Even though italic calligraphy doesn’t seem as popular as brush lettering and modern calligraphy these days, the italic hand is fun and beautiful, easy to read, and has an old world feel. (Just search #italic or #italiccalligraphy on Instagram, and you’ll see what I mean!) This post will introduce you to italic calligraphy for beginners.
So, as you read on, know that this is NOT a post about the modern pointed pen calligraphy and brush lettering that is very popular right now. (Although I love those, too! My post about modern pointed pen calligraphy is here, and my post about brush lettering with Crayola markers is here.)
Italic actually refers to a family of styles, so it can take different forms. This post speaks to the more bold, old-school broad edge italic calligraphy alphabet and will give you some tips if you would like to achieve this classic style.
Knowing the differences in the styles will help you choose the right tools for your projects. For instance, if you try to do modern, script calligraphy with the tools below, you will be disappointed!
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What is Italic Calligraphy and How Does it Differ from Modern Calligraphy?
The italic calligraphy hand uses a broad edge nib, as opposed to the pointed brush tip used for brush lettering or the pointed nib for modern script lettering and pointed pen calligraphy
In italic calligraphy, the thick/thin variation in the letters comes from the angle of the pen, not from pressure. This differs from pointed pen calligraphy and brush lettering which both rely on pressure to get the thick/thin line variation in the letters. Although angle of the pen is important in all of these styles for various reasons, the italic hand achieves line variation only from the angle of the pen.
How I’ve Used Italic Calligraphy
The classic, old world feel of italic calligraphy can be applied to so many different types of applications – for both formal events and craft projects alike.
I’ve used italic calligraphy for embellishing greeting cards, for titles and headers on journals and scrapbook pages, for making gift embellishments, and I’ve earned a few dollars lettering some wedding vows, wedding books, and addressing invitations for a few weddings.
I wrote this verse years ago, with a fountain pen that had a broad edge nib. This is some very basic italic that I’ve used for addressing wedding invitations, quotes, etc. A dip pen or the Pilot Parallel pen would have given more thick/thin line variation.
Christmas gift tags and little book covers are fun to personalize with casual italic lettering. Italic is also very readable for journals, planners, and scrapbook headers and titles.
Pens and Markers
NOTE: All of the pens, below, are for broad nib calligraphy, NOT brush calligraphy or pointed pen calligraphy.
Dip pens are wonderful, but I was intimidated by them at first! With that said, purists will usually recommend starting with a dip pen and a broad edged calligraphy nib. Brause makes nice nibs, and they aren’t too difficult to find.
If you don’t want to start with a dip pen, you might want to try some of the pens, below. All of these are easier than dip pens, for beginners. Italic calligraphy can really be done with any broad edged pen, and the ones below are excellent choices.
The Pilot Parallel Calligraphy Pen has become a favorite. It uses cartridges and is very fun to use.
This set of Pilot Parallels, below, has 4 different pens, with 4 different sizes of nibs.
For ease, calligraphy markers are also great for learning and practicing. I taught italic calligraphy classes at a local craft store several years ago. In my classes, I used these Zig Calligraphy Markers. The large, 5mm end was a good size to learn with, because the strokes are easy to see with this large size. They are my favorite italic felt tip pens, and I use them a lot for crafts.
(These are NOT brush markers but are markers with a broad edge nib.)
They’re lightfast, acid free, and photo-safe too. And, I’ve found them perfect for journal headers and scrapbook headers.
Calligraphy fountain pens are convenient and fun to use. Like the Pilot Parallel Pens, above, the ones here use ink cartridges. I have several old Sheaffer pens with different sizes of nibs, and I’ve used them a lot. These are the newer generation of Sheaffer calligraphy pens, so I’ve haven’t used these particular pens. But, they are inexpensive and easy to use. (Be sure to wash the nibs with Dawn dish washing liquid (or something similar) before using. That helps remove the film from the nibs to ensure smooth writing.)
The Sheaffer ink cartridges are easy to find in stores and online.
When you use a pen or marker with a broad nib, you will get nice thick and thin line variations by simply holding the nib to the paper at a 45 degree angle.
Below is my very basic lettering chart, for the chancery italic hand, that I created years ago, when I taught classes. There are different styles of italic calligraphy. Chancery italic has a very old world feel.
See the 2 little towers of squares on the sheet below? That little vertical line of squares is called a “nib ladder.” The lower case letters of italic calligraphy are 5 nib widths high, and the upper case letters are about 7 nib widths high. So those little nib ladders give you some frame of reference for the size of your letters. You make the nib ladder by holding the pen horizontally and making short strokes.
My italic has improved a lot since I made this, but this chart gives you the directions of the strokes!
This was the first instructional sheet I created for my chancery italic calligraphy classes, back in the day. I have improved since then! (Practice is the key to improving calligraphy. Many people give up too fast.) While my calligraphy has improved since I made this chart, the stroke arrows are still accurate.)
To make guidelines to keep your letter size consistent, all you need to do is start with your nib ladder, as in the chart above. For the lower case letters, make your nib ladder 5 nib widths high. Then use a ruler to draw lines across the page, creating lines that are spaced 5 nib widths apart. I use a t-square ruler. It makes the process much easier.
You don’t always have to make your own guidelines, though. It’s not hard to find pre-made guidelines online these days. Also, The First Steps Calligrahy book , shown below, has several pages of guidelines included in the book, for different size pens. All you have to do is copy them. I use my guidelines with a light pad (lightbox), so that I can keep my originals unmarked.
I have several books that have helped me with italic calligraphy.
One of the easiest books to learn this style of calligraphy is First Steps Calligraphy by Don Marsh. It’s a great introduction to basic italic calligraphy, and it also includes projects and guidelines. It’s one of the simplest to follow books for beginners.
Calligraphy School is an excellent book for those who are serious about learning broad nib calligraphy. The instruction and projects are very high quality.
Enjoy, and if you do give italic calligraphy a try, please let me know how it’s going.
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