How to Use Calligraphy Pens. An In-Depth Guide

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In this quick tutorial, I will show you how to clean, assemble and properly use a traditional dip pen. This is a beginners guide and will go over every step in detail. I will show you how to use a calligraphy pen step by step. So let´s get started!

What you need.

You will need a pen holder with a universal insert, a nib of your choosing (more Information about nibs below), some paper and ink (also more information below). You can get these things in a local shop or online.

The different nibs

There are many different nibs. The two most popularly used ones are the italic nib and the flex nib. The main difference between this is the way you achieve different line weight.

The italic nib has a broad flat tip. Different line thickness is achieved by holding the pen at a constant angle while writing. Italic nibs are mostly used for italic or gothic scripts. In my opinion, these nibs are easier for beginners because it is quite simple to get different line weights.

The Flex nib or also called pointed nib is … well pointed. If you press down on the paper the nib will flex a little bit and the tip will spread slightly allowing more inc to flow and like that the thickness of the line will change. Nibs like these will mostly be used in cursive fonts or for illustrating or for drawing decorations.

It is a little bit harder to draw with these because you have to actively change the line weight through pressure which can be challenging if you are new to calligraphy.

Preparing the Nib

Before you start drawing most nibs will have to be prepared.

When nibs are manufactured they will be coated with an oil that is supposed to prevent them from rusting. However, this exact oil can also interfere with your inc flow. So you will have to clean the oil off the nib before you start drawing.

There are different ways to do this. You can either just rub the oil off with some rubbing alcohol or you can use a glass of slightly hot water (not boiling!) and dip the nib in there a couple of times and then rubbing it with some cloth. And finally, you can pass the nib through a little open flame, like from a lighter. But be very careful with this approach, because you can damage the nib if you heat it up too much.

If you tried to draw and for some reason, no ink or just very little ink is flowing or you are getting these nasty ink blobs, then you might have to clean it a little more.

Assembling the calligraphy pen

Take the Pen holder and stick the nib in the universal insert. Most beginners (I did this as well when I started) will stick it in the middle of these metal “fins”. This is wrong. If you do this the nib will be hard to control and may even fall out of the insert.

To properly assemble it you have to carefully shove the nib in between the “fins” and the outer rim of the pen. Look at the pictures below for reference.

This is how the universal insert looks like. You can clearly see the metal “fins”
Here the nib is inserted corectly

What ink and paper to use in the beginning

My favorite inks are Sumi or Pelikan but any calligraphy ink will do as long as it is not to thick.

Papers are a little bit more difficult. You can use any calligraphy paper but they tend to be a little expensive, especially if you are just exercising… I personly use watercolor paper or drawing paper from the art store.

Just be sure not to use paper that has to much texture. Make a few test lines, if the lines are sharp and dry fast then you are good to go. If the inc bleeds or little bits of the paper get stuck on the nib, then the paper is not good for calligraphy.

How to “load” the pen

If you use a flex nib then just dip it in the ink. But not all the way in but only until the hole in the nib is almost completely submerged in the inc.

The italic nib is a little more complicated to load. You will need either a little brush or an eyedropper to “load” it. Dip the brush or the eyedropper in the ink and then put some ink in the space between the folded metal. It should be filled until it is about 3/4 full. Look at the pictures below for reference.

Start drawing

Now you have successfully prepared your pen and you are ready to draw your first letters!

If you need help or more information about calligraphy then check my beginners guide to calligraphy out! In this guide, I will teach you how to draw three different scripts and I will go over the preparation and the theory behind calligraphy a lot more in-depth!

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