How to Learn Calligraphy

Learning Calligraphy Guide

Calligraphy is a beautiful art form of writing that is widely used in everything from announcements, invitations, certificates and other forms or both personal and professional nature. It can be a way to express yourself through writing. The word calligraphy comes from the Greek word kalligraphia, which literally means “beautiful writing”. Learning calligraphy can be a painstaking process of practice and more practice. If you have a project that requires some calligraphy work, there are professionals who you can hire to do it. But their services are not always cheap. A real calligraphy artist can transform a simple form into a beautiful masterpiece but you might have to pay top dollar for it. The simplest solution for anyone interested is to learn how to do your own calligraphy.


In order to do calligraphy, you are going to need some materials. You can find these at any arts and crafts store and some office supply centers will carry them. Here is what you will need:

  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Soft Eraser
  • Paper
  • Dip Pen
  • Fountain Pen
  • Ink
  • Paper Towels

Calligraphy requires a special type of pen. The tip of a calligraphy pen, called the nib, is flat instead of round point like that of a regular ballpoint pen. Experienced calligraphers can vary the weight, or thickness, of the lines by controlling the pressure on the nib’s flat edge. Ballpoint pens just have one thickness.

In regards to the pen, you have two choices: dip pen or fountain pen. A dip pen has a long handle with a removable pen nib that you dip into a container of ink in order to write with it. A fountain pen has a pen nib that is permanently attached and operates from a cartridge of ink inside the body of the pen. The fountain pen is generally preferred for quick clerical or scribe work. The ink in the cartridges is not as long lasting as ink for dip pens and over time it will fade. Dip pens are usually preferred for a true practitioner of calligraphy. The dip pen is a better tool to learn with and you can get better and more subtle nuances out of the nib.

Concerning the ink, if you are using a dip pen, you will want a good permanent ink such as Higgens or Pelikan 4001. Cartridges for fountain pens are usually sold as either disposable or refillable.

Not just any paper for calligraphy will do (although you can practice on just about anything). Ideally, you want to use a good, smooth paper. While some paper is specifically marketed as “calligraphy paper,” art stores carry a wide selection of papers that work just as well. Any kind of bond paper that doesn’t bleed when you apply ink works well for calligraphy. You will want a paper with a higher weight than 20 pounds (lbs.) The higher the weight, the thicker the paper. Standard copier paper is 20 lbs. and can wrinkle when you add calligraphy ink to it. You will also want to use an acid-free type of paper such as archival paper. This means that the paper will not yellow with age or turn brittle.

And in case you are wondering what the paper towels are for, they are for clean-up. If you are using a dip pen, you will want to keep it clean or it will not function properly. Also, ink can be messy when you are first learning calligraphy and an occasional spill can happen.


After you have all of your materials and you are ready to begin, you will want to find some references for calligraphy. You can’t just start making it up out of your head. The two best sources for finding samples of calligraphy are books and the web.

There are tons of books available with instructions on how to write calligraphy. You can find them at either the book store or an arts and crafts store. The books will give samples on lettering, different styles of calligraphy, and so on.

Now if you want to save some money, try looking on the internet for calligraphy sources. There are many sites with examples of calligraphy letters to follow and how to draw them. There are many different forms from italic, Roman, Chinese, Japanese, and more. Most beginners are going to want to find samples of a basic italic form.

How to Get Started

You will start out by drawing some faint lines on your paper using your pencil and ruler. Keep them all even and of the same height. Now you are ready to start writing. You will want to hold your pen between your thumb and forefinger with the pen’s body resting on your third finger. Keep your wrist straight and do not bend it either to the left or to the right. The pen should be at an angle to the paper. Some specific scripts require different angles but generally, you will want it to be around 45 degrees to the paper’s surface. Make sure the nib is turned so that the ink is suspended on the underside of the pen. The ink should not be on top of the pen. This is a common misconception with beginners.

When forming the letters, you don’t want to move your wrist or fingers like you would if you were writing normally. Instead, move your entire arm at the shoulder while keeping your wrist and fingers fixed in place. When forming the letters, maintain a light but constant pressure on the paper. Increasing or decreasing pressure will alter your line width in the wrong areas. Start out by doing some sample zig-zags on a scrap piece of paper. This will help you to get a feel for how the pen works.

As soon as you are ready to begin actual writing, get or make a sample page with the letters lightly drawn in. Trace the letters to get an idea of how they are formed. Go through the entire alphabet, both uppercase and lowercase. You will want to do this several times to get the hang of it and to memorize the letters. Remember, eventually you will be doing this without tracing.

Keep practicing drawing the letters. You will want to get away from tracing at start drawing them freehand. Practice writing letters, notes, invitations, and whatever else works. The key here is to practice, practice, and practice. Eventually, you will get good enough that you will be able to write without looking at any reference.

Clean Up Afterwards

After every calligraphy session, don’t forget to clean up. Dried ink on the nibs will ruin a calligraphy pen and you will have to go out and buy a new one. If you are using a fountain pen, clean it with a soft towel. Some professionals use a little window cleaner but there is actual nib cleaner that you can get at the art store. If you are using a nib pen, you can clean it with soap and water, rinsing it off thoroughly, and then drying it with a towel. Take care of your materials and they will last a long time.

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