In this article, I discuss the time honored artform of calligraphy including the types of pens and how to use them! I’ll also give you a recommendation for some of the best calligraphy pens for beginners to buy.
I’ve always enjoyed receiving calligraphy stationery — whether as a birthday card, wedding invite, or thank you note. And, I personally think anyone is able to create a good piece using easily accessible calligraphy tools.
Calligraphy is practiced in civilizations all over the world, and is the careful process of rendering handwritten letters into a work of art. From the Greek kallos meaing beauty and graphẽ meaning writing, it is used to decorate items such as religious texts or even animal bones. Calligraphy is particularly notable in both Eastern and Western cultures.
Despite its age, calligraphy has not lost its cultural importance. Where people use to use calligraphy to painstakingly decorate scripture, it can now be seen in wedding invitations, typography, hand-lettered logo design, commissioned art, maps, as well as all over social media. On explore pages everywhere, thousands of videos are dedicated to the slow, therapeutic practice of calligraphy, played out for an audience of millions.
If you have spent any time at all being awed by these seemingly effortless swooping letters and are eager to try your hand, you’re in the right place! We’ve compiled an explanation of the basics to get you started and concluded with a list of our favorite calligraphy pens to top it all off.
Calligraphy Lessons for Beginners
Before we jump into pens and tools, if you are fairly new to the world of Calligraphy and are trying to take it on yourself, may we suggest taking an online course if you haven’t already.
You must checkout CreativeLive for online courses.
Disclosure: Yes, I am an affiliate — mainly becuase I use the service and love it! So, it is easy for me to promote their platform. CreativeLive offer all sorts of online courses. For our purposes today, take a look at the Introduction to Calligraphy course.
The goal of the course is to teach you the basic calligraphy alphabet as well as beginner techniques you can use to practice making letter forms. By the end of the course you should have a solid understanding of:
- Tools and materials that every good calligrapher needs
- How to properly hold a pen
- Basic strokes
- Forming letters and numbers
Types of Calligraphy Pens
When it comes to calligraphy pens, there are two main kinds:
- Dip Pen – As their name would suggest, dip pens are dipped into an inkwell periodically in order to continue writing
- Fountain Pens – These pens get their ink supply from cartridges inserted into the pen
Fountain pens are generally a little less messy and can be an excellent type of pen for beginners. There is no need to keep pausing to dip a pen into an inkwell. (Check out our list of more expensive fountain pens under $200 here).
Dip pens allow a choice between the standard straight style and the easier to use oblique style. An oblique calligraphy pen allows the user to exert even pressure on both tines of the nib, which can be difficult for right-handed people. While both kinds of pens may be used for calligraphy, personal preference and desired calligraphic style will likely cause you to lean towards one or the other.
How to Use Calligraphy Pens
There are few guidelines when it comes to choosing ink. If you like the color and are satisfied with its performance, go ahead and use it!
For beginners using a dip pen, we recommend Speedball India ink. It’s waterproof once dry, relatively inexpensive, and easy to find (purchase it at Michaels).
For those using a fountain pen for calligraphy, many pens come with ink cartridges. If no cartridges are included, a quick search for “ink cartridges” by the company that made your pen is a surefire way of supplying your fountain pen with high quality ink.
Pick your paper
Even if you’re just practicing calligraphy, good paper is key. If the paper is too slippery, you will have a hard time properly rendering characters. Whereas if the paper is too rough, the nib will scratch and catch, which can potentially dull or even break the nib.
In addition, paper needs to keep the ink from bleeding and ruining your work. We recommend #32 Laserjet paper for a relatively inexpensive yet professional canvas. Now that you’ve got all your supplies, get started!
Calligraphy Fountain Pens
Begin by inserting the cartridge into the pen. Most pens have barrels (the long upper half of the pen) that unscrew to reveal an empty cavity meant for holding ink. Once your cartridge is nested inside the pen, push firmly until you hear a click.
The fountain pen is now ready to use! You might have to scribble on a scrap piece of paper while you wait for the ink to begin to flow, but it will be smooth sailing after that.
To change your ink, simply remove the old cartridge from the inside of the pen and rinse the nib by repeatedly filling and then emptying it with water. Once the water runs clear, allow your nib to dry and then replace the ink cartridge.
Cleaning your fountain pen every time you change ink cartridges is a good habit (even if the ink is the same), as it removes any dust or dried ink from the nib. This ensures a consistent flow and longevity of the fountain pen.
Calligraphy Dip Pens
For dip pens, the process is a bit more involved. After selecting ink, either pour it into an inkwell or use the container it came in. Take the pen and dip it into the ink. You only need to submerge enough of the pen to cover the ink reservoir in the nib.
Next, make a small shaking motion in order to flick off any excess ink back into your inkwell. This avoids any unsightly splatters that could result due to too much ink. Whenever you run out of ink, repeat the above processes in order to replenish the pen’s ink reservoir.
It’s important to have a container of clean water within arm’s reach. Every minute or so, swish the nib of your pen in it. This keeps everything flowing and rinses away any gunk that might have accumulated on or in the nib. When you’re done, make sure to rinse the nib and use a non-fibrous cloth to wipe any excess water or ink from the nib. This ensures that no ink is congealed on the nib and that it is put away, clean and ready to be used for next time.
Pen Calligraphy Tips
- For both fountain and ink pens, its important to hold the pen at a 45 to 55 degree angle while writing. This is the optimum range for a smooth, controlled ink flow.
- Don’t press hard like you would with an ordinary pen, as that can ruin the nib. Instead, relax your hand and let your pen glide effortlessly across the paper.
- Use your arm rather than your wrist or fingers in order to guide the pen. This will allow you to write for longer without your hand cramping up.
Calligraphy is an art and it takes practice! Don’t be discouraged by a little bit of ink splatter here and there. Know that if you continue to work at it you will begin to develop the muscle memory to sail across the page in controlled swoops.
Where To Buy Calligraphy Pens Online
It is important to invest in a high quality pen with both longevity and performance. While you can buy calligraphy pens nearly anywhere, buying online is difficult because you cannot hold or practice with the pen before purchase.
At the forefront of comprehensive calligraphy gear is The Paper Seahorse. Featuring several nice calligraphy starter kits for the uninitiated, The Paper Seahorse offers a plentiful specialty selections of calligraphy pens, inks, and workbooks to practice lettering.
Another site dedicated to delivering quality calligraphy supplies is Paper & Ink Arts. With pens, replaceable nibs, inks, and calligraphy kits, Paper & Ink Arts provides customers with tools that perform well.
Best Beginner Calligraphy Pens
1. Pilot Parallel Pen
The Pilot Parallel Pen is one of the best broad nib calligraphy pens available for beginners. It’s an easy to use fountain pen that comes in four different sizes: 1.5mm, 2.4mm, 3.8mm, and 6.0mm. We recommend starting with the 3.8mm as it’s a nice medium. Each pen comes with two ink cartridges (red and black), a converter, nib cleaner, and instruction booklet to guide you through the first couple of basic strokes.
2. Plotube Wooden Pen Calligraphy Set
This calligraphy set features a rosewood dip pen, golden pen holder, eleven nibs, and black ink. If the number of nibs seems overwhelming to you, the set comes with a preinstalled golden nib.
3. Dryden Luxury Bamboo Fountain Pen
The Dryden Luxury Bamboo Fountain Pen is made from bamboo and comes with a matching bamboo case to keep the pen protected. Although ink is not included, this handcrafted pen includes a converter. This makes choosing your own ink much easier as converters allow you to draw your ink up from a bottle before inserting it into the pen. Lightweight with a medium nib, this fountain pen works well for those looking to dip a toe into the world of calligraphy.
4. Duke Sapphire Fude Pen
While the “Fude” series of pens comes in a fantastic array of different colors, our favorite is the sapphire. Open the jet black pouch containing the Duke Sapphire Fude Pen and you’ll see that it comes with a curved nib for italic calligraphy (unique among our top six). In addition, this pen includes a removable converter.
5. Wordsworth & Black Fountain Pen Set
This fountain pen set includes a medium nib black fountain pen with gold detailing, six ink cartridges, ink converter, gift case, and a PDF file detailing care and instructions upon purchase. Perfect as a gift, this calligraphy set is elegant and comes in several different colors.
6. Sheaffer Viewpoint Calligraphy Pen
The final pen on our list is the Sheaffer Viewpoint. This fountain pen sports a stainless steel nib and a body that comes in either orange, red, or yellow. The pen is designed with a window in the barrel so that ink levels can be easily monitored. It comes with two Sheaffer Skrip ink cartridges to get you started.
Phew! That’s enough calligraphy talk for one day. Now, go grab your pen, paper, (and intro calligraphy course!) and get making beautiful letters.