Understanding Calligraphy Pens And Nibs

Calligraphy is defined as the art of beautiful handwriting (Loveleigh Loops). It uses writing instruments like pens and brushes to creatively write letters and words. Unlike normal everyday handwriting, calligraphy pays close attention to the thickness and thinness of lines, the spacing between letters, and the overall composition and balance of words on a page.

The two main types of calligraphy pens are broad edge pens and pointed pens. Broad edge pens can create thick and thin lines by changing the angle at which the nib meets the page. The tip of a broad edge pen is wide and flat with an angled corner (Manuscript Pen). Pointed pens have very fine pointed tips that allow for great detail and thin lines. They are stiff nibs that require dipping in ink after every few letters (Wikipedia).

The key difference is the flexibility of the nibs. Broad edge nibs are flexible and can create line variation. Pointed nibs are firm and create only thin lines without much variation. Choosing between them depends on the style of calligraphy you want to practice.

Anatomy of a Calligraphy Pen

A calligraphy pen has several key components that allow it to function and create different lines and strokes:

Nib – The nib is the pointed tip of the pen that comes into contact with the paper. It has a slit that allows ink to flow through. Nibs come in various sizes and shapes for different effects. Broad edge nibs are wide and flat while pointed nibs are thin and flexible.

Barrel – The barrel is the main body of the pen that you grip when writing. It’s usually made of wood, plastic or resin. The thickness and shape affects comfort and control.

Ink reservoir – The reservoir holds the ink supply for the pen. Dip pens are manually dipped into ink while fountain pens contain internal reservoirs that feed ink to the nib.

Feed – The feed regulates the flow of ink from the reservoir to the nib. It ensures ink flows at the right rate so the nib doesn’t run dry or get overloaded.

Understanding the different parts of a calligraphy pen allows you to select, use, and maintain them effectively for your desired style of writing.

Types of Broad Edge Pens

There are three main types of broad edge calligraphy pens based on the shape of the nib: flat pens, italic pens, and uncial pens. Each produces a distinct style of lettering.

Flat pens have a wide, flat nib that creates thick downstrokes and thin sidestrokes. They are good for simple, bold calligraphy styles like Gothic and Old English. Popular flat pens are the Pilot Parallel pen and Brause Bandzug pen.

Italic pens have a stiff, angled nib that allows for thin downstrokes and thick sidestrokes. The slanted nib produces elegant cursive styles like Italic and Copperplate. The most common italic pens are the Speedball C-series and Nikko G pen.

Uncial pens have a wide nib cut at an oblique angle. This creates subtle thick-thin variation allowing letterforms based on ancient manuscripts. Popular uncial pens are the Speedball B-series and Manuscript pen.

Types of Pointed Pen Nibs

Pointed pen nibs come in a variety of styles and materials. Some of the most popular options for beginners include Nikko G, Zebra G, Hunt, and Gillott Principality nibs:

Nikko G nibs are known for their flexibility and responsiveness. They are made of steel and come in different levels of flexibility. The softer nibs (Nikko G) are great for beginners as they allow for wider strokes. The stiffer nibs (Nikko GG) are suited for more advanced calligraphers looking for crisp, thin lines.

Zebra G nibs are another popular steel nib valued for its sharpness and durability. It has a stiff feel allowing for fine hairlines as well as thick downstrokes. The nib tapers to a fine point which gives great control.

Hunt nibs are made of high-quality steel alloy making them very durable and long-lasting. They have a stiff nib and produce crisp thin lines. Hunt nibs are ideal if you want consistent thin strokes.

Gillott Principality nibs are made of tempered steel. They are quite stiff and sharp, allowing for fine hairlines and crisp lettering. The Principality is excellent for consistent, precise strokes. However, the stiff nib may be challenging for beginners.

Choosing the Right Nib

Choosing the right nib is one of the most important aspects of calligraphy. The nib determines the width of strokes, flexibility, and overall style. Here are some key considerations when selecting a nib:

Line variation refers to the difference in thick and thin strokes. Certain nibs like pointed pen nibs allow for more dramatic shifts, while broad edge nibs offer more uniform strokes. Beginners may opt for broader nibs before moving to more flexible options. Reference nib packaging or product details to understand the degree of line variation.

Flexibility impacts how easily the tines spread during strokes. Very stiff nibs only allow for subtle line variation. More flexible nibs made from softer materials make it easier to create thicker downstrokes and thinner cross strokes. However, more flexible nibs require more control.

The nib tip shape affects certain stroke styles. Blunt, square cuts allow for thick downstrokes but may catch on cursive connections. Pointed nibs create fine hairlines and flourishes. Oblique nibs have angled tips suited for calligraphic scripts. Test nibs to find the right match for your preferred writing style.

When first starting calligraphy, a sturdy, broad edge nib offers versatility across scripts. The Nikko G nib is a popular choice cited for its quality and ease of use (https://www.crookedcalligraphy.com/blog/choosing-calligraphy-nibs). With practice, branch into pointed pen nibs for refined writing.

Ink for Calligraphy Pens

The properties of ink like viscosity, flow, and color are important considerations when choosing ink for calligraphy. Calligraphy ink needs to be fluid enough to flow smoothly from the nib, but thick enough to hold a crisp line without bleeding or feathering on the paper. The right viscosity prevents the ink from dripping uncontrollably while allowing it to glide across the paper.

Ink flow describes how easily the ink makes its way from the pen nib onto the paper. Good flow means the ink is released evenly and consistently with minimal starting and stopping. Too much flow will cause messy blots while too little flow leads to scratchy lines and uneven writing. The right amount of flow is crucial for creating elegant calligraphy.

Color is also key as it determines the overall look and legibility of the finished work. Common colors used in calligraphy are black, sepia, and shades of gray. Black offers high contrast on white paper while sepia has a classic, antique look. The color chosen will depend on the style of calligraphy and desired aesthetic.

Popular inks like Higgins Eternal or Sumi ink are specially formulated for calligraphy with an ideal viscosity, smooth flow, and rich black color perfect for both beginning and experienced calligraphers (The Best Inks For Calligraphy). Testing different types of ink on various paper surfaces is recommended to find the right combination for your style.

Holding the Pen

Proper pen holding technique is critical for good calligraphy. There are three main grips used in calligraphy:

Tripod Grip

The tripod grip is the most common and natural way to hold a calligraphy pen. Rest the pen between your thumb, index finger, and middle finger so that it’s balanced. Your index finger should rest on top of the pen slightly ahead of the middle finger for stability. Keep your grip light to allow the pen to move easily across the paper. According to calligraphy teacher Lindsay Ostrom, holding the pen about 1/2″ from the tip gives the best control over pressure and direction (source).

Overhand Grip

With the overhand grip, the pen rests between the index finger on top and thumb underneath. The middle, ring, and pinky fingers curl underneath for support. This grip allows for very precise control of the pen angle. It’s commonly used for pointed pen calligraphy.

Slanted Grip

The slanted grip angles the pen between the side of the index finger and thumb. The middle finger provides stability underneath. This grip tilts the nib at an angle, allowing for thin downstrokes and thick sidestrokes. It’s ideal for scripts like Copperplate and Spencerian.

Experiment with different grips to find the right one for you and the script you are practicing. Proper technique takes time to master but is essential for beautiful calligraphy.

Making Strokes and Lines

When writing calligraphy, it’s important to understand how to create different strokes and line widths. There are two main types of strokes – downstrokes and upstrokes. Downstrokes are when you push the nib down against the paper, applying pressure. This creates thicker lines. Upstrokes are when you lift the nib lightly off the paper as you pull upward. Upstrokes create thin lines.

To create variation between thick and thin lines, it’s key to practice applying more pressure on the downstrokes versus the upstrokes. Keep your grip on the pen loose and move your whole arm when writing, not just your fingers. This allows for freer motion and better control of line width.[1]

Aim to make your downstrokes around twice as thick as the upstrokes. Don’t press too hard though – too much pressure can damage the nib. It takes practice to get the right amount of pressure dialed in. Work on writing out the alphabet over and over using alternating thick and thin strokes to train your hand.

In addition to downstrokes and upstrokes, you’ll need to master thin lines that run horizontally without variation. To do this, apply gentle consistent pressure as you slowly pull the nib sideways across the page.

Common Styles of Calligraphy

Some of the most popular styles of calligraphy include:


Copperplate is known for its elegant, delicate strokes and high slant angle. It was developed in the mid-18th century for business correspondence and official documents. Copperplate scripts use a pointed nib pen and thin lines with slight thickening on downstrokes. Key features include fine hairlines, graceful curves, and thin swashes. Copperplate requires great consistency and precision (Source).


Italic calligraphy was developed in Italy during the Renaissance and remains very popular for its elegant, cursive letter forms. It is written at a slant with a broad-edged nib pen. The thick and thin strokes mimic handwriting while creating beautiful swashes. Italic calligraphy conveys energy and movement. It is approachable for beginners as it does not require as much consistency as Copperplate (Source).


Gothic calligraphy features very straight, rigid lines written with a broad-edged nib pen. It first emerged in Germany in the late 12th century and was used to copy religious texts. Gothic letterforms have sharp edges and angles, minimal curves, and vertical thick and thin strokes. The style looks ornate yet structured. While challenging to master, gothic calligraphy is striking in page designs and artwork.


Uncial calligraphy was commonly used in manuscripts from the 4th to 8th centuries for Roman and Greek writing. It has bold, rounded letterforms written at a slight angle. Uncial features broad strokes with few thin lines, unlike other calligraphy styles. The consonants are larger than the vowels. While less embellished than other formal calligraphy, uncial has an elegant, ancient beauty.

Practicing and Improving

The old adage “practice makes perfect” certainly applies to calligraphy. Consistent practice is key to developing muscle memory and improving your skills. Here are some effective ways to practice calligraphy:

ThePostmansKnock.com’s article “Five Ways to Improve Your Calligraphy Skills” says practicing with drills and exemplars can reinforce good habits and technique. Drills involve repeating basic strokes or letters, while exemplars are practicing full alphabets from master calligraphers. Both build consistency and skill. Additionally, copying words and quotes on practice sheets repeatedly creates muscle memory in your hands.https://thepostmansknock.com/five-ways-improve-calligraphy-skills/

Repetition and daily practice, even for just 10-15 minutes, trains your hands to automatically create beautiful letterforms. Try setting a consistent time to practice every day. Over time, you will gain mastery over your tools and see steady improvement. Don’t worry about perfection – simply keep practicing.

Be patient and keep writing. With regular, mindful practice, your calligraphy skills will continue to develop and progress.

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