How to Write With a Calligraphy Pen

Calligraphy is writing style that has flourished over thousands of years in many different cultures around the world. Whether you are an artist, a writer or just a hobbyist, learning to write with a calligraphy pen is a valuable and rewarding skill



Choosing a Calligraphy Pen

  1. 1Understand the four most common types of calligraphy pens. Each pen has a different type of ink, and ink is one of the most important elements of writing calligraphy well. Choosing a calligraphy pen is a highly personal decision, as the ink must be suitable for calligraphy, the pen must fit your hand well, and you must be comfortable writing with it. There are four types of pens that are considered ideal for calligraphy, including:[1]
    • Felt tip pens: These are good for beginners, as they are cheap, easy to use, and do not require you to prepare the ink before use. However, felt tip pens tend to run out of ink fast and the ink can soak through the paper or your writing surface. These pens are good for practice, but should not be used for important documents or works of art.
    • Fountain pens: These are commonly used by intermediate and advanced calligraphers. These pens contain changeable nibs and ink cartridges. The ink feeds into a nib and is fed on to the page via the slit in the nib.
    • Dip pens: These pens are used by advanced calligraphers, but they can be used by beginners with patience and practice. Dip pens consist of three components: the handle, nib-holder, or shaft, which is what the calligrapher grips when she writes, the nib, which is usually made of metal and has a slit which releases the ink, and the reservoir, which is the small cup or depression that feeds the slit. Some reservoirs sit on the top of the nib and some sit underneath the nib. The reservoir holds a small supply of ink for the nib so you can write several lines or letters before replenishing the ink.
    • Brush pens: These pens consist of a thin brush, between 6mm to 20mm wide, with a head made of nylon or sable. The brush head should be made of short and stiff bristles to give you more control over the lines, as you will need to dip the brush into the ink to write. Writing calligraphy with a square brush is different than using a pen with a nib, as the brush will respond to pressure by producing a thicker line and the brush will make a scratchy or lined look when it starts to run out of ink. These pens are also messy to use for beginners and may be more challenging than using felt pen or a fountain pen.
  1. 2Try one to two different pens at a time. Choosing the right calligraphy pen may be a process of trial and error. Pick two different pens, for example, a felt pen and a fountain pen, to get a sense of how each pen writes.[2]
    • You may also want to narrow down your choices by thinking about how messy you want the writing process to be, and how simplified you would like your calligraphy set up to be. A brush pen, for example, will require preparing the ink and constant dipping in the ink as you write. But it may write smoother lines than a felt tip pen, which requires no preparation but may not write as smoothly.
    • If you are deciding between a fountain pen and a dip pen, keep in mind dip pens give you more freedom to choose nibs, inks, and different holders or handles. However, they can be messier and more temperamental than a fountain pen. A fountain pen, or another cartridge filled pen, will be less messy and more convenient, as you do not need to prepare ink before you write. But you are limited to only certain kinds of inks and nibs when you use a fountain pen and fountain pens will be less flexible to write with than a dip pen or a brush pen.[3]
  1. 3Buy the ink for a dip pen or a brush pen. If you are using a dip pen, or a brush pen, you will need to purchase the ink for the pen. Use calligraphy ink, rather than fountain pen ink. Calligraphy ink is more viscous and will cling to the nib better, which will give you more control over the ink as you write.[4]
    • Look for thicker inks like India ink or Chinese stick ink. Avoid India inks that contain shellac, as this substance dries quickly and can damage the nib in your dip pen or brush pen. Many brush pens and dip pens will come in sets that contain the ink and the nib.
  1. 4Get ink cartridges for a fountain pen. Many fountain pens will come with ink cartridges and nibs recommended by the manufacturer. Start with the manufacturer’s recommendations when you first start writing calligraphy.[5]
    • Some pens may also have converters so you can use different inks in the pen once you get comfortable with basic fountain pen ink. Fountain pen ink is thin so it will not clog the pen as you write, but the nib unit in more fountain pens is rigid, so it will not be as flexible as a dip pen or a brush pen.
    • Other fountain pens may be piston pens. These come with an internal converter so you can dip the pen in the ink and basically have the pen suck the ink into the “cartridge”. With piston pens, you do not need to invest in ink cartridges or a converter.
  1. 5Choose a nib for your pen. Fountain pens, dip pens, and brush pens use nibs to hold the ink in the pen and provide a supply of ink as you write. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a good idea to literally dip your calligraphy pen into a pot of ink. This will lead to blots and uncontrolled ink flow. Instead, invest in a nib. There are two types of nibs:[6]
    • Italic nibs: These nibs are usually used to write styles like Gothic and Italic in calligraphy. Italic nibs have a blunt edge and are rigid, so they are not very flexible and don’t allow you to vary your lines or strokes when you write.
    • Flex nibs: Most calligraphers use flex nibs. These nibs are rounded with two tines that end at a point. The more the tines’ split on the nib, the wider the line width available on the pen. You must apply pressure as you write to separate the tines and create wider or thinner lines.

Part 2

Putting Ink in the Pen and Choosing Your Paper

  1. 1Load the fountain pen with the ink cartridge. Your fountain pen will consist of three components: the cap, the nib, and the barrel. You will need to load the ink cartridge into the nib to get ink flowing in your fountain pen. To do this:[7]
    • Remove the cap and then remove the barrel from the nib by turning it clockwise.
    • Insert the cartridge into the nib by pushing it firmly on the non pointed side of the nib. Once the cartridge is attached to the nib, you will hear a small click.
    • You can switch between bottled ink and ink cartridges with a fountain pen as you get more advanced in your calligraphy writing.
  1. 2Use an eyedropper to put ink in the reservoir of the dip pen or the brush pen. Due to the nature of dip pens and brush pens, you will need to reload the reservoir on the pen with ink after several letters or words. To put ink in the reservoir:[8]
    • Hold the pen horizontally in your writing hand.
    • Use your other hand to dip the eye dropper into the pen ink so there is several drops in the dropper.
    • Apply ink from the dropper into the reservoir on the pen. Continue to hold the pen horizontally so you do not get any ink spots on your paper or your hands.
    • Put the dropper on a saucer next to the ink. You will need to reload the pen again after a few minutes of writing.
    • Test the ink-flow of the pen on a piece of scrap paper before you practice calligraphy on your main piece of paper.
  1. 3Write on fountain pen paper, not regular office paper. Low quality paper that is thin, like office paper, will cause your ink to bleed all over the paper and will likely ruin your calligraphy. Look for paper that is fountain pen friendly at your local craft store.[9]
    • Most fountain pen friendly paper will be thicker and of higher quality to prevent ink bleeding or feathering.
    • When you are first learning how to write calligraphy, you may want to use practice sheets with lines and margins. You can access a practice sheet here and print it out on thick paper. This will help you get used to writing within certain guidelines so that as you continue practice, you can write on calligraphy paper with no lines.

Part 3

Practicing Basic Lines

  1. 1Use a sloped writing surface for dip pens or brush pens. These pens work well if they are writing on a sloped surface, like an angled writing desk, an easel, or a board on your lap that is sloped against the edge of a table.[10]
    • Always use a stable writing surface that cannot slide or shift. You should also adjust your seat so you are at a comfortable working height over the writing surface.
    • Keep the calligraphy ink within reach of your non-writing hand, as well as the eye dropper, so you can re fill the nib of the pen easily. You should also have a small saucer for resting the brush in case you need to leave your work area. This will ensure there are no splotches on your paper or your hands.
  1. 2Fasten the paper to your writing surface. Use masking tape or paper clips to keep the paper flat against the writing surface. A shifting paper can lead to blotches and broken lines when you are practicing your calligraphy.[11]
    • If you are using a practice sheet of paper with lines, you may want to place another thicker piece of paper under it so the ink does not soak through your writing surface.
    • You may also want to place a guard sheet under your writing hand so the oils from your hand do not absorb into the paper or get onto your calligraphy.
  1. 3Do a basic downward stroke.Hold the pen so it is horizontal to the top writing line. This is a zero degree nib angle. Keep the nib flat to the paper as you make a vertical downward stroke on the paper. Maintain equal pressure as you make the downward stroke. You should have a downward stroke that shows the thickest downstroke possible with your pen.[12]
    • To get the thinnest stroke, pull the pen horizontally across the paper from left to right. Make thick downward strokes and thin horizontal strokes to form the boxes. This will help you get a sense of how much pressure is needed to make thick strokes and thin strokes with your pen.
    • Use your arm, rather than your wrist, to write with the pen. This will help your arm stay steady and give your writing flow.
  1. 4Make upward strokes. Adjust your pen so you are holding it at a forty-five degree angle. Use the boxes you drew as a marker. Forty-five degrees is halfway between o and 90, so cut one side of the box in half and place your nib parallel to that diagonal line. Practice making upward strokes with your pen at a forty-five degree angle, starting at the bottom line on the paper.[13]
    • Apply various amounts of pressure for each stroke. The more pressure you apply on the pen, the thicker your strokes will be. Thinner strokes are created with less pressure on the pen as you make the upward stokes.
  1. 5Do a sawtooth pattern. Use the lines on the paper to create a jagged pattern that will help you practice angling the pen. Keep your pen at a forty-five degree angle.[14]
    • Make diagonal upstrokes that are thin and vertical downstrokes that are thick. You should form a sawtooth like pattern. Lift your pen every third stroke and do one downward stroke and then one upward stroke.
    • Continue to make sawtooth patterns for an entire practice sheet.
  1. 6Use practice sheets for different writing styles. Practice creating boxes and strokes with your pen until you feel comfortable with these basic lines. You can then move into writing script, such as letters and words, in calligraphy.[15]
    • There are several different writing styles, from Gothic to Italic to cursive writing. Each type has rules and guidelines for writing letters and words with a calligraphy pen. Print off practice sheets of each of these writing styles and practice each letter until you get comfortable enough to create short words and phrases

Community Q&A

Question: Should the concave side be up or down?

Answer: The pen nib should be held to the paper with the concave side down. This makes sure that ink does not leak from the pen.

Question: Can I use a gel or ball point pen instead?


Answer: Calligraphy pens are completely different from both of those pens. Ball point pens and gel pens can be used to create a calligraphy-like font if you thicken your upward strokes. However, you can’t learn the art of calligraphy without a calligraphy pen.

Question: Would watercolor sketchbook paper work for calligraphy?

Answer: It can, but the bumpiness may be hard to write on.


Question: How do I make thick lines?

Answer: To make thick lines with a fountain pen, press firmly while the nib remains flat with the plastic area down.

Question: What am I doing wrong if I can’t get the ink to start flowing in my pen?

Answer: Nothing, it takes time. Hold your pen straight up and down. Gently shake it, keeping to point off the paper and not so high that ink splatters. Also, place the tiniest amount of water on the tip of the fountain pen.

Question: Can two lined notebooks be used for practicing calligraphy?

Answer: Maybe, but if the paper is of low quality, the ink may bleed or run. Invest in good quality and ink-friendly paper or in a sketchbook at your local craft store for the best ink output.

Question: How do I get the ink flowing?

Answer: If your pen has a separate ink cartridge that must be put in the pen, twist the cartridge around and push firmly but softly down (do NOT lift up, unless you want a spill).

Question: I have a fountain pen, but it writes like a normal pen. What should I do to make it actually look like calligraphy?

Answer: Writing calligraphy with a fountain pen takes many hours of practice; you have to learn how to turn and manipulate the nib to change the width of your strokes. You can find tons of tutorials online, either on YouTube or other websites, that will teach you how to write calligraphy with your fountain pen.

Question: When writing with a calligraphy pen, will it leak when I stop writing and lift up?

Answer: It shouldn’t leak at all. The ink should stay in the pen unless you have one of the calligraphy pens that you dip in ink. Then I would make sure that you don’t have excess ink before you stop writing.

Question: I have an ink cartridge pen that doesn’t work. How do I fix it?

Answer: Try these things: First, insert the cartridge until you hear a pop. Once you do, try twisting the cartridge while inside the barrel, both clockwise and counter-clockwise. Then, try shaking the pen firmly but not too hard. If none of the above work, try another cartridge. If no new cartridges work, find a better pen/nib.


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