Every calligrapher searches for this white whale: easy and painless guideline creation. Drawing pencil guidelines is time-consuming and tedious, and there’s always a chance you’ll damage your calligraphy when you erase them! The phantom liner is one solution to the guideline problem. In this article, we’ll discuss what the phantom liner is, how it works, and whether it’s a practical tool to add to your calligraphy collection.
What is the Phantom Liner?
The phantom liner is a tool that uses optics to reflect guidelines that you can use to write. It’s a genius little rig, really: you’ve got a white board that you secure your guideline paper to with rubber bands, then the white board reflects onto a smoky plastic board. You look through the smoky plastic board as you write, and the guidelines appear on that smoky plastic.
Basically, the phantom liner provides you with the “ghost” of guidelines, thus its name. You can see the guidelines through the plastic as you write!
I ordered my phantom liner (large) from Paper & Ink Arts. The box I received looked like something out of my grandmother’s basement, complete with scuffs on all the corners. Still: I kept an open mind! We’re garage sale/auction people, so I know that when it comes to practical items, sometimes beauty lies within.
When I opened the box, I was presented with a photocopied list of instructions. Upon first glance, I admit I felt intimidated! Eventually, though, I discovered that the instructions make the assembly process look more complicated than it actually is.
The items that comprise the phantom liner were under the instructions. They included: a piece of smoky plastic, three rubber bands, a stout white board, and the holder mechanism. The aesthetics echoed the box: everything was a bit dated!
As a side note, my smoky plastic and white board had several surface scratches on them. This leads me to believe that someone regularly used this particular phantom liner before I received it! For the price ($35.00 + shipping), I would have expected a new item, but — again — if it works, that’s what’s important.
Pros of Using the Phantom Liner
Paper & Ink Arts touts the phantom liner as a good solution when a light box or pencil guidelines “just won’t do”. I agree with that! It can be confusing to look through the dark plastic to write, but it does work. I mean, I was able to use it to create calligraphy on a straight baseline!
And … what I wrote above is my only pro. It does work as promised!
Cons of Using the Phantom Liner
Unfortunately, I don’t think I can count myself as a dedicated member of the phantom liner camp. The idea is brilliant, but the execution is a little bit clunky! First, I disliked having to look through the dark plastic to write. The position of my guidelines varied depending on the angle that I observed my work through, which isn’t ideal for me. I guess I cock my head a lot as I create calligraphy, which I didn’t realize before using the phantom liner!
Not to harp on the smoky plastic, but it gave me the sensation of working in a fog. Then, when I was finished, the fog quite literally lifted, and I was able to see what I’d created. I normally love the creation process, but having that barrier between me and my work was off-putting!
The assembly has a bit of a learning curve. The reflection in the smoky glass is a mirror reflection, so I had to draw in slant lines backwards — not ideal! My biggest complaint is it’s nearly impossible to center address lines using the phantom liner. I generally use a center guideline, a spacing cheat sheet, math, and a pencil to calculate how long each address line will be. I’m not sure how a person could accomplish that with the phantom liner! (You can learn about my centering methods in the Beth Style calligraphy worksheet, the Amy Style Calligraphy Video Course, or the Janet Style Calligraphy Video Course.)
I know that some calligraphers swear by the phantom liner, and I can see it being useful in some contexts! But I’m not sure it’s a great tool for me. If you couldn’t tell, I just can’t get past looking through the smoky plastic to write! If you’re interested in using it, though, I recommend reading “Conquering the ‘Phantom Menace'” by Nan Deluca. Nan is no longer with us, but she was an accomplished NYC calligrapher who used the phantom liner regularly!
I know I’m old-fashioned, but my favorite guideline method is good ol’ pen, paper, and a ruler. Yes, it takes time and precision, but it gives you maximum control.
If you’re working on light-colored paper, try using a light box. The light box is my favorite shortcut method, but it’s not foolproof because it doesn’t work with darker papers.
Finally, you can try using a plastic guideline tool (or you can DIY one).
I want to know: have you used the phantom liner before? If so, what is your impression? If not, what’s your preferred method of drawing guidelines? All input is appreciated!
Thanks very much for reading, and I hope you have a fantastic weekend! Keep an eye out next week: more calligraphy kits are coming on Sunday, we’re adding to the TPK Supply Shop, and I’m releasing the Improve Your Handwriting eCourse on Tuesday! Big things happening. 🙂