paper is ideal for practising.  It is slightly transparent enabling you to see the paper underneath.  This means you could have a guideline sheet underneath to save the hassle of ruling-up every practise sheet. You could draw your guidelines in a fine black pen. You can see the lines more easily underneath the paper and can save you time.

Daler Rowney Layout Pad

Layout paper is also a good writing surface giving crisp letters.  As always, do experiment as the paper quality varies. We offer two types of layout paper.

Shop our range of Calligraphy Nibs, Calligraphy Inks or Calligraphy Paper.

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