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Great calligraphy supplies for beginners

Updated on January 31, 2016

Finding Quality Supplies

I do some amateur calligraphy as a hobby and post it on reddit.com. As a result, a lot of people have asked me about how to start getting into calligraphy and for suggestions for pens and ink. So I decided to assemble a list of writing instruments and stationery that is both great and fit for a budget. Like most arts and crafts though, it's important to remember that the quality of your instruments make a difference, but the real payoff comes from practice.

Oblique pen
Oblique pen

Pens

There are quite a number of choices when it comes to pens for calligraphy. Pens can be divided into two categories, fountain pens, or dip pens. Fountain pens tend to be more expensive, but they do have some cheap alternatives like Sheaffer's calligraphy kits (which come with up to three different nib sizes and coloured ink) and the Pilot Parallel pens. They are easier to use, as you only need to refill the cartridge every few pages (as opposed to re-applying ink every word/line for dip pens). I also find fountain pens easier to control. With dip pens, how much ink you apply, the type of nib, the consistency of the ink all matter when you're trying to avoid smudges on your paper. Another note: the ink that comes in the cartridges for Pilot pens is generally workable with a variety of different papers. Therefore one advantage of the Pilot Parallel is that you won't have to get expensive paper for it, and that matching the paper to the ink won't be as much of a struggle. I've used Noodler's inks, and although I am very happy with how they turn out looking on more cardboard-like surfaces, it is an ordeal to find the right paper/cardboard to write on.

I'd suggest a fountain pen (Pilot Parallel with 1.5 mm nib) for a beginner, but if you want to pursue calligraphy seriously, you have to familiarize yourself with dip pens too. It's also very difficult to write certain hands like Copperplate and Spencerian without a dip pen with an oblique holder/nib. Speedball has some cheap and durable holders, and nibs can be found in any arts store or online as packs of ~10.

Ink

Some fountain pens come with their own ink cartridges. This can be very convenient, but also a little expensive. Pilot Parallels do have cartridges but I use mine with a Pilot CON-50 cartridge converter so I can use bottled ink from other manufacturers. I have two bottles from Noodler's Sequoia Green and Burgundy. I got 3 oz bottles of each when I was first getting ink, without knowing how long it would last. I realize now that I should have started with samples (about 2-3 ml) to see which brands were better, which colours were more vibrant etc. But I can't say that I'm complaining about Noodler's ink. They look great on high quality paper (I've tried watercolour and Rhodia), but bleed and feather a lot on regular printer paper. So if you are going to invest in a 3 oz bottle of ink, make sure you have compatible paper.

One word of caution about india ink - a lot of calligraphers use it with dip pens, because it looks great on all kinds of paper, but do not use it for fountain pens. It dries very quickly, and it's almost impossible to get it out of the feed of the pen (or other parts you can't reach by just disassembling it).

Paper

You should select your paper while deciding on the ink you're going to use. It can be very frustrating to buy a new bottle of ink, and a new pad of high quality paper, only to discover that the ink bleeds all over the paper. Sometimes a quick Google search will be enough to figure out whether the ink-paper combo you plan to get is OK. Another thing you can do is to get a number of ink and samples from different manufacturers, and mix-and-match. You shouldn't be afraid of experimenting with your instruments!

I've been using Rhodia pads, and they hold every ink I've tried pretty well (Noodler's, Pilot, Pelikan). The color of the ink also seems more noticeable on Rhodia paper. I wish I could say more about other types of paper, but I've only tried Rhodia, and I've been pretty happy with it, so I felt no need to seek out another brand. Clairefontaine and Leuchtturm are two brands that I've heard good things about. I'll probably be getting a sampler set next that includes pads from those two brands and update with my thoughts on the subject.

Pilot Parallel Review by Goulet Pens Inc.

Gorgeous handwriting with Namiki Falcon

Review by Goulet Pens Inc.

And most importantly...

...Be sure to enjoy what you're doing! It takes a lot of practice (and I do mean a LOT) to get to a decent point in calligraphy, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be fun. Make sure you practice on sheets with guidelines rather than completely blank sheets. It takes a while to train your muscles a certain way, and even experienced calligraphers first draw their guidelines in pencil and then tackle the piece. It's very important not to get frustrated and keep at it. I hope this is helpful in getting started!

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