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New To Calligraphy?

If you're new to calligraphy, choosing the right equipment and materials can feel daunting. We have prepared a concise guide to assist you in taking your first steps.

Pens & Nibs

First of all, which type of pen?

There are basically two choices, either a fountain pen or a dip pen. And of course there are benefits and disadvantages to both.

Fountain Pens

A Fountain Pen is the easiest to use. It either uses ink cartridges or a converter to fill the pen using a bottle of ink. They are typically used for learning the basics of calligraphy and for writing in greetings cards etc.

Disadvantages of the Fountain Pens are; they are not so flexible - you can only use a limited range of coloured inks, they are harder to clean and can be expensive.

Dip Pens

A Dip Pen or Nib has many advantages; wide range of nibs to choose from, wide range of uses, much cheaper and easy to clean.

A much wider range of inks can be used with a dip pen. In fact you can use some paints as an ink with dip pens. By mixing Gouache paint to an ink consistency you can write in any colour.

The only real disadvantage of dip pens or nibs are they are harder to use at first and sometimes it can be awkward getting the ink to flow.

There are a wide range of nibs available. They fall in to two categories; edged nibs and pointed nibs. The style of lettering you want to learn will determine the type of nib to use.

Edged Nibs

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 most popular edged nibs are William Mitchell Round Hand Nibs, Brause Bandzug Nibs and Speedball 'C' Style nibs (some of these are cut right-oblique).

Pointed Nibs

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.

You can filter by flexibility, nib type (pointed or broad-edge) and handedness on our Nibs & Dip pen pages.

Pen Holders

Pen holders can be made from a range of materials; plastic, wood and metal. Some pen holders are all plastic, for example William Mitchell School Pen holder and the Speedball Pen holder, others are made from just wood, such as the Brause 1616 Pen holder.

The majority of pen holders though are made from plastic/wood with a metal 'gripper' that holds the nib.

The most popular pen holders are the William Mitchell Multi-Purpose pen holder and the Standard Round pen holder. Both of them will hold the vast majority of nibs.

Calligraphy Inks

There are many Calligraphy Inks available, but not all of them are ideal for lettering. The majority of inks produce a very dense black, which is what most calligraphers want. But some inks can be watery or thick whilst other are too sticky.

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

Waterproof Inks

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

Non-Waterproof Inks

Fountain pen inks are not usually suitable for calligraphers. This is because they can be a bit watery so they can work with fountain pens without clogging the mechanism. That said, it is worth worth mentioning Rousy Calligraphy Inks which are popular because they flow very well and produce opaque lines.

Even though calligraphy inks are purposely designed for dip pens some are still quite watery, sticky, thick or do not flow very well from a dip pen.

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.

Calligraphy Paper

The range of papers suitable for calligraphy 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.

When starting 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, which can be too small for calligraphy writing.

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. Rhodia Pads are a popular choice.

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. Layout paper is also a good writing surface giving crisp letters.

As always, do experiment as the paper quality varies.

Ready to get started?

We've hand-crafted a selection of Calligraphy Sets that include everything you need.

Introducing the Scribblers Skills Centre

Designed and created to provide instruction, resources, and inspiration for the new and progressing calligrapher.