If you’re putting your feelings down on paper, why not do it beautifully? Our pointed pen calligraphy tips will help you write an elegant, personal love letter, thank-you note, invitation…or a personal mantra, inspirational quote or grocery list. Pointed pen calligraphy is a lettering style created by using a pen and nib and dipping it into ink. Whether you use super-formal letterforms or print in simple lowercase, the thick and thin strokes create emotion and elegance beyond normal handwriting. Hallmark Lettering Artists Sarah C. and Amber G. give their tips for pointed pen calligraphy, below.
Calligraphy tips for pointed pen lettering
Pointed pen lettering supplies
If you already have a penholder and nib, whatever you’re used to is perfect.
Pen holder. An oblique holder (at left in the photo below) is a good one for beginners because it helps you hold the pen at the correct angle; a standard pen holder will give you a little more freedom of motion. Lefties can get a special left -handed oblique pen holder or use a standard pen holder.
Nibs: Use nibs made to fit your pen holder. We like the Brause Steno nib with the standard holder and the Brause EF 66 nib with the oblique holder. You can order a nib sampler to play around and find your favorite.
Black ink (Higgins Eternal is a good one. Be careful—it’s permanent.)
Ink well or container
Practice paper: Use Bienfang marker paper or Clearprint design vellum to work on your technique.
Optional: Calligraphy practice paper
Fancy paper for your final letter (test your ink on the paper to make sure it doesn’t bleed)
Helpful resources with more calligraphy tips
Tools, ink, books and DVDs: Paper & Ink Arts, John Neal, Bookseller
A super in-depth post to read if you’re just starting out: A Beginner’s Guide to Pointed Pen Calligraphy
A classic book on technique: Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy: A Step-by-Step Manual (Lettering, Calligraphy, Typography) by Eleanor Winters
Instagram hashtags like #pointedpen and #pointedpencalligraphy
Nibs come protected with a coating of oil. To remove it so your ink doesn’t slip right off, try one of these methods:
- Light a match and hold it to the underside of the nib for a few seconds to burn off the oil. Then flip it over and burn the top side of the nib.
- Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and wipe the nib clean.
Gently insert the nib in your penholder.
Get the angle of the nib right by holding the pen just as you would a pencil and pointing the nib at your belly button. Then loosen your grip, and with your other hand, turn the pen 35 degrees to the right.
Dip the pen in the ink just enough to cover the vent hole in the center of the nib.
Practicing with the pointed pen
Before you start with letters, play around a little with the way the pen feels in your hand and works on the paper. Add pressure on the downstrokes and release the pressure when you’re moving up.
Download our free practice sheet for strokes, and place it under a sheet of marker paper or vellum. Practice lines—moving up and down—then connect those lines at the bottom. Try loops of different sizes and see how it feels to add and release pressure as you move down and up.
Go slowly and try not to twist the pen as you work.
When you’re able to consistently create thick and thin lines, move on to practicing letterforms.
Tracing over our artist’s letterforms will help give you a feel for where the weight should fall within each letter.
Print out the practice sheets and place one under a sheet of marker paper or vellum. Slowly trace each letter, following the thin and thick lines. Remember to move the pen down on the thicker parts and up on the thinner ones—this may mean creating letters a different way than you’re used to.
Once you’ve traced the letterforms, practice them on a blank page, looking back at the practice sheet for reference. You can try to copy them exactly, or embellish a little bit to make them your own.
Write your love letter
Now it’s time to write your letter. Instead of freehanding ours in calligraphy, we started by figuring out the message. If you’d like a little help with that, check out this article about writing a love letter by Hallmark writer Keely C. or our tips on letter-writing. A few more hints:
- Make it short, sweet and frame-worthy
- Or long and meant to be tucked away
- Swipe your favorite words from a song, movie, play or poem
Letter your love letter
How to get the layout of your letter just right:
- For a love letter written on vellum or another translucent paper, can trace the letterforms onto a practice page letter by letter, then trace that on to your final paper.
- Or you can put a ruled page under the vellum and sketch your letterforms lightly on to the vellum, then go over them with your pen and ink.
- If the paper you’ve chosen for your finished letter isn’t translucent, use a ruler to lightly sketch rules on to the paper. Then sketch your letterforms, and finish by going over them with pen and ink.
Sketching your letterforms first lets you concentrate on your calligraphy when you start with the pen and ink. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in creating the beautiful letters that you leave one—or a whole word—out.
Tips to make lettering your message easier
Pointed pen calligraphy takes a little practice and isn’t something easy to master right away. Want a simpler solution?
- Instead of writing the whole letter in calligraphy, just focus on your loved one’s name at the top and yours (or your signature) at the bottom. For the rest, use your regular handwriting.
- Or write the whole thing in your own handwriting, but use pointed pen techniques—slanted letters with heavy and light strokes.
- Type or handwrite the love letter, and use calligraphy to write the name on the envelope.
Whatever you decide to do, your letter will have that much more meaning because of the personal touch you’ve added. Want more tips on sending a thoughtful letter or note? Keely can tell you what to write for pretty much any occasion.