Last Updated: Jan 30, 2018
Do you want to astonish your wedding guests with beautiful calligraphy on wedding invitation envelopes? You can create this elegant look yourself and save money with DIY wedding calligraphy.
If you don’t have calligraphy experience, don’t fret! This step-by-step guide on how to do calligraphy will provide tips on how to practice and perfect the three most common calligraphy styles. You can even print out calligraphy worksheets to practice and use before personalizing each envelope.
If you’d like to try your hand at calligraphy and put a special, personal touch on your wedding invitations, here’s everything you need to know to get started. If you want the elegant look of calligraphy, but think DIY wedding calligraphy would be too time consuming, you can save time with customized wedding address labels.
Preparing to Do Calligraphy
To get started, you’ll need the right tools for the job. Creating your own toolkit allows you to practice at home with the materials that will make your DIY envelopes look like they were done by a professional. Once you’ve collected the calligraphy tools that work best for you, find a medium-sized box for easy storage.
- Sumi ink or India ink: Start with one or two types of ink. Sumi is a Japanese ink found at craft supply stores. It tends to have a stronger look. India ink is widely available and tends to be a bit thinner but takes less time to dry. Both are great options for beginners.
- Screw-top container to store ink in: Most inks need to be put in a new container before use. Store your ink in screw-top containers, such as small cosmetic jars.
- Cup of water: If your ink isn’t flowing smoothly, try dipping your nib in a cup of water. Be sure to clean your nib at the end of your session, too.
- Laserjet paper: If you want to practice your calligraphy skills before jumping from the practice sheet to the envelopes, you’ll want to use quality paper. We recommend paper from Rhodia, as they respond well to the ink and offer a professional look.
- Ruler: A secret to beautiful, legible calligraphy is symmetry. Use your ruler to draw base lines and cap heights. A base line is where the bottom of your letters rest and a cap height marks the top of your letters. While you want artistic flair, you don’t want your calligraphy to look messy or uneven.
- Eraser: With an eraser, you can quickly correct your outlines and guidelines. After your ink is dry, use your eraser to make pencil marks disappear.
- Nikko G nibs: When you’re beginning, Nikko G nibs are a smart choice because they’re simple to use and allow you to create foundational calligraphic styles. These Japanese nibs come in different shapes and sizes allowing for variation in your writing. You may wish to buy a few when starting out and make sure to change your nib when it begins writing differently or feels too sharp.
- Non-fibrous cloth: Remove excess ink as needed with a non-fibrous cloth. You can use a paper towel, but be careful not to snag your nib on the fibers.
- Needle nose plyers: While not always necessary, these may come in handy when assembling your pen or adjusting your nib, especially if you’re using a flange on an oblique pen.
- Pencil: A pencil allows you to outline the letters you’d like to pen, which is especially helpful when you’re a beginner. Once you’re ready to write, you’ll also use your pencil to draw guidelines on the envelope to keep your words even on the page.
- 1 straight pen or 1 oblique pen: To start calligraphy, choose either a straight or oblique pen. Straight pens are thicker than normal pens and are usually made of wood. An oblique pen has a similar long base but has an appendage for the nib, creating an extra angle. Straight pens work well for illustrations and modern calligraphy types. For styles that require more of a slant, an oblique pen may work better. Hold each to see which feels comfortable, as pen type is often personal preference.
Beginner Tips for Writing Calligraphy
To create smooth, beautiful lettering, you’ll need to feel comfortable holding your pen. Use your thumb, index and middle finger to grip the tool. Angle your hand at a 45 degree angle from the paper as shown in the image below. Most importantly, keep your arm and hand relaxed. Write gracefully by lightly controlling the pressure with your index finger.
Dip approximately ¼” of your nib into the ink. Reduce extra ink or bleeding by dabbing your nib with a non-fibrous cloth. If you begin seeing gaps in your lines and flourishes, it’s time for more ink.
Design delightful lettering as you move your hand across your penciled guidelines. The nib creates a thick or thin effect depending on its direction and the amount of pressure applied. The variation in thickness offers an appealing, professional calligraphic look.
- Hold at an angle: Carrying your pen at a consistent angle is essential when creating calligraphy. Your nib should always point in the same direction, giving your letters cohesion.
- Direction of stroke leading across the paper: Decide your angle before beginning as it will guide your upstrokes and downstrokes. The up stroke is when your nib travels toward the top of the page to create a letter and your down stroke occurs when your nib moves toward the bottom. Up strokes should use little pressure (creating thin lines) while down strokes should use slightly more pressure (creating thicker lines).
- How to apply pressure: Your index finger should softly guide the pressure placed on the pen. Sit upright so the pressure doesn’t come from your wrist, hand or arm.
- Draw vertical, horizontal or diagonal lines: Using your pencil and ruler, draw parallel lines on your paper as a framework for your lettering. If you’re aiming for an italic look, for instance, use parallel diagonal lines to guide you.
- Thicker down strokes: One of the first calligraphy techniques to master is thickening your downstrokes by applying slightly more pressure. On the upstrokes, place less pressure on the pen, creating thinner lines. Your lettering will possess a rhythmic, appealing flow.
- Change your angle: Slant your letters more to the right to design a pronounced look. Adjust your paper to a 90-degree angle instead of changing the angle of your hand.
- Stay within guidelines: Draw a baseline (bottom line), x-height (middle line) and cap height (top line). Keep your letters within that framework to bring balance to your lettering.
- Create emphasis: Write certain words bigger or thicker than others to enhance the artistic look or denote their emphasis as demonstrated in the picture below.
- Flourishing loops: Add festive embellishments to your calligraphy. At the beginning or end of a word, sprinkle in flourishes that complement the lettering.
Common Calligraphy Styles
Modern Calligraphy: Spice up traditional calligraphy with modern flair. In the photo below, note the thick and thin variation along with the small flourishes and shorter gaps between letters.
Formal Calligraphy: As shown in the below image, this simple style has an upright angle. Use it for formal occasions and to create crystal clear lettering.
Flourishing Calligraphy: Flourishing style gives you extra room for creativity with its embellishments. Begin or end a word with a flourish or add it to the tail of a ‘p,’ ‘y’ or ‘j.’
Printable Calligraphy Practice Sheets
Don’t be discouraged if your calligraphy isn’t perfect on the first few tries—it’s that way for everyone. Even a bit of practice will dramatically improve your calligraphy.
We suggest practicing with our calligraphy printable worksheets based on the style you want to achieve. Enjoy dabbling with your new hobby by practicing as often as you can. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to address your wedding invitations. Your guests will be stunned with your new skills and extra excited for your big day.
- Work on a hard surface: Be sure your work space is uncluttered and sturdy. Remove excess papers or distractions.
- Start slow: Just like any art, calligraphy can’t be rushed. Take your time as you practice letters and words. Even once you’re comfortable, take it slow so your writing radiates elegance.
- Concentrate on spacing—use a ruler: Symmetry and proper spacing give calligraphy an appealing and professional look. Draw guidelines with a ruler to ensure everything is uniform and precise.
- Try different styles: Some calligraphers have a natural feel for a certain style. Don’t be shy to try new fonts to find the one that works best for you.
- Watch videos and learn from experts: Continue to learn by watching videos on YouTube, finding inspiration on Pinterest or searching our gallery of wedding invites. You can find new tricks and styles with the click of a button.
- Stay loose: If you keep your hand and mind relaxed, the magic will flow from your fingers onto the page.
Caring For Your Calligraphy Pen
To create various styles of calligraphy, you’ll use different types of nibs and writing techniques. Knowing the parts of a nib will help you in finding and using the right tool for your project. Each part of the nib, as described in the graphic below, plays an important role in the beauty of your final product.
- Tip/point: The pointed end of the nib is referred to as the tip and gives your calligraphy precision—it’s the only part of the nib that touches the paper.
- Tines: The tines are the two separate prongs that transfer your ink’s flow to the paper. When using a flexible nib, the tines expand to make thicker downstrokes when pressure is applied.
- Slit: The thin line in the center for your nib is the slit, which acts as an important buffer between the tines.
- Shoulder: Like a human shoulder, a nib shoulder joins the tines with the body of the nib. Shoulders range in flexibility which will affect how much pressure is needed to create thicker downstrokes.
- Vent Hole: Every nib has a vent hole which regulates the amount of ink that flows onto your paper. Vents are crucial for smooth ink flow and prevention of blotching.
- Shank/Body: The shank, or body, is the main trunk of the nib, giving stability and strength to the nib as you write.
- Base: The flat end of your nib is called the base, which is the part of the nib that’s inserted into the flange and should fit securely without moving.
While you may be unsure how to assemble your pen the first time, you’ll have it memorized with a little practice. Our step-by-step photos will help you through the process.
Take out your flange: If you’re using an oblique pen, take out the flange before inserting your nib as shown in this picture. The flange is the appendage that attaches to the pen. If you’re using a straight pen, skip this and move to the next step.
Prep the nib by sticking it in a potato or glass cleaner: Nibs are manufactured with a protective coat to prevent rust and damage while on the store shelf. Remove this sealant before using the nib by sticking it in a potato overnight—the starch breaks down the coating—or soak in glass cleaner for 15 minutes. After either method, rinse and dry completely.
Insert nib: Be gentle as you insert your nib, taking note not to handle it at the point. The heel (base) of your nib should slide between the edge of the universal insert and the metal petals like in the picture below. Push it in until it feels secure and it doesn’t move around. The four petals should be under the nib’s arc.
Align the nib: It’s important for the nib to be aligned and the flange to be angled correctly in order to apply pressure to both tines of your nib. You’ll need to readjust if you notice that one tine nib takes on more pressure than the other, resulting in jagged lines or ink splatter.
Care for your pens and nibs at the end of each session, ensuring you can use them multiple times. Thoroughly wash your pen holder and nib in lukewarm water and mild soap. All of the ink should be removed and carefully patted with a non-fibrous cloth until completely dry, avoiding rust and damage.
The most important thing of all is to enjoy the artistic process of creating beautiful calligraphy. Whether it’s for your wedding invitation envelopes or thank you cards, know that your time and effort will be appreciated when your guests find your invitation in their mailbox.