• A Guide to Calligraphy Inks

    Considering the variety of calligraphy inks on the market, finding the right one might seem overwhelming. Fear not; this guide is here to help you find some standout choices and their perfect uses!

    Among other things, the course has an Ink Collection page and a Nib Collection page to help you organize your supplies. A big part of being an intermediate calligrapher is knowing what nibs/inks to use for what project.
    I like to use the “My Ink Collection” page from the Intermediate Modern Calligraphy Online Course to keep track of my inks.

    When it comes to calligraphy, the ink you choose can profoundly affect your work’s outcome. With so many options available, I’ve curated a guide on some standout inks that have consistently delivered for me over the years. My hope is that this guide will demystify the ink selection process for you, allowing you to make informed choices that best suit your artistic needs!

    Best Calligraphy Ink for Beginners: Sumi Ink

    This is a 6 oz container of sumi ink for those who love using this velvety color!

    I recommend sumi ink for all of my Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course students. I love it for learners because it’s smooth, velvety, and dilutes well. When it dries, it has a matte sheen to it, which means it scans beautifully. That’s why I use sumi to make the letters for all of my calligraphy worksheets.

    Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part I: Ziller, Sumi, and Higgins | The Postman's Knock

    Like a lot of inks, sumi will need some dilution over time, as some water will evaporate out. If it’s tough for you to find sumi ink, India ink is a great substitute!

    Best Ink for Watercolor Lovers: Ziller Soot Black

    Ziller Waterproof Calligraphy Ink

    Calligraphy, illustration, and watercolor make for an incredible combination! Anytime I know I want to incorporate watercolor into a project, I use Ziller Soot Black ink because it’s completely waterproof when dry. Before I found Ziller, I had never encountered an ink that couldn’t be encouraged to smudge — at least a little bit — when it encountered water. I use this ink for all of my dip pen + watercolor projects. It’s especially amazing for watercolor maps!

    Black Calligraphy Inks Comparison Part I: Ziller, Sumi, and Higgins | The Postman's Knock

    The disadvantage of using Ziller ink? It’s a bit paint-like, so it can be quite thick. Working with it might require some patience! But it’s well worth it for the waterproof qualities of the ink.

    Best Ink for Intermediate Calligraphers: Iron Gall Ink

    This ink is capable of making super thin hairlines and thick, rich downstrokes.

    One of iron gall ink’s most notable attributes is its incredible flow, which ensures that the ink glides smoothly across the paper with each stroke. This results in clean and crisp strokes and allows you to maintain a consistent rhythm without being hindered by ink that is too viscous or too watery. This consistency can be the key to mastering more complex scripts and techniques without getting bogged down by the mechanics of the ink itself.

    Iron gall ink makes for an especially gorgeous piece!
    Iron gall ink never fails to make fantastic flourishes with plenty of contrast. Pair it with a flexible nib like the Brause EF66, and watch magic happen on your paper!

    Iron gall ink has a rich historical connection to the art of calligraphy. Used by scribes and artists for centuries, this ink has a unique property of oxidizing over time, which means that its color deepens, adding elegance and antiquity to the script. For the intermediate calligrapher, using iron gall ink can feel like tapping into the rich legacy of calligraphers from eras past.

    Best Earthy Ink: Walnut

    Walnut Ink | The Postman's Knock
    I like buying premixed walnut ink (affiliate link). For an economical alernative, you can mix walnut ink crystals (affiliate link) with water.

    Walnut ink, a timeless classic in the calligraphy world, is derived from the husks of walnuts. This organic source has made it a favored choice for artisans and scribes over many centuries. When it dries, walnut ink reveals a beautiful vintage hue. This unique characteristic lends depth and character to any piece it’s used on, making it a beloved choice for those seeking to add old-world charm to their creations.

    How to Make a Stunning Postage Stamp Collage | The Postman's Knock
    Walnut ink results in a rich and gradated earthy brown color, as shown on this lacy Janet Style calligraphy envelope art.

    Like iron gall ink, walnut ink can present a challenge for beginners due to its watery consistency. This fluid nature requires a steady hand and understanding of ink flow. If you’re new to calligraphy, try honing your skills with the more forgiving sumi ink for a few weeks before diving into the nuanced world of walnut ink. With patience and practice, however, you’ll find that walnut ink offers a unique, vintage charm that’s difficult to replicate with other inks.

    Best Ink for Colorful Personalities: Bombay India Ink

    Dr. Ph. Martin's Bombay Ink
    I offer four Bombay Inks in the TPK Supply Shops: Violet, Tangerine, Grass Green, and Turquoise. These four colors happen to be my favorites, which is why I chose to stock them.

    If you’re looking to create vibrant and colorful calligraphy, Bombay inks are amazing. They’re highly pigmented, lightfast, and a wonderful viscosity. They are a bit thinner than sumi ink, so I wouldn’t recommend starting out learning with them — but these inks are great if you’ve got some practice under your belt.

    Why, When, and How to Dilute Ink | The Postman's Knock
    I used Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay Ink in “Turquoise” to make these elegant envelopes!

    The thing I love about Bombay Inks? They’ve got some gradation to them. There are some strokes you’ll make that are super dark, and others will end up being very light. Not everyone loves this look, but I think it’s cool. One thing to keep in mind, though: Bombay inks don’t come in pointed pen-friendly containers. It’s best to transfer them to an airtight jar for convenient storage.

    Best White Ink: Bleed Proof White

    Dr. Ph. Martin's Bleed Proof White Ink | The Postman's Knock

    I’ve conducted several white ink tests, and ultimately, I’ve decided that Bleed Proof White is my favorite. I love how it dries a brilliant, true white, even if it’s not the most waterproof ink out there. (Bleed Proof Ink is, in fact, a watercolor hybrid.) It also comes in a pointed pen-friendly container, which is a huge plus.

    The main thing to remember with Bleed Proof White is that it needs to be diluted. When it arrives, you’ll notice that it’s basically a solid mass of white. This consistency can be surprising to first-time users, but it’s designed that way to offer you control over its thickness. By adding a few drops of water and mixing, you can achieve the perfect viscosity for your calligraphy needs, ensuring smooth strokes and crisp lines every time.

    Best Glamorous “Ink”: Arabic Gold Watercolor

    I put “ink” in quotes for this because Finetec metallics are actually watercolors! To use the watercolors as ink, you’ll need to brush them on the back of your nib. This might seem unconventional to those used to traditional inks, but the effect you achieve is undeniably vibrant and shimmering. Once you get the hang of it, the metallic watercolors offer a luxurious sheen that can elevate any piece of calligraphy or art.

    Envelope with Gold Lettering | The Postman's Knock
    I used Finetec gold (and George Style lettering + Janet Style calligraphy) to make this envelope. See how beautifully the gold shows up on black paper?

    If you’re curious about how to use metallic watercolors for calligraphy, don’t miss the short tutorial below. It’s delightfully simple, and the beauty of metallic watercolors is their longevity. Even if they dry out, you can effortlessly rehydrate them and use them time and time again.

    Best “Ink” for Travelers: Watercolors

    To learn how to use watercolors for calligraphy, see the How to Create Watercolor Calligraphy tutorial.

    Watercolors offer a versatile and dynamic medium for calligraphers, allowing for an expansive range of shades and gradients. By blending different hues, you can create a myriad of unique colors tailored to your specific project. When used for calligraphy, they lend a painterly touch that’s both ethereal and vibrant.

    The finished, folded envelope will end up being 6-1/4″ x 4-3/8″ (15-3/4 cm x 11-1/10 cm).
    I made this envelope art using just watercolors! Please feel free to download the free watercolor henna envelope art template and use watercolor calligraphy to write your recipient’s address, as I’ve done here.

    While watercolors are great for travelers, don’t limit yourself to using them for on-the-go calligraphy! They’re also fabulous for mixing up custom “ink” colors at home. Owning a watercolor palette gives you access to practically any color of calligraphy “ink”. My favorite watercolors are from Greenleaf & Blueberry, but there are plenty of others out there, including the student grade Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors in the TPK Catalog.

    Keep in mind that there’s a vast array of inks out there, and I’ve yet to try many of those inks. If there’s an ink you’re particularly fond of, please share in the comments. I’m always eager to expand my collection, and others will benefit from your recommendation, too! Likewise, if you’ve come across an ink that didn’t meet your expectations, let me know. Your insight is invaluable, and often I discover wonderful new supplies thanks to the TPK community.


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock