Back to Basics, Part 2: The Mystery of Paper

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

Last month, we discussed how to properly prepared our calligraphy nibs for working, and now that we're ready to begin...what exactly are we supposed to be lettering on??

The mystery of paper can be confusing and frustrating, especially if you're not familiar with art paper to begin with. Hopefully I can shed some light on this subject, and offer some helpful tips that will alleviate your frustration!

I'm going to break my paper recommendations down into two groups: practice paper and paper for finished works. I remember starting out and not being able to find any good recommendations for practice paper, and being just out of college I wasn't interested in spending a bunch of money on really high quality paper for just practicing. I'm writing the recommendations I wish I would have been able to find when I was starting out, and hopefully it'll be helpful to you too!

First Things First: Practice Paper

Just because we're practicing, doesn't mean we should settle for just any paper! We want to feel successful in the time we spend practicing, and be able to evaluate the work we've done for improvement. If we use a bad paper, we'll end up frustrated by the experience and our work will look sloppy and unappealing.

My first requirements for practice paper are: 1) it has to hold ink well (preferably on top of the paper - not soaking in), 2) the nib has to glide well on the surface, and 3) it has to be easy to find and relatively inexpensive.

My favorite practice paper is from the Canson Marker Pad. You can find these paper pads at most hobby stores (I get mine from Michaels). The paper is very smooth, and holds ink well. The best thing about it is that it's you can use guidelines underneath without a light box. This is GREAT for practicing - it speeds up set up time, and allows you to form good habits with consistent script size, etc. This is the paper I give each of my students in my own classes.

Other great options for paper pads include Rhodia pads (both the regular and the ice pads), and Claire Fontaine pads. I love the grid and dot grid versions of these pads! Grids are so helpful when laying out flourishes and twirly bits.

Another great options is laser jet printer paper. Printer paper is fantastic if you want to copy/print guidelines to make practice time prep quicker! My favorite type is HP Premium Choice LaserJet Copy Paper, 32lb, 100 bright. It works well with both pointed pen and broad edge calligraphy, and it's actually the paper I use to create my workbooks for classes.

Time for Finishing: High Quality Art Paper

Art Paper is a wonderful rabbit hole of beautiful options. It can be a bit overwhelming if you're not familiar with all the identifying terms!

I prefer watercolor paper, for it's flexibility for adding watercolor elements to my pieces, and its weight. This isn't to say that other options you find aren't good papers, so I still recommend getting samples and testing out to find your own favorite paper. If you're looking for some direction, though, I think watercolor paper is the way to go.

There are two types of watercolor paper: hot press and cold press. This refers to how the paper is made. Cold press paper tends to be more textured and bumpy, while hot press is more smooth. Hot press is my favorite, because the smooth surface allows for all types of calligraphy, and there are less imperfections for your nib to catch on as you draw. If you're not used to lettering on art paper, I highly recommend starting with hot press. Cold press is beautiful paper, and I love the effect it can give my lettering, so after you're comfortable with hot press I would give cold press a try as well.

The final thing you should look at is the weight of the paper. The higher the weight number, the thicker the paper is. 90lb is a beautiful thickness (think card stock), and 120lb is even thicker and can be really nice for certain types of projects (more like tag board)

Now, to get really specific: my absolutely favorite paper for finished pieces is Fabriano Artistico 90lb Hot Press Watercolor paper. I also love the same paper in 120lb.

Some other great options I've worked with: Arches 90lb Hot Press Watercolor and Arches Text Wove.

I hope this helps de-mystify the confusing world of calligraphy paper! If you've already found favorite paper, please share with me in the comments - I love learning about new paper so I can try it out! Happy Practicing!

Missed the first part of this beginning calligraphy series? Check it out here!

Want to see some of my work on these papers? Check out my online gallery!

Wondering who I am? Let's get to know each other! Click here to learn more about me.

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