How Does Calligraphy Pen Work
how does calligraphy pen work

Modern calligraphy has surged in popularity. We see calligraphy all around us on logos, wedding invitations, announcements, and even graffiti. There is a wide variety of calligraphy tools available, including calligraphy pens.

In this article, we’ll discuss the different calligraphy pens available, their advantages, disadvantages, and how a calligraphy pen works. We’ll also dive into the different ink options available to you.

If you’ve recently received a calligraphy pen as a gift or you’ve been wondering how it works, then keep reading!

What is Calligraphy?

Calligraphy is a form of visual art, but instead of drawings or illustrations, the art is writing letters in beautiful arrangements. Modern calligraphy can be used for functional engravings or fine art pieces that are more artistic than functional.

The name calligraphy is derived from Greek and literally translates to beautiful writing. Despite this, calligraphy is more than merely beautiful handwriting. Its aim is to produce art that has a deeper meaning to the viewer.

In contrast, the aim of handwriting is simply to accurately convey facts or information.

Calligraphy can be found on wedding invitations, religious art, memorial documents, and many more documents in modern society.

The art of calligraphy greatly depends on the amount of pressure and inclination that you write with. Skilfully changing these variables produces thinner or bolder strokes, giving the iconic calligraphy look to lettering.

Different Types of Pens Used for Calligraphy

Calligraphy pens

Calligraphy is executed with a pen (or brush) and ink. These pens write with a nib that can be flat, round, or pointed. There are different types of pens, brushes, and even quills that have been used throughout history for calligraphy. Let’s have a closer look at these tools.

Dip Pen

A dip pen is the most common and well-known tool for modern and traditional calligraphy. It’s essentially made of two compartments: the nib and the holder.

The metal nib has capillary channels which hold the ink and the nib is (usually) attached to the wooden holder. Dip pens are not limited to metal and wood though as some are made of plastic, bone, or even entirely of glass.

There is a disadvantage to dip pens though as dip pens have no ink reservoir. So, as the name suggests, you periodically have to redip the nib in an inkwell to continue writing.

Some prefer to use an eyedropper or a syringe to reapply ink, which gives more control over the amount of ink applied. Therefore they are sometimes referred to as nib pens.

Dip pens became popular during the 1800s after replacing quills. The advantage that dip pens hold over fountain pens and other calligraphy tools is that they can use almost any ink you prefer – waterproof, pigmented, iron gall ink, India ink, and more.

How to write calligraphy with a dip pen:

  1. Grab and hold your dip pen like you would hold a pencil. Make sure your pen sits comfortably between your fingers.
  2. Check where your nib reservoir hole is, that is your dip line. Dip the nib of the pen into the ink until it covers the reservoir hole – don’t dip your whole nib in the ink.
  3. You can also use an eye dropper to drop ink into the reservoir rather than dipping the pen.
  4. Shake off any excess ink from the nib – don’t let ink drop over your paper.
  5. Hold the pen at a 45-degree angle and first draw a few lines on a piece of scrap paper to settle the ink.
  6. Start writing! You should dip the pen in ink again after every sentence at least.

Fountain Pen

Fountain pens are similar to dip pens in that they have a metal nib, but the one major difference is that fountain pens have an internal ink reservoir. Meaning there is no need to continuously dip your nib in ink.

The pen draws ink from the reservoir through a feed tube and into the nib with the help of gravity and capillary action. The reservoir can be filled with an eyedropper or a syringe, or you could buy a replacement reservoir with ink already inside. Fountain pens can only work with water-based ink, as pigmented ink will most likely clog the pen.

There are countless different shapes and sizes of nibs available for fountain pens. This allows you to choose which would work best for your writing or calligraphy style.

Even though the fountain pen is limited to water-based ink, there is no limit in colors of your choosing. Even though dip pens are more popular for calligraphy, a fountain pen can also do the job.

How to write calligraphy with a fountain pen:

  1. Fill your pen reservoir with your ink of choice.
  2. Make a few lines on a piece of scrap paper to settle the ink and let the ink travel from the reservoir to the nib.
  3. For calligraphy, a fine nib would be better to achieve the thin and thick varied lines
  4. Turn the nib around in your hand until you find an angle that works for you (this will take some practice).
  5. Start writing!

Ink Brush

Ink brushes are paint brushes used in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese calligraphy, also known as Oriental calligraphy. The ink brush was invented sometime around 300 B.C in China and is one of the Four Treasures of the Study (brush, ink, paper, and ink stone).

In modern times ink brushes are not as widely used in China as they once were. Many famous calligraphers and artists use ink brushes for their cultural connections. Some craftsmen have been making ink brushes for generations


A historical movie would not be complete without someone sitting at a desk and writing with a quill.

This iconic and historic writing tool is made from a molted flight feather of a large bird and was used for writing with ink before dip or fountain pens were invented.

As with a dip pen, a quill has no internal reservoir to store ink. Therefore it needs to be periodically dipped into an inkwell when writing. Quills are hardly used for calligraphy in modern times as paper is made of wood pulp and will quickly wear the quill down.

However, there are a select few who have noted that quills provide a sharp stroke and greater flexibility than any steel pen. Thus they prefer using a quill for calligraphy.


Now that we’ve discussed the different pens used for calligraphy and you’ve decided which one might work best for you, let’s look at your ink options. After all, pens only do half the job, the other half is the ink.

Fountain pen ink

Fountain pens are more restricted when used for calligraphy because they cannot accommodate all types of ink. Fountain pens can only hold water and dye-based ink in their reservoirs. Luckily, it’s relatively easy to purchase a refill for your pen

Pigment-based, India, and iron gall ink will not be suitable for your fountain pen. It will probably clog the reservoir or corrode the pen.

Dip Pen Ink

Dip pens are so popular for calligraphy because they are so adaptable. They can use virtually any ink available on the market. This is perfect for calligraphers who prefer iron gall ink or India ink as it won’t damage their pen.

Please note if you use iron gall ink you should clean your nib after every use, especially if you use a metal nib. Iron gall ink is notorious for corroding metal nibs.

Paper Options

There are countless different kinds of paper in the world, so it might be confusing knowing which one to use when doing calligraphy. Well, the truth is that there is no correct answer, just like calligraphers prefer different pens, they also prefer different kinds of paper.

However, it is recommended not to use normal copy paper for calligraphy as the paper will fry the nib on your pen and it might also damage the paper. Normal copy paper is usually between 90 to 100 GSM.

For calligraphy, it’s recommended to use paper over 135GSM to ensure you have a high-quality and better-looking piece of paper. You can usually find the most high-quality paper (and ink) at local art shops.

However, if you are a complete beginner and need some practice. Buying a 500-pack of HP printing paper is the best and cheapest way to practice. Just don’t use your most expensive pen for practicing.

A Brief History of Calligraphy

Calligraphy pen and letter closeup photo

Today there are essentially three main types of calligraphy, called scrips, Western, Arabic, and Oriental. Each has different lettering and substyles, although we won’t go into too much detail about them.

Oriental calligraphy has its origins in ancient China, specifically in the Shang dynasty (the earliest dynasty in recorded history). However, it only became popular during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).

The western script evolved from the Latin writing system around 3000 BC. The Romans adapted these letterings and eventually, the Christian church adopted the writing style by copying biblical text in calligraphy styles.

The Arabic script evolved sometime around the 6th century (CE) and was a tool for communication and a way to spread the word of God through the Quran. Over time it evolved into an element of architecture and decoration.

Tips for Writing Calligraphy

Okay so you have the right pen and the right paper but your calligraphy is still not looking good. Well, we have some tips that might help you understand calligraphy better.

Firstly, never hold your pen straight down. It evens out the strokes, which is good for cursive writing, but not for calligraphy. To get that classic varied thickness in your strokes you should hold the pen at a 45-degree angle.

Holding your pen at an angle allows for thick down strokes (more pressure) and thin up strokes (less pressure). Obviously, you don’t have to hold the pen at exactly 45 degrees. Move the pen around in your hand until you are comfortable with the angle.

Sometimes when you watch videos of advanced calligraphers and artists it seems like they are writing extremely fast, almost like handwriting. Don’t try to mimic their speed, you should write slowly and make deliberate strokes. Calligraphy is meant to be art and should not be seen as fancy handwriting

Calligraphy often gets bundled with cursive handwriting, due to their physical similarities. A key difference is the writing styles of cursive and calligraphy. Cursive is one continuous movement throughout – you write a whole word without lifting your pen.

On the other hand, when writing calligraphy you should lift your pen after each stroke. Take your time to accentuate the down strokes and perfect the up strokes. This technique will help your calligraphy look better and more uniform.

Calligraphy is all about consistency and unity, your ink distribution, stroke thickness, and letter size should always be as uniform as possible. That is part of the art form.

As with many things, practice makes perfect. You probably won’t succeed the first or second time you try calligraphy, but don’t let that discourage you, and don’t give up. To practice, you could draw with a pencil first and then go over the lines with ink.

We would also recommend starting with the basic strokes before attempting anything fancy. Try to work from calligraphy worksheets that you can copy to get the feel of calligraphy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to write calligraphy

It is essential to have the right tools when it comes to calligraphy. A calligraphy pen is essential, paired with the correct ink and high-quality paper. Read the section “tips for calligraphy writing” for our top tips to improve your calligraphy.

What is the best calligraphy pen?

Dip pens or fountain pens are the most commonly used calligraphy pens. Dip pens are more adaptable to a wide variety of inks, but need to be dipped in ink frequently. Fountain pens are more convenient as they have an ink reservoir, but they are only compatible with certain ink types.

My fountain pen is not writing

Fountain pens have an ink reservoir but it’s not endless, so if your ink reservoir runs empty it’s probably time to replace the reservoir. Luckily it’s not expensive and can usually be found at any local art store. If you’re unsure which ink to buy, take your pen to the shop and ask an employee to help.

How to store a calligraphy pen

Calligraphy pens should never be stored with their tips facing down. This will damage the tip and wear it down much quicker than necessary. Store your pen in a horizontal position and out of direct sunlight.

Another option is to store your calligraphy pen in its original packaging, which is usually the safest.

Final Thoughts

The art of calligraphy requires a good quality pen and a lot of practice. Don’t expect to get it perfect the first time, but with the right tools, it should be easier. We hope that you found this article on how does calligraphy pen work informative and that you’re confident in practicing your calligraphy skills.

Check out our blog for more articles about calligraphy and everything related.


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