White calligraphy is enchanting, unique, and an attainable skill to add to your lettering repetoire. We’re used to seeing light papers with dark inks, but dark papers with light inks are a rarity! If you’ve never tried using white calligraphy ink, I encourage you to give it a shot. The capability to make white lettering is one of the major perks of being able to use a dip pen! In this post, I’ll provide seven tips to help you get started.
1. Choose a Quality White Calligraphy Ink
There are a lot of great white calligraphy inks available, so the list I’m about to provide you with is by no means comprehensive. That said, the three inks that I like and use are:
If you want to invest a lot of thought into your purchase, you can read this comparison of white inks, as well as this second comparison of white inks. Keep in mind, though, that white calligraphy inks all share and meet the same goal: write opaquely on dark paper. As a result, when you compare them, you can run into some nuances. These nuances don’t really matter, especially if it’s your first time using white ink. So, if it is your first time, I’d recommend the Bleed Proof White. It writes well, comes in a dip pen-friendly container, and holds its own when you run an eraser over it. You can’t really ask for anything more!
2. Choose Dark-Colored Paper to Write On
When you write with dark calligraphy inks, you have to be somewhat picky about your paper. If you don’t choose a high-quality light paper, then your ink will spiderweb out and look fuzzy! This is not the case with white calligraphy ink. White calligraphy ink is more of a paint than an ink, so it’s too thick to spiderweb out or look fuzzy.
Don’t get me wrong: you’ll always get a better overall feel and effect from nice papers. However, if all you have access to is standard dark card stock or flimsy black envelopes from your local craft store, you’ll still experience success with white calligraphy ink. Believe it or not, the Laurel Branch Decorated envelope pictured above was a Michael’s cheapie!
3. Use a White Mechanical Pencil to Draw Guidelines
If you want to write white calligraphy, your secret weapon will be a white mechanical pencil! If you’re a quilter, you’re probably already familiar with this wonderful little device, as it was originally developed for working with fabric. A white pencil can draw vibrant, easily erasable guidelines that help you to space out your lettering properly!
I want to note here that there is no best nib for creating white calligraphy. I generally write my white calligraphy envelopes with a Brause EF66 nib, but that’s just personal preference! Any nib is compatible with white calligraphy ink, but if you’re new to dip pen calligraphy, you might consider starting with a Nikko G nib. A Nikko G was used to create the George Style lettering and Janet Style calligraphy envelope pictured below!
4. Make Sure that Your Ink is Watery Enough
You’ll find that your white calligraphy ink becomes thicker over time. That’s due to water evaporating out of the ink jar as it sits with the lid off. When your ink gets too thick, it becomes increasingly difficult to write with … it won’t want to leave the nib! There’s a super quick fix to that: add a couple of drops of water to the ink, then use a coffee stir stick, a chopstick, or a similar instrument to stir the water in.
If you’re using the Bleedproof White, you only need to focus on mixing water into the first centimeter or so of ink. That’s because that top centimeter is the only part of your ink that interacts with the nib! There’s really no need to spend the time or energy mixing water throughout the entire bottle.
Once you’ve mixed the water in, give the newly hydrated ink a try! If it writes well, then you’re in business for at least another thirty minutes or so. If it’s still too thick, add a bit more water and repeat the stirring/testing process. If you accidentally add too much water (and the ink is no longer opaque as a result), no big deal! Just let the ink sit without its lid so some of the water can evaporate out.
5. Rinse Off Your Nib Often
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that white calligraphy ink is more like paint than ink. As a result, it “gunks up” the nib faster than regular ink does. You can see in the photo below that the ink is already starting to dry around the edges of the nib … and that’s only after ten seconds or so!
My rule of thumb is to clean off my nib every time it starts getting difficult to write. You’ll notice that the dried white ink on the nib affects ink flow, and it starts to become a challenge to make a nice stroke. When that happens, swish your nib around in water, then dry it off with a non-fibrous cloth.
You may not get every single bit of the white ink off, but the nib should be more or less clean and ready for round two!
6. Wait a Few Hours for Your Ink to Dry Before Erasing Pencil Guidelines
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prematurely erased my white calligraphy guidelines only to discover that the ink wasn’t completely dry. This discovery comes in the form of annoying ink smudges, as shown in the Kaitlin Style envelope below (look at “Boulder”).
Admittedly, some white inks dry more quickly and are more eraser-friendly than others. I’ve found, for example, that Winsor & Newton White Calligraphy Ink can smudge even after 24 hours of drying. Bleed Proof White dries a lot faster (sometimes within five minutes), but it’s certainly not smudge-proof if it hasn’t dried. Try to wait at least an hour before you attempt to erase Bleed Proof White ink! If you do get hasty and your ink smudges, it’s not the end of the world, however. A somewhat-cure comes in the form of an X-Acto knife.
Allow me to explain: I tried erasing the pencil guidelines on the Janet Style envelope pictured above after 10 minutes, and got a nasty surprise when the “5” smudged. It was this terrible, bright white streak that ruined the calligraphy! There was no way I was going to start over, so I used my X-Acto knife to gently scrape the top layer off of the paper. The paper doesn’t quite look the same in that spot, but you have to know that the mistake is there to see it now.
Still, your best bet is to wait to erase. Unless you’re truly pressed for time, give it a couple of hours. Even then, erase lightly and with caution. I find that Staedtler Mars erasers are the gentlest on white inks.
7. Don’t Worry About the Post Office … They’ll Deliver Your Envelope
If you plan to use white calligraphy ink on envelopes, you may be concerned about the post office delivering your envelopes. As far as I know, white calligraphy is not a problem for the folks at USPS (or at the Brazilian post office; the Kaitlin Style envelope above got to my friend without a hitch). I’ve used white calligraphy to send rent checks …
General correspondence …
… And, early in my career, wedding invitations.
All of the envelopes were delivered without any incident! If you want to give white calligraphy a try, rest assured that your envelope calligraphy efforts won’t be in vain.
I hope that you enjoyed learning about white calligraphy today! If I left anything unclear or any concepts are still fuzzy, please feel free to comment. I’ll bet someone else out there has the same question, and they’ll be glad you asked!