Choosing the right nibs for modern calligraphy

For this week’s guest designer blog, modern calligrapher Vera Silva – aka The Preposterous Pigeon – discusses the most powerful tool available to any would-be calligrapher


In my last blog post, I talked about how amazing pencils are, and how they are the most powerful tool in your calligraphy stash. I also mentioned buying the wrong pens when I decided to learn calligraphy. It turns out this is quite a common occurrence, and with so many different nibs to choose from, and so many different styles, it’s no wonder other people have fallen down this rabbit hole too!

I remember clearly that I wanted to learn how to improve my handwriting and wanted to write with those thin and thick strokes I had seen online (modern calligraphy wasn’t as big as it is now and I didn’t even know that’s what you called it). So, since I was used to learning crafts by watching online videos, I went to a big craft retail store, found a calligraphy set that included an instruction booklet, and went home full of hopes and dreams. Upon opening the set, I opened the booklet and there was no mention whatsoever about the style I wanted to learn. There were only instructions on how to write in Italic, Gothic, Foundational and Uncial. It seems I had purchased a set of fountain pens with broad edged nibs, which didn’t give me the results I had hoped to achieve. All I knew was that I wanted to learn calligraphy; I had no idea that different nibs gave me different results.

Even though it’s easier to find modern calligraphy supplies in bricks and mortar stores nowadays, you might still get confused and it’s easy to end up buying the wrong tools. So, here is a quick illustrated guide to help you recognise the different nibs in the shops and avoid the disappointment of buying something and finding out you bought the wrong thing.

And here are some more tips that might help you:

  • Modern calligraphy nibs are flexible, i.e. they have tines that open under pressure that give the characteristic thick strokes. If you have a chance to hold the nib, check if the tines open when you press the nib against a surface, or against your finger
  • Fountain pens can give you the modern calligraphy effect, but only if you use faux calligraphy, and if the tip of the nib isn’t too wide
  • If the packaging states that it is a calligraphy set (or pen, or nibs), then it will most likely be for italic style script, or a different script, like monoline. Look for packaging that mentions modern calligraphy specifically
  • Check the packaging closely. It tends to show examples of the type of script you can create with the nibs. Be wary though, that sometimes it can still be misleading, so always double-check the shape of the nibs, if you can. I’ve bought a kit that promised me modern calligraphy style letters in the packaging, but only contained broad edged nibs!

I still have the set I bought by mistake years ago because even though I prefer the modern calligraphy style at the moment, I still want to learn how to write with the different nibs. So, if you bought the wrong nibs like I did, don’t despair! They are still a good investment, for when you decide you want to expand your calligraphy repertoire.

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