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Modern Calligraphy and Copperplate: Pointed Pen Basics

Would you love to learn modern calligraphy with a pointed pen and/or more traditional pointed pen calligraphy styles like Copperplate?  This post will get you started with tips on supplies, books, and more. 

modern calligraphy basics

Pointed pen calligraphy lends itself to so many projects – letters, notes, wall art, envelope art, tags, invitations, card making, and more. It makes beautiful grocery lists too! (Seriously, that’s a great way to practice…) These days, modern calligraphy has made the process so much fun.

What is Pointed Pen Calligraphy?

With pointed pen calligraphy, a pointed nib is used (unlike nibs used for broad edge styles like italic.)  The pointed nib allows for curvy script lettering.

Modern calligraphy, which is a pointed pen calligraphy, has opened up a whole new world, in that it allows for more freedom, less structure, and fewer rules than traditional pointed pen calligraphy, like copperplate.  Copperplate is still one of my favorite pointed pen styles too, though!  

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a small commission if you purchase through them, at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

how to do modern calligraphy

modern style

(Photo by Cottonbro from Pexels)

pointed pen calligraphy

traditional style

How Does a Pointed Nib Work?

Basically, when you apply pressure on a pointed nib, the two tines of the nib spread apart, allowing more ink to flow.  When the pressure is released, the tines snap together, and less ink flows. So, the amount of pressure you apply will determine how thin or thick the strokes will be. Light pressure on the upstrokes, more pressure on the downstrokes. (If you have ever done brush lettering with brush markers, you will have had some experience with that concept.)  

Supplies for Modern Calligraphy:  

The supplies are the same for modern pointed pen calligraphy as for more formal styles like Copperplate.  

All you need to begin is a dip pen (also called a pen holder or nib holder), some nibs (pointed style), ink, and paper.  (The nibs are purchased separately from the pen.) See my resources, below. (Update: I now often use my fountain pens with flexible nibs for modern calligraphy.)

  • Dip Pens:  You will see both straight and “oblique” pen holders. (The pen that holds the nib.) 

The straight wooden holders with cork barrels are very comfortable. Not all holders hold all nibs, but this one holds most nibs. Straight holders are a bit easier to use, especially for beginners and left handers.  If you want to write the tradtional styles with a heavy slant like Copperplate, though, it will be more difficult to get a heavy slant with a straight holder.  

I started with an oblique holder, which can be slightly more intimidating. I love the slant I can get with it, though. Personal preference plays a part here. If you are starting out with a traditional pointed pen style, like Copperplate, you will need an oblique holder, but if you will only be doing the less formal modern calligraphy, a straight holder will be fine.

  • Fountain Pens: Recently, I’ve discovered the fun of doing modern calligraphy with flex fountain pens. I have used my FPR Himalaya V2 fountain pen with the #6 ultra flex nib, as well as the Jaipur V1 with the #5.5 ultra flex nib. The FPR ultra flex nib is amazing. Update: I now also have the Jaipur V2 with the ultra flex nib. I love all of them.
  • Nibs for dip pens:  The Nikko G nib is widely recommended for beginners, and it will also fit many standard pen holders.  The Zebra G  nib is another one that is recommended for beginners. (Full disclosure, here – I honestly don’t remember which nib I started with, as it’s been several years! But, the 2 nibs above are typically the most commonly recommended ones for beginners.)  As you progress, you may want to try a more flexible nib. I really like the Leondardt Extra Fine Principal nib, because of its flexibility.  But, at first, the firmer nibs are a bit easier to use.

Note!  The dip pen nibs will have a protective oil coating on them when new. The coating needs to be removed for the ink to perform well in the nib. To remove the coating, I use some toothpaste (paste, NOT gel) and gently rub the paste on the nib with a soft toothbrush, then rinse and dry gently.  I have heard that wiping on some nail polish remover or setting the nib in a little window cleaner will also work, but I haven’t tried those yet!   You can even stick the nib in a potato for about 15 minutes, but I haven’t tried that yet, either! (Be careful when you stick the nib into the potato, as I’ve heard that the more delicate, flexible nibs could be damaged if you are too rough.)

  • Modern Calligraphy Ink for Dip Pens: There are a lot of inks that work in dip pens, and it’s fun to explore. (Note that these inks will NOT work in fountain pens. For fountain pens, always use inks specifically made for fountain pens.) Dr. PhMartin’s Bombay India ink in Black is a good one to start with for your dip pen, as is Speedball Super Black India Ink.    Dr. Ph Martin’s Bleedproof White is great for dark papers.  It is very thick and needs to be diluted before using, though.
  • Paper:  A lot of papers are too rough for calligraphy, and the nib will catch. For practice,  I use HP Premium 32. This paper is heavier and much more smooth than regular printer paper. The Rhodia pads are also great for practice.  They have a very smooth, satiny finish, and most inks won’t bleed on it.  Strathmore Bristol Smooth paper is nice for artwork. It’s very smooth and white. Some heavy drawing papers work well, too.
  • Light Box:  A light box isn’t necessary for learning or practicing calligraphy, but if you are serious about calligraphy, you might find it very helpful. I wrote a post about lightboxes here.


I have the books below and love them.  They each give good info about supplies and how to get started. 

I learned traditional copperplate first, and then I learned to modify and loosen up to a more modern calligraphy style. It’s nice to know both.

But, if you want to start out only with a more free-form, modern look, then you may want to start with the first book. 

  • If you want to start with a non-traditional, free-from modern approach and skip the traditional method, Mastering Modern Calligraphy by Molly Suber Thorpe is a good book for you.  This book shows many different variations of each letter and is a great book for those who are interested in starting with modern script calligraphy. It’s equally useful for those who are already proficient at modern calligraphy, as it has so many beautiful letter variations.
modern calligraphy book
  • If you would like to learn the more formal copperplate style first, either of the following 2 books would be great choices:  Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Eleanor Winters or the shorter, Copperplate Calligraphy from A to Z by Sarah Richardson.  Learning the strokes of copperplate, a traditional pointed pen calligraphy style, was the perfect foundation for branching off into modern calligraphy because copperplate is the basis for modern forms of pointed pen and brush calligraphy. I learned this traditional method first, and I then took what I learned and loosened up the style to a more modern, freeform look.
copperplate calligraphy book
copperplate calligraphy book

I hope you’ll try pointed pen calligraphy. It’s a beautiful way to add fun and elegance to your art projects and correspondence.

Please don’t worry if you don’t have good handwriting. Calligraphy is done one stroke at a time.

(Please share, and thanks!)

Linking to:

Inspire Me Monday at Create with Joy, Thursday Favorite Things, Creatively Crafty at Try It Like It, Artsy Fartsy Mama, Creative Compulsions at My Bijou Life Online, BFF Open House at The Answer is Chocolate, Creative Crafts Link Party at Creatively Beth, Little Things Thursday at Good Random Fun, Scraptastic Saturdays at Scrapality, Craftschooling Sunday at Creative Jewish Mom, Snickerdoodle Create, Bake, Make at Eye Love Knots, Dare to Share Saturday at Pam’s Party and Practical Tips, Love Your Creativity at Life and Linda, Craftastic Monday at Sew Can Do, Handmade Mondays at Sum of Their Stories, Love My Little Cottage Link Party, Inspire Me Monday at Mostly Blogging, Meraki Link Party at Doodlebuddies, Wonderful Wednesday at OMHG, Tuesday Turn About at My Wee Abode, Making a Home at Linda’s Lunacy, Create, Bake, Grow, and Gather at Shabby Art Boutique, Esme Salon

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  1. Aw..such a cute last photo.
    I am intimidated by calligraphy but I like what you said about trying and not giving up.

    1. Thanks so much Dawn. A cappuccino sounds good about now. We are having a brutal winter here, and I've been spoiled from the last few mild ones.

  2. I did lots of calligraphy as a teen but haven´t that much since actually, kind of forgot about it. I may have to try again. 🙂

  3. This looks really great! I took Calligraphy as my art credit in college and I really enjoyed it – especially the relaxing, controlled breathing that went a long with it. I especially loved painting watercolors on my dip pen and letting the colors gradually change!

  4. Such a beautiful art form, I have always thought about doing it. For now I will settle for featuring your post in the next Blogger's Pit Stop.

  5. Great advice. I've dabbled with some brush pen calligraphy but the 'proper' pen has scared me a little. You make it sound do-able!

    1. Thank you! Oh, no need to be scared by the pen! It's a little scary looking, but not really difficult to use, so definitely give it a try!

  6. If only once my handwriting did not look like a spider crawled through some ink! I pinned this to visit again x thank you.

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