Types of Calligraphy Pens: Explained (Part 1)

Updated: Dec 2, 2019


If you're new to calligraphy, deciding what pen to use can be a difficult hurdle. With all the different calligraphy tools available, how do you know which one to start with?

This week, let's revisit the beginning and break down some of the most common types of lettering tools available today!

The Fountain Pen

As classic as it gets! The fountain pen consists of either an ink reservoir or ink cartridge, with a stylized body and chisel-tipped or round pen tip.

This tool is best used for personal handwriting and cursive lettering, although some of the larger pen tips can produce broad-edge style lettering as well.

Lefties can often find writing / lettering with a fountain pen difficult, as the broad edge isn't chiseled to suit left-handed angles. In addition, these pens are meant to be pulled across the page, so lefties may have difficulty with consistent ink flow, because we push the pen across the page (away from our hand) instead of pulling it.

The Oblique Holder and Pointed Nib

For the traditional pointed pen calligraphy styles, nothing beats an oblique holder and pointed nib. Copperplate, Engrossers, and a variety of other styles will benefit from the oblique holder, especially for right-handed calligraphers. This oblique holder will 'kick' the nib out to the left, assisting in creating the 54 degree angle for Copperplate (for example), in order to achieve the characteristic right-slanted letters.

Lefties may also choose to use an oblique holder (although it's not necessary), and they can utilize it in a variety of ways. Several noted calligraphers use a right-handed oblique holder, and letter at a 90 degree angle. Others of us (myself included!) will choose holders with a special 'left-handed' flange, which bends in the opposite direction. This allows us to use the oblique holder with the flange kicking out to the right, rather than the left.

The Straight Holder and Pointed Nib

The favorite combo for many calligraphers today, a straight holder is exactly like an oblique holder, except that the nib is in line with the body of the holder, rather than kicked out to the right/left by a flange.

The straight holder is perfect for more modern pointed pen variations and scripts, such as Kathy Milici's "Modern Storybook Script", where the slant of the letters doesn't have to be so strict.

The straight holder is also a great option for lefties who may find working with an oblique holder difficult or unnecessary.

The Straight Holder and Broad Edge Nib

Moving to the other side of the calligraphy scripts, we find broad edge nibs. Broad edge nibs are designed to be used at the same angle (for example, 45 degrees) throughout the entire script, which gives each letter thick and thin lines depending on which direction the nib is traveling.

Some common broad edge scripts include Italic, Foundational (Book Hand), Gothic,

Broad Edge nibs are always used with straight holders, and are never paired with oblique holders. These nibs are usually chiseled with a slight angle to the right, but 'left-handed' versions are available as well, with the tip angled in the opposite direction.

Lefties often have more trouble with broad edge scripts, because the nib angles often conflict with our hand position. When I letter with broad edge nibs, for example, I have my paper tipped at 90 degrees (so the left side of the paper is facing me), and I have to letter sideways, bottom to top. It definitely takes some getting used to, but is 100% achievable for lefties!


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