When you’re new to calligraphy, it’s not exactly obvious which calligraphy pen you should use! In today’s article, I hope to give you some clarity with calligraphy pen comparisons. That way, you can start off with the pen that’s best for you and take it from there! After all, if you begin with the proper writing utensil, your chances of sticking with calligraphy are much higher.
Here are today’s contenders:
Remember that personal preferences will vary. I’m writing today’s calligraphy pen comparisons according to my experience, including pros and cons.
1. Standard Pen
The Pilot G2 0.5 pen was the very first pen I used to create (and sell!) calligraphy. I used a technique called “faux calligraphy” to help me achieve calligraphy pen-type results without the knowledge of how to actually use a dip pen and ink.
Here are the pros of using a standard pen to create calligraphy:
- You don’t have to know how to use a dip pen.
- You can create this type of calligraphy with any writing utensil (including chalk, marker, paintbrush, etc).
- There’s less risk of mess — there’s no jar of ink around to spill!
Here are the cons of using a regular pen for calligraphy:
- For some pens (Pilot G2, Gelly Roll), ink can take hours to dry. That means that if you draw a pencil guideline, you need to wait several hours to erase with confidence. It’s sort of like nail polish — it feels like it’s dry, but once you put it to the test, you might find out it’s not! Note that I haven’t had this issue with Muji pens.
- It is almost impossible to achieve delicate-looking calligraphy using a regular pen.
- The faux calligraphy technique takes halfway to forever to create. First, you have to write out your words, reinforce them with another stroke, then fill in the strokes.
2. Brush Pen
There are all sorts of brush pens available, and they’re a great calligraphy option for several reasons. Like a regular pen, they’re portable and have a low mess potential. Beginners love them and often stick with just using a brush pen because they experience so much success with them!
Here are the pros of using brush pens for calligraphy:
- They’re a great precursor to dip pens because they teach you how to use pressure to control stroke width.
- You can generally create brush pen calligraphy quickly.
- They come in a variety of sizes and cool colors. I particularly like large brush pens for making signs!
Here are the cons of using brush pen calligraphy:
- Thin upstrokes can be particularly difficult to achieve because you’ve got to use light, balanced pressure.
- Almost all brush pens are too large to create delicate calligraphy.
- To me, brush pens have a slightly casual feel. They’re (generally) not suitable for formal projects like wedding envelope calligraphy.
3. Straight Dip Pen
Straight dip pens are what almost everybody starts off learning dip pen calligraphy with. This writing instrument might look like it would be easy to use, but it has a learning curve! It’s important to make sure you’re using the proper grip, a good nib, and high-quality ink and paper if you’re using this pen. (Read more about that in The Beginner’s Guide to Modern Calligraphy.)
Here are the pros of using a straight pen:
- Most straight pens are cheap and can accommodate any nib (see: A Guide to Straight Calligraphy Pens).
- They’re great for right- or left-handed writers.
And here are the cons:
- It can be difficult for right-handed writers (in particular) to write calligraphy at a 55 degree angle with a straight pen. For that reason, many righties use oblique pens or write using upright styles like Amy Style calligraphy.
- If you don’t exert pressure on the nib correctly, this pen will give you problems. It’s important to pay attention to proper writing techniques as outlined in the Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course.
4. Cartridge Pen (Fountain Pen)
Many beginners confuse fountain pens with straight dip pens, but they’re not interchangeable. In my opinion, fountain pens are best for general writing because most fountain pen nibs don’t flex like dip pen nibs do. If you’re going to use fountain pens for calligraphy, it’s probably best to use the faux calligraphy technique.
Here are the pros of using typical fountain pens:
- They’re portable (but be careful on airplanes — the pressure could cause them to leak).
- There’s less potential for mess than there is with dip pens.
- There are some truly gorgeous fountain pen inks available!
Here are the cons of using a typical fountain pen for calligraphy:
- The tines won’t flex to give you the thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes of dip pen calligraphy.
- Cleaning and refilling the pen can be a bit of a production (in my opinion).
- To achieve dip pen-like results, you’ll need to use the faux calligraphy technique, which takes a long time to create.
Note that there is one dip pen-like fountain pen that I know of, the Osprey Scholar. I still prefer to use a dip pen, but I think the Scholar is a great option for many people! You can read my review of it here.
5. Oblique Dip Pen
For a long time, I avoided the oblique calligraphy pen because it looks complicated. I wondered how on earth I was supposed to write with that strange appendage — and I couldn’t find any tutorials online! However, out of all of these calligraphy pen comparisons, the oblique pen is my favorite pen to use. If you’re curious about how to create calligraphy with this pen, see my How to Use an Oblique Calligraphy Pen tutorial.
Here are the pros of using this pen:
- Helps (most) right-handed people to achieve a right-leaning letter slant. A small percentage of left-handed people prefer to use an oblique pen as well. You can read more about the oblique pen and what it’s for here.
- The oblique pen keeps your hand out of the way as you write, which makes it great for flourishing.
And the cons:
- There’s a learning curve (which you can conquer in the Beginner’s Modern Calligraphy Online Course).
- Oblique pens are more expensive than straight pens.
- Most brass-flanged oblique pens are fitted specifically for one type of nib. If you want to use an oblique pen with multiple nibs, you’ll need multiple oblique pens.
- Oblique pens mostly benefit right-handed people.
I hope that these calligraphy pen comparisons help you to find the right calligraphy pen (or method) to start out with! If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post. Note that this article first appeared on the TPK blog in November of 2013 and underwent a much-needed update to reflect current information!