I owe my love for the dip pen to photos of white calligraphy that I saw on the internet circa 2012. The idea of making opaque white letters encouraged me to pick up a dip pen for the first time! Writing with white calligraphy ink didn’t come easily, though; I’ve made many opacity-affecting, smudgy mistakes along the way. For that reason, I decided to write today’s blog post as a guide for you when you’re ready to jump into the world of making beautiful white letters!
1. Choose a Reliable White Calligraphy Ink
Over the years, I’ve tried many white calligraphy inks. My favorite is Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White. Bleed Proof White isn’t specifically an ink. In fact, it was developed to be a sort of Wite-Out for artists because it reliably covers up ink or paint mistakes! But, add a bit of water, stir, and you’ll find that Bleed Proof White becomes a fabulous white ink.
If you’d like to do more research before landing on a white ink to purchase, check out these articles here on TPK:
- White Calligraphy Ink Showdown: Sumi, Ziller, & Pen White
- White Calligraphy Ink Showdown Part II: Bleed Proof White + Winsor & Newton
2. Add Water
Bleed Proof White ink often arrives looking pretty gunky and solid … not at all like something you can just dip your pen into and write with!
To fix the consistency, use a spoon or a syringe to apply about 1/4 tsp. of water to the ink’s surface. Then, use a chopstick, stir stick, or the back of a straight pen to mix the first centimeter of ink with the water. (There’s no need to stir up the whole jar!)
Once you’ve incorporated the water, dip your pen in the ink and test out the consistency by writing on a scrap piece of paper. If the ink doesn’t descend from the nib or writes in unreliable, choppy strokes, add more water! If the ink isn’t opaque enough, you can stir farther down the ink jar to incorporate more ink into water/ink mixture.
When the ink looks opaque and writes smoothly, you know you’ve reached the correct viscosity! Note that you will likely have to add water to the ink before every writing session (or at least I have to here in the dry Colorado climate).
3. Consider Your Paper
Bleed Proof White ink isn’t fussy because it’s like a paint. While runnier inks like sumi can be fussy with paper quality, Bleed Proof White can write on practically anything without feathering! For example, I’ve used Bleed Proof White successfully on glossy magazine paper (in the form of handmade envelopes), as shown below.
I also often use this ink on cheap black cardstock from big box craft stores like Michael’s. (Calligraphy ink normally feathers on cardstock.)
My very favorite thing to create white calligraphy on is dark-colored envelopes. (You can use envelopes from anywhere, but I like to buy my envelopes from five main sources.)
4. Rinse Off Your Nib Often
It’s no surprise that due to white ink’s paint-like nature, 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!
Be sure to clean off your nib every time writing starts to feel a bit more difficult than it was a couple of moments ago. 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. Once the nib is clean again, you’re ready to keep going!
5. Draw White Guidelines
If you’re working with white ink fairly regularly, a white mechanical pencil is one of the most important tools you can have on hand! With the help of a ruler, you can use a white mechanical pencil to draw vibrant, erasable guidelines to ensure neat calligraphy.
6. Wait (A Long Time) to Erase 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 has come in the form of annoying ink smudges, as shown in the Kaitlin Style envelope below (look at “Boulder”).
Bleed Proof White dries fairly quickly, but it’s certainly not smudge-proof if it hasn’t dried. If you live in a dry climate, wait at least an hour before you attempt to erase Bleed Proof White ink! If you live in a more humid climate, three hours would be a safer bet. It’s not the end of the world if you get a little hasty about erasing your guidelines and you end up with some ink smudges, 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 I 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 few hours — or, better yet, overnight. After that, erase lightly and with caution. I find that Staedtler Mars erasers are the gentlest on white inks.
7. Protect Your Work
Bleed Proof White ink is not waterproof, so it’s a good idea to either spray your envelope with a finish or rub Microglaze on before sending. You can learn more about both of these techniques in the How to Waterproof Paper article. Note that this step is not a must, but sealing your envelope before sending drastically reduces the chances that your white ink will smudge in transit!
White Calligraphy Ink Gallery
White calligraphy ink is one of my very favorite supplies, and it’s rare that I don’t use it at least twice a week! I hope that this article convinces you to give it a try. Just look some of the pretty projects that you can use it to make:
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. Otherwise, consider taking the Intermediate Modern Calligraphy Online Course, where I give a video tutorial over how to use white ink and many other intermediate-level supplies as well!
Thanks very much for reading, and enjoy the rest of your week!