Calligraphy Markers or Pens with Nibs—What's the Best Option for Beginners?

We asked a professional instructor on the difference between tools.

calligraphy pen on organized desk space
Photo: Nicola Tree / getty images

Calligraphy is a beautiful form of handwriting. You can use it when writing invitations, letters, or notes for friends and loved ones, but when you are a beginner in this technique, should you start with the traditional nib and ink or use brush marker pens? "It really depends upon your budget and your desired outcome," says Melissa Esplin, a professional calligrapher and calligraphy instructor. "You can start any calligraphy with one simple tool you already have at home: the humble pencil. There's a lot that you can do with just the pencil. Beyond the pencil, the type of calligraphy really dictates the best materials for beginners."

Here, we asked the experts to offer their best suggestions.

Types of Calligraphy

First, it's important to decide which technique is right for you: Pointed pen calligraphy, which uses nib and ink, is the traditional technique that often comes to mind when we think of calligraphy. "In pointed pen calligraphy, we get nice, thick strokes by exerting pressure on a nib such that the tines split apart," explains Lindsey Bugbee, an illustrator, calligrapher, and the creative voice behind The Postman's Knock. When the tines split, the result is a thick line, which contrasts with the thin lines that are created when you exert minimal pressure on the nib." For beginners who want to get started with this type of calligraphy, she recommends the Nikko G Nib ($1.75, "The Nikko G nib is a medium-flex, strong steel nib, which means that it will tolerate a beginner's struggle to figure out pressure exertion," she adds.

Another way to classify calligraphy is by referring to the shape and style of the letters as well as how the writing tool is held for each stroke. "It's argued that uncial is the type to learn for absolute beginners (it only has 26 letters to master instead of 52), but broad-edge hands have been eclipsed by the popularity of pressurized calligraphy (what we call brush lettering and modern calligraphy)," says Esplin. She recommends Pigma Professional Markers ($12.84 for three, and Le Pen Flex ($17.57 for 10, for pressurized brush calligraphy, the Hunt 22B nib ($1.19, and Walnut Ink ($4.95, for modern calligraphy, and the Pilot Parallel Pen ($8.88, or a 3A automatic pen with walnut ink for uncial calligraphy.

Choosing the Best Tool for Beginners

Beginners can get started with calligraphy using nothing more than pencil and paper, but the best recommendation is to choose the tool that best suits the type of calligraphy and kinds of strokes that they want to make. "While a person who understands how to create pointed pen calligraphy might be able to enter the world of brush pen calligraphy easier than someone who has no calligraphy experience (and vice versa), a beginner really should just start by learning the kind of calligraphy that appeals to them most!" says Bugbee. "It just boils down to personal preference!"

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