Calligraphy Pens

If you are new to Calligraphy you might want to start with a Fountain pen, as this will allow you to concentrate on holding the pen properly while performing the strokes necessary to form the letter that you are trying to produce.


Brief History

Early writing tools  were rigid in design, as they were designed to carve the text into hard materials like Turtle shells by the Chinese, and styluses used by the Sumerians to write on soft clay and the Romans wrote on wax tablets.

Due to the disadvantages of the wax and clay tablets a better method was found in the use of reed pens, these being made from a single reed of straw that was cut and shaped to a point. Over time these were improved upon by the use of quills which were made from the flight feathers of large birds.

Although metal nibs date back to Ancient Egypt, with copper and bronze nibs found in the ruins of Pompei, their poor quality would not let them replace the reed and quill pens used at the time.

In 1803 the first metal pen point was patented but it was not mass produced till 1822


Pen Choices

Basically pens are not that complicated, their main function being to deliver the ink in an steady flow that should assist you in making the strokes required to produce the letter easily. All pens fall within one of the following types Markers, Fountain pens and Dip pens



Dip pens

Probably the most used type of dip pen is the Speedball series with their basic Calligraphy kit having a plastic nib holder and six nibs which will give you a good overview of Calligraphy using the dip pen.

With Dip pens you can use inks that are not suitable for fountain pens and they will also allow you to produce a higher quality of work, there is only one disadvantage and that is of transportation.

The dip pen consists of two parts the nib and the handle that is designed to hold the nib. The nib is designed with a slit that leads the ink to the paper through a process using gravity and capillary action, these type of pens are dipped into an ink well or ink bottle before use, and can also be filled using an eye dropper, syringe or paint brush

There are three types of nibs used for broad-edged pens these are the Mitchell Round-head , Brause and the Speedball C-Series nibs

If you are interested in doing the Copperplate or Spencerian Script, then you should look into getting an Oblique pen holder and some pointed nibs (Mine is a Speedball). you can also purchase these type of pen holders for left hand Calligraphers.

The actual tool you will be using consists of two parts, the nib holder and the nib. There are a variety of starter kits that will supply a nib holder and nib for a reasonable cost. The nib has distinctive parts and knowing the terms (Tip,Slit, Tines, Nib shoulder, Vent hole, Nib body, Nib base) used will be very helpful




The metal nib is responsive and precise

nib sizes range from 1″ down to 0.5mm depending on the manufacturer

the nibs are interchangeable on the pen shaft

can be easily sharpend or replaced when required

The inks have an intensely permanence

The inks are available in a variety of colours



The nib can be easily damaged during transport

Pushing the nib can dig the nib point into the paper and bend the tines

The nib needs to be cleaned and rinsed after every use

These pens are available in a few specialized art stores

Open ink bottles can spill

The dipping of the pen can be awkward at first


Fountain Pens

The Fountain pen was traditionally used for handwriting and not generally for calligraphy, but with the variety of nib sizes available now you can produce hand written letters that have a more calligraphic appearance.



The nib is sturdier than the nibs used on a dip pen

The pen is easier to use and transport

The reservoir is easier to fill or replace


The ink is transparent and often not fade proof

The choice of coloured inks are limited







Calligraphic Markers are best when time is a factor, their downside is that they dry out quickly, fade over time, don’t produce the fine lines that a nib will (but they are improving), the tips wear out and they will write even if you are holding them wrong in relation to how you will need to hold a Calligraphy pen, (Yes there is a technique to it and that takes practice).


They write smoothly in all positions

They are easily transported

They are easy to use

Readily available




They have a limited nib width availability

They have a limited choice of colour availabilitye

The fibre nibs wear out quickly

They dry out

Cannot be refilled.






It is recommended that you start with the fountain pen as it is easy to use and once you have become  comfortable  on how to use it you can progress to the dip pen. The fountain pen is ideal for practice, some of it’s limitations are the ink is not as dark as the dip pen inks, they are costlier than dip pens and markers and  the nib sizes are not standardized.


Whatever  writing instrument that ultimately becomes your favorite, be it using an edged, pointed, soft, rigid or  flexible nib, will have a large impact on the appearance of the letters, with each type of pen having some affect on the speed and rhythm of your writing.

Remember the trying out of different paper types, inks and pens are part of the exploring the art of calligraphy.