A Guide to Modern Calligraphy for Beginners

(Note that this post contains affiliate links to a product. It is something that I personally use, support and would recommend without an affiliate link.)

Modern calligraphy is gaining popularity these days, and I think it largely due to social media. There is an increase in awareness and/or pride with regards to beautiful hand lettering.

If you want to learn modern calligraphy, but have no idea how or what you need to get started, then this post is just for you. I’ll help and advise you which supplies to buy, how to use the pens, and how to practice your handwriting. After all, good handwriting doesn't come naturally in this new age of smartphones and laptops.

1. Assemble your own calligraphy starter set

Generally, these are the things you need to have on hand:
  • Nibs – Personally, I like using the Brause EF66 or the Brause Rose Nib. I'll further explain and talk about the choice of nibs in the later part of this post. (To tell nibs apart, look at the etching on the barrel of the nib.)
  • Pen – There are generally 3 different kinds of pens you can possibly purchase. I often use Manuscript pens, which feature a universal insert. For beginners, it often recommended that you get a straight pen.
  • 32# laserjet paper – It's affordably priced and prevents ink feathering/bleeding.
  • Ink, plus a container to store the ink in. – You may choose to use Sumi or India inks. These are good opaque inks that runs smoothly.
  • Water – Use any old cup and fill it with water to clean your nib in. However, make sure to dry the nibs after to prevent rusting.
  • Non-fibrous cloth or paper towel – This is to dry your nibs, but watch out for fibers getting stuck.

I would recommend that you put together your kit rather than purchase a pre-assembled one. More often than not, pre-assembled kits are packaged with cheap supplies, and they tend to be overpriced.

2. Pen selection process

When you are first starting out on modern calligraphy, it isn't surprising that you source for the cheapest materials that you can find. That also means that many of us would end up buying the Speedball straight plastic pen, which would often have a fixed nib insert. 
Only nibs in certain shapes can fit snugly.

Although I do agree that you shouldn't start off with a pricey pen that might end up as a white elephant, I do recommend purchasing mid-ranged dip pen with a universal insert. A universal insert has four metal prongs and a rim; as seen in the photo below. A universal insert will be able to accommodate a variety of different nibs - which would be inserted between the prongs and the rim (highlighted in pink). 
The nib should be secured well and not wobble about.

I personally like using cork grip pens because they have a universal insert and are comfortable to use.
My cork grip straight pen.

Alternatively, you might also have heard of many calligraphers that are absolutely in love with using oblique calligraphy pens. Once again, the Speedball oblique pen is one of the most popular on the market because it’s cost-effective and easily accessible.

Why oblique? You might ask. What's unique about these pens is the protruding flange that angles your nib, which would help you write leaning-styled calligraphy. This can be tough to achieve if you are using a straight holder.
Top to bottom: Oblique, Straight universal holder, and Straight fixed holder.

It would be safe to say that oblique pens were developed with the best user experience in mind. Although it is also possible to use a straight pen for the same results, using an oblique pen allows you to maintain your regular posture when writing slanted calligraphy. It's definitely not a must to have, but it would be a good addition to your calligraphy collection.

3. Choosing your nibs

As previously mentioned, I really enjoy using the Brause EF66 and Brause Rose Nibs for my writing. However, one should note that these two nibs are rather flexible, and may not be recommended for the heavy handed.

If you have read the guides from other bloggers, they often recommend the use of Nikko G nibs for beginners. I personally did not have the chance to try out that nib, and so it would not be fair of me to discuss about its functionality. 

In my case, the first nib I bought was the Nikko No. 5 - School Model which I bought at a local art store in Singapore (Art Friend, anyone?). The nib is stiff and is good for everyday writing, although it doesn't produce very distinctive or fancy looking downward strokes. I later learnt that this nib is often used in manga publications (Japanese comics).
My small collection of nibs.

There are a wide variety of nibs available for purchase and very often, the choice of nib used depends largely on the user, and the purpose of the writing. For instance, in everyday use it's not often that people choose to use the flexible nibs due to the level of grip and control required over the pen. The pen also often runs dry, and more dipping is required. Picture doing that for a 3-page essay!

4. Assembling and using your pen

Earlier in part 2, I described the procedure to fit a nib into a straight pen with a universal holder. In this section, I would like to focus more on the use of a oblique pen.

First of all, when fitting the nib onto the holder, you would want to make sure that the tip of the nib is just at the mid line of the pen which will help you achieve that nice, right-leaning angle. You'll see what I mean with this photo below.
Ensuring that the tip of the nib meets the mid line of the pen.

Following that, when using the pen you should only dip the nib right to the point just above the vent hole (the hole in the center of the nib). Go any further than that, and you’ll probably have too much ink on your nib, causing a mini ink pool on your paper as you write. This is applicable for all nib types.

You may also consider giving your nib a firm shake after a dip to get any excess ink off.

5. Write, write, write

Now that you are done with your preparation, get ready to write, and use a calligraphy notepad if necessary.

When writing, take note to hold the pen at a 45 degree angle from the paper. Never hold the pen vertically or upright -  the nib may catch on the fibers in the paper and affect your ink flow. You'll probably not be able to write anything as well. Also, try to maintain a constant angle of the nib in relation to the paper. This keeps your ink flow consistent and you'll achieve beautiful lettering.

Good luck and keep practicing!

The most important thing to remember in modern calligraphy (and possibly, many other things) is to keep practicing. You'll eventually get better at it and develop muscle memory, which will improve your skill exponentially!

Everyone starts somewhere, and do not be surprised that my first calligraphy attempt looks like a 5 year old's artwork.

I hope that you had fun and enjoyed this guide to modern calligraphy. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments. Thank you very much for reading!



  1. I found this super interesting! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!! I just got my first fountain pen so I don't have all the supplies but I loved seeing your suggestions :)


    1. I'm glad that this post was of interest and benefited you! Congratulations on getting your fountain pen! I'd love to see your work sometime :)


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