How to Use Calligraphy Dip Pens

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Use Calligraphy Dip Pens
Use Calligraphy Dip Pens (Image: Paula K. Parker)

There are times--graduation announcements, wedding invitations or special awards--when beautiful handwritten calligraphy is preferred to a printed page. Some people use a cartridge or felt-tipped calligraphy pen, but those who have mastered basic calligraphy writing may want to move up to the challenge of the old-fashioned dip pen.

Things You'll Need

  • Pen nibs
  • Calligraphy ink
  • Paper towels
  • Parchment paper

Select a calligraphy dip pen. These can be anything from wooden, plastic or even quills. The nibs, or tips, that fit these pens will determine the style of the writing. The Artist Depot sells a variety of dip pens as well as full kits (see Resources).

Holder and Nibs for a Quill Dip Pen
Holder and Nibs for a Quill Dip Pen

Choose the ink that works for the pen and the project. Winsor and Newton recommend using non-waterproof ink that prevents clogging, allowing good flow characteristics in the pen. This is good for practice and for projects that are meant to be temporary only; however, a permanent ink is recommended for projects that are meant to last.

Ink Holder
Ink Holder

Assemble the dip pen according to the style of pen you choose. For some pens, the nib slips right onto the pen's base. Other pens, such as quills, have a holder that the nibs fit into and then the holder is slipped onto the quill.

Practice before attempting to write on the parchment paper. Use a pencil on lined paper first. Then place a sheet of typing paper over the lined paper, and practice again using the dip pen and ink. Before using the calligraphy dip pen and ink on the parchment paper, use a ruler and pencil to lightly draw guidelines where the lettering is to be.

Dip the pen into the ink and gently push the tip of the nib against the rim of the ink's holder to release excess ink. This will prevent the nib from releasing giant blobs of ink on the paper.

Hold the pen between the thumb and first two fingers at a 30- to 45-degree angle. Keep the paper as straight as possible; this will aid in the beautiful angle of the calligraphy. Dip the pen into the ink, release excess and press the nib against the paper to write. Dip the pen as the nib empties of ink. Use a damp paper towel to keep the pen's handle clean. Allow the ink to dry completely before handling the finished project, then carefully erase the pencil guidelines.

Clean the dip pen nibs immediately after using them. Hold the nibs under a gentle flow of running water until the water runs clear. Tap the nib against a paper towel to see if any ink still remains in the nib. Continue rinsing and tapping on a paper towel until all ink is removed from the nib. Allow it to air-dry before using the nib again. Wipe the handle of the dip pen to remove any ink. Secure the lid of the ink holder and store away from heat and light.

Tips & Warnings

  • If there are spots on the paper where the ink appears to skip, slip a piece of thin cardboard under your writing hand; most likely the oils from your skin have been absorbed into the paper.
  • Protect the writing area and wear old clothes when using permanent ink.

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