Over the years I’ve tried countless calligraphy products and supplies, and have had great success with some while immediately disliking others. I say this in my calligraphy classes constantly: I believe that supplies are very personal to each calligrapher. We all write differently. Some of us are heavy handed, some are light handed. We are right and left handed. We have preferences on how our lettering looks. All of these factors are things to consider when shopping for supplies. Because there are soooo many out there to choose from, I thought I’d write an updated version of my favorite supplies and where to buy them (like Paper & Ink Arts, Amazon, JetPens and John Neal Booksellers) for you lovely people. All of the supplies here are ones I use on the regular. Honestly, I’ve used them for years! If it ain’t broke…
My favorite black ink is – hands down – Sumi, KY Series. It’s very opaque (great for use when lettering work that will be digitized), fast-drying, generally waterproof, and has a nice glossy finish. (It’s described as having a matte finish, but I found it has a pretty shine to it). I love it!!
For color, I recommend a couple of options. For newbies, I think that FW Acrylic Inks are great. The color choices are vast, it’s easy to work with (flows easily from the nib), and no mixing is required. They also carry a fluorescent collection that’s super fun (think neon pink)! I find this ink to take a little longer to dry, why I don’t always use it for my projects.
If you’d like to try what I most frequently use for color, then give gouache a try. My favorite brand is Winsor & Newton, and I loooove it. Gouache (pronounced goo-aush) is a paint medium that is likened to an opaque watercolor. It dries really quickly, is easy to work with once mixed, and the colors are gorgeous. I frequently mix colors to match Pantone color requests, and this medium mixes very well together. Check out this video from a few years ago that shows you how to mix it. Side note: a super handy tool to have for matching colors is a Pantone Color Guide. You can also try searching for them on eBay to find a used one. They can be pricey.
Metallic inks: they’re beautiful, but tricky. My go-to is Dr. Ph Martin’s Iridescent Collection. The Copperplate Gold is a big favorite with my clients, and I also love their silver and copper. This ink can sometimes feel a little thick, so adding a touch of distilled water with a pipette can help ease the flow. Additionally, if you dip the tip of your nib in a cup of water before dipping in the metallic ink, that also helps with flow.
One thing you’ll notice about metallics is that the pigment in a metallic ink separates quickly. This can leave the coloring in your work inconsistent. A super handy tool to help with mixing metallics is this ink stirrer. This stirrer uses a magnet to quickly spin in the ink and mix without the need to shake it up yourself. Major time saver.
One of my absolute favorite combinations is white ink on darker envelopes like black or navy. It always looks so sharp, and I have two favorite white inks I rely on. First, Ziller North Wind White is my top pick. It’s a white ink that’s easy to work with in that it flows very easily from the nib. This ink can have some transparency to it when it dries, so if you’re looking for an option that is more opaque, then I suggest Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen White. This is a more “white out” version of white ink. It can lean toward the thick side, so if you feel it’s getting gunky, try thinning it out with a little distilled water. (Or, TBH, just a little tap water).
Before moving off the topic of ink, I wanted to share my favorite vessel to keep my inks in when working on projects. This little 1/2 oz ink pot is my favorite little guy, and you can’t beat the price. It’s big enough to allow the nib to easily dip into the ink, but small enough that you’re not wasting a lot of ink or gouache that you might not use. You can use washi tape to set your ink pots in to help with tipping over your ink pot. These ink pots are very easy to tip over, so the washi tape totally helps!
Side note: I’m a big believer in the scratch sheet. When you’re working with dip pen calligraphy, you can often pick up more ink than you need when you dip into the ink. You’ll always want to use a scratch sheet to do a few down strokes to a) get rid of blobby ink and b) establish ink flow. I’ve created a scratch sheet sticky note (I like to use sticky notes because they’re stuck to the table) that has pre-printed down strokes for you to trace. These will help guide you in understanding how thick your down strokes need to be to actually get ink off of your nib. If placing your working surface, you’ll want to put 3 sheets down, as the ink can sometimes bleed through.
A big issue you’ll have when dealing with inks is bleeding. This often happens because of the paper or medium you’re writing on, rather than the ink. If, however, this is happening to you, the best trick is using aerosol hairspray like this one. Mist hairspray on the surface of your page (don’t soak it), and let it dry thoroughly. It helps to seal the page and eliminate that bleeding ink!
Not all pointed pen nibs are created the same way, so I encourage you to try a variety of nibs. Based on the way you write (heavy handed vs. light handed), different nibs will work better than others. I’m a more heavy handed gal, so a nib that is firm and does not snap under pressure is a better fit for me. Thus, the Zebra G and Nikko G nibs are my favorites. A new preference is also the Brause Blue Pumpkin, which has a little more flex to it (and it’s actually blue)! A fun alternative is the Titanium Zebra G, which is built to last longer and also looks gold (!) so it’s pretty. My advice is to try a variety of pointed pen nibs, and see which ones give you your favorite results, and stick with that one to really master that particular nib.
Nib Holders & Brushes
My go to for nib holders is the super inexpensive Speedball oblique pen. This is literally the nib holder I use on a daily basis. It holds the Nikko G and Brause Blue Pumpkin perfectly. They’ve recently started making it a little differently, so the Zebra G nib falls out pretty easily. If you’re wanting a nib holder that will hold any type of nib, then you’ll want to look for a nib holder with a metal flange. You can squeeze the flange to snugly hold your nib in place.
If you’re into the brush lettering look, then I recommend using a round brush like this one (size 5 or 6). Another fantastic tool is the Pentel Water Brush. It allows you to squeeze water and control flow. Plus, I love the actual brush. It’s super easy to work with. Another really fun product is the Zig Color Brush pens. These are really easy to work with and come in a huge variety of colors.
I have a few paper pads that I kind of religiously use. First, go buy yourself a Canson Marker paper pad right now. It’s a thin paper that can still be used to trace handouts without using a light box (it’s slightly transparent), but also so smooth that your ink and nib glide like magic across the surface. Any lettering I do that is going to be digitized, I write on Marker Paper. Every time.
In every class, I use this tracing pad. It has a super easy waxy smooth surface to write on, so for practicing purposes, it’s fantastic. (And cheap).
Lastly, for more serious projects (like custom commissions), I always use Strathmore Smooth Surface Bristol paper. It has a nice weight to it, so it feels substantial, and has the smoothest of smooth surfaces to write on.
Random Stuff I Love
The Artograph Lightpad (9 x 12″) is my fave light box option. It’s super thin, so it’s very easy and comfortable to write on. This helps tremendously with layouts and addressing envelopes in straight lines. I’ve had mine for yearssss and have never had a problem with it.
Pentel makes an eraser (the Hi-Polymer eraser) that is amazing. It’s white, but don’t let that make you think it will leave residue behind. It works gloriously when erasing pencil lines on envelopes.
For chalkboard projects, I recommend the Zig Posterman Waterproof Medium Bullet. If you make mistakes, you can use Windex to clean anything you’ve already written, but the Waterproof nature of this pen ensures no bleeding in any condition. (Think, rain!)
If you’re running out of space for your envelopes or projects to dry, I love these envelope drying racks. They save major space.
And there you have it, an updated list of my everyday favorite things. I’d love to hear more about your favorites and go to’s, and as always, contact me with any questions!
Photos by Peyton Frank