art & design

The Best Calligraphy Inks and Nibs

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I might be biased when I say this, but calligraphy is a fantastic form of art to try out. It’s great no matter if you’re looking for a hobby or something more serious. There’s so much you can do. From just improving your everyday handwriting to learning traditional scripts such as copperplate or Spencerian. Or you can even get artistic with lettering or graffiti. The world of calligraphy is literally whatever you make of it. So today I want to share some of what I think are the best calligraphy inks and nibs.


Calligraphy depends on a few very basic tools. You’re going to need a medium and a tool to write with. I will fully admit I’m a little biased in this post towards scripts written with a dip pen, that just happens to be what I prefer to work with. Take this as a starting point. There are so many options when it comes to calligraphy that it would be impossible to mention everything in a single post.


A Note About Paper


One really important tool that I have mentioned in this post, but will affect how your calligraphy looks is what you are writing on. These are what I think are the best calligraphy inks. But these inks will look and act very different depending on your paper surface. You can be sure that they all will work on smooth watercolour papers from brands such as Fabriano or Bockingford as that is what I prefer to use.


But if you choose to use something different you will have to remember that the way these inks act, and how easy it is to write with the nibs I’ve mentioned, might change depending on the paper you choose.
Ink bleed is always an issue with calligraphy. You could use the same ink and it will work perfectly well on one paper surface and bleed on another. This can depend on a variety of factors. But a good starting point is the quality of the paper you’re using. Lightweight paper tends to have more bleeding issues compared to heavier watercolour paper.


I would always recommend testing out an ink before doing any calligraphy so you know how it will react to your paper. I could give you a list of papers and which inks will work best. But, if you want to learn calligraphy, you should do it yourself so you can learn what works for you.


The Best Calligraphy Inks


Sumi Ink


Out of everything on this list, Sumi ink is probably my most used tool. It works great no matter if you’re practising calligraphy or making artwork that you want to last for years. The ink can be diluted to the right consistency and will remain opaque, even on very fine hairlines. It is lightfast and waterproof, meaning the ink won’t fade or change over time.

Best calligraphy inks.


I love this ink because it works on so many different paper types. It’s not prone to bleeding. And even if there is a paper it bleeds on, a little gum arabic mixed into the ink will help solve that problem.


Dr PH Martin’s Bleed Proof White


I’ve tried lots of different white inks and the Dr PH Martin bleed-proof white is the ink I always go back to. The ink comes as a very thick paste so you can dilute it with water to the consistency you need for writing.

Small bottle of Dr PH Martin's bleed proof white calligraphy ink.


You might think it’s a very small bottle of ink, but you’d be surprised how long it lasts for. I’ve been using the same ink for almost 4 years now. It can take a little time to learn how to work with this ink. Mixing it to the right consistency, but it’s worth the effort. It doesn’t go chalky like some Windsor and Newton inks. It’s also very opaque so it works great on dark-coloured papers. Even the fine hairlines come out super bright.


Walnut Ink


Walnut ink is a classic of the calligraphy world. This ink was originally made from the husks of walnuts, but it’s possible to find versions now made with brown pigment. Walnut dries to a deep brown colour, making it the ideal choice if you want to add a little bit of vintage character to your artwork.

Tom's Studio walnut ink in bottle with white dropper


Walnut ink can be bought as a liquid, or as crystals that you mix with water to create the ink. It tends to be a very watery ink so can be challenging for beginners. It can also be quite transparent so works better on light-coloured papers with fine hairlines showing clearly.


Finetec Metallic Watercolours


As the name suggests, Finetec makes metallic watercolour paint rather than traditional calligraphy inks. But don’t let the name put you off. If you’re looking for metallic ink to use in a project, Finetec makes some of the best.


Finetec Metallic Watercolours come in solid pans which need to be mixed with water to the right consistency. It can take a little bit of practice to get the right consistency for writing but the results are worth it.

Finetec metallic watercolours in pans next to calligraphy artwork.


Finetec inks are made from mica powder, which means they are highly pigmented and reflective. They can be very opaque, depending on how much water you add, which makes them a great choice when writing on dark-coloured papers. Even the very pale golds will show up on black paper.


Finetec makes a huge range of metallic inks. They have over 20 shades of gold, bronze and rose gold to choose from. No matter what you’re working on you’re almost sure to find the right ink colour out of the Finetec range. I also love that they sell their inks in individual pans as well as palettes. This makes it easy to refill your palette if you need to. Or create your own with the specific ink colours you know you’ll use.


Ferris Wheel Press


Ferris Wheel Press are a new giant of the calligraphy world. They make inks for fountain pens and dip pens in a huge variety of colours. I prefer buying the fountain pen ink as I can use it for both dip pen and traditional fountain pen. The difference between the two types of ink is the consistency, think about comparing water to cream.

Bottle of Lady Rose Ferris Wheel Press fountain pen ink next to fountain pen and handwritten letter.


Fountain pen inks tend to be more watery as it is designed to go inside a pen. However, saying this, it is possible to use fountain pen ink with a dip pen. You will just have to reload your nib more often than you may be used to. If you’re a beginner to calligraphy you may want to try their range of calligraphy inks instead. These will be easier to work with and more opaque, meaning it’s easier to see your writing.


Ferris Wheel Press also makes a range of sheening inks, where the ink seems to change colour depending on how you look at it. Though yes, these are lovely inks. If you are making any sort of calligraphy artwork that you want to be long-lasting you should stay away from these inks. Due to the pigments used to make this style of sheening ink (this goes for all brands not just FWP!) the ink colour will change significantly over time.


Gouache


Gouache is not made specifically for calligraphy. But it’s a paint I’ve been using for years and love because of how flexible it is. Gouache is similar to watercolour but more opaque. It comes in a range of colours, including neon and metallic shades. From this, you can mix just about any colour you might have in mind.


Most brands that sell calligraphy ink will have a range of colours, but if you have a very specific colour in mind that you need for a calligraphy project. For example, if you need to colour match something, gouache is a fantastic option.


My Favourite Calligraphy Nibs


Nikko G


The Nikko G nib a great choice if you’re just getting started with calligraphy. This nib can be quite stiff, especially compared to some of the other nibs mentioned here. This makes it similar to writing with a fountain pen. You can start with the Zebra G to learn the basics before getting into the nitty-gritty of fine nib control.

Calligraphy dip pen with Zebra Nikko G nib and calligraphy artwork in gold ink.


I love using this nib for modern calligraphy because of how stiff the Zebra G is. This means the contrast between thick and thin strokes isn’t as pronounced. Giving the calligraphy a light and airy feel to it. For the same reason, it’s a great choice if you’re working with handmade papers, or paper with a heavy texture as the nib isn’t as prone to catching paper fibres.


Leonardt EF


The Leonardt EF is probably my most used nib. This is a great choice for fine copperplate calligraphy. The nib is quite flexible which means you have a lot of control over how the tines move. This nib is very scratchy, especially compared to the Zebra G. With regular pens it would be similar to using a Biro and then moving on to an expensive fountain pen.

Calligraphy dip pen with Leonardt EF  nib and calligraphy artwork in black and gold ink.


If you’re serious about learning copperplate I’d highly recommend checking out this nib. The flexible nib means you have a huge amount of control over how you move the tines and this is extremely important for learning Engrosser’s Script or any other fine copperplate script. You can learn how to move each tine independently so your letters have sharp edges. But it does take a huge amount of practice to get good at this.


Brause Steno


The Brause Steno (also known as the Blue Pumpkin) is between the Zebra G and Leonardt EF on the “easy to use” scale. I love using this nib when I’m writing at a large scale as the thin strokes come out slightly thicker compared to the Leonardt EF. It’s also great if you want to work with heavily textured paper as it is more “blunt” compared to the EF.

Image shows a dip pen resting on a desk with a Leonardt Steno nib next to a calligraphy artwork.


If you’re still a calligraphy newbie who wants to move onto something more than the Zebra G this would be an ideal choice. You don’t have quite as sharp a learning curve and the Blue Pumpkin gives an almost italic look to your calligraphy because of the thicker nib.


Speedball ‘B’ series


I don’t use the Speedball ‘B’ series nibs that often. But I love them because of the lettering I can produce with them. The Speedball nibs have a “foot” on them. The ‘B’ nibs specifically have a round foot, which means when writing you can create a monoline style of lettering.


The ‘B’ nibs can be quite tricky to use as you have to pay close attention to the amount of ink on the nib. Too much ink will cause your lettering to pool and merge. You can see me having this exact problem in my 2024 planner set-up video. But I still love using this nib, especially when pairing it with a script font.

These are just my favourites, there are so many more things I could have mentioned. Maybe at some point, I will do a round-up of all my favourite calligraphy supplies. For now, this is what I think are the best calligraphy inks and nibs.

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