If your calligraphy ink is bleeding, know that you’re in good company. Virtually every calligrapher runs into this issue at some point! When you notice the edges of your calligraphy spiderwebbing out, don’t despair: there’s always something that you can do to fix the problem.
The best way to deal with bleeding calligraphy ink is to prevent it by making sure you’re using a compatible combination of paper and ink. Make sure you choose smooth, high-quality paper, and use inks that are compatible with a dip pen. Note that most inks will specify whether they’re for fountain pens or calligraphy/dip pens. (Fountain pen inks can be used for calligraphy, but usually only after you add a thickening agent to them!)
If you’re working with a client on envelope addressing, try to guide them into providing you with envelopes that will respond well to calligraphy! If possible, order a couple of envelope samples first to ensure that everything works beautifully together. For insight on which envelopes are best, check out the How to Choose the Best Calligraphy Envelopes post!
2. Add Gum Arabic to Your Ink
So, let’s say you’ve got your heart set on using a specific paper with a specific calligraphy ink. You dip your pen into the ink, put nib to paper, and, moments later, you discover that the calligraphy ink is bleeding. Don’t despair: instead, grab some gum arabic!
Once you’ve got your gum arabic, transfer some of your ink into a small container. Fill the container halfway up with ink, then use a tiny spoon (like 1/8 teaspoon) to add gum arabic to the ink a little bit at a time. First, stir in one spoonful, then test the ink to see if it still bleeds. If it does, add another spoonful. Test again, and continue to add gum arabic until the ink no longer bleeds. I usually end up with about a 50/50 ratio of gum arabic to ink.
Gum arabic makes a huge difference. HUGE. For example, check out the Kaitlin Style photo below, which showcases Noodler’s purple ink on 20# printer paper. This particular purple ink was developed for use in a fountain pen, so it’s quite runny. Without gum arabic added, the ink really bleeds into the page!
When you add gum arabic to an ink like Noodler’s, the ink thickens up. Instead of soaking into the paper fibers, it sits on top of the paper. For that reason, the gum arabic fix is always a reliable solution!
3. Spray a Permanent Matte Fixative On Your Paper
If using gum arabic isn’t an option, try spaying a permanent (not workable) matte fixative on your paper before you write on it.
Spraying a fixative on the paper creates a non-absorbent layer on the paper’s surface. In the photo below, you can see that the piece of paper on the left has not been sprayed with fixative, so the ink has a bit of feathering at the edges. The paper on the right has been sprayed with fixative, and the calligraphy boasts nice, smooth strokes.
The disadvantage of the fixative technique is that the fixative will change the feel of your paper. It gives the paper a little bit more tooth, which may be noticeable if you spray fixative on the front — but not on the back — of envelopes. Also, upstrokes created on fixative-treated paper tend to be a bit thick. These are two things to consider before you decide to use fixative!
4. Use Gouache Instead of Ink
If you have some flexibility in your choice of which ink to use, you can always go for gouache. For example, let’s say you want to write out names on place cards using brown ink, only to find that the ink and the place card aren’t exactly compatible.
If you’re willing to change the color tone a bit, try using gouache to write the name instead! Gouache is nice and thick, so it doesn’t have a tendency to soak into paper.
5. Go Faux
If you already know that the paper you want to write on will not play nice with calligraphy ink, you can always use faux calligraphy. Faux calligraphy is a nice option because it means you don’t have to mess with gum arabic, fixative, or gouache. Instead, you can just pull out a regular pen and write!
The disadvantage of faux calligraphy is that it takes a long time to make. If you have one envelope address to write out, that’s not a problem — but if you’re working with 30 envelopes, that’s definitely something to consider.
While it’s always frustrating to discover that your calligraphy ink is bleeding, I hope that this post helps you to solve the problem! There’s always a way around the nuisance of feathery, unprofessional-looking letters … you just have to be patient and be willing to try some new things.
If you have any questions or your own tips about bleeding calligraphy ink, please feel free to contribute to the comments! Otherwise, have a great week, and thanks very much for reading TPK!