Curious about calligraphy? If you’re just getting started with this lettering art form, nib pens (also called dip pens) can be a little intimidating. However, with some guidance from an expert calligrapher and a little practice, you can learn how to create beautiful letters, words, and phrases. Below, we provide a step-by-step guide on how to use a nib pen. 

This simple, elegant wedding invitation was created using a nib pen and ink. 
This simple, elegant wedding invitation was created using a nib pen and ink. 

Step 1: Gather The Tools You Need To Get Started 

According to Skillshare instructor Bryn Chernoff, the key components you need to get started with calligraphy include:

Dip Pen Nibs 

While there are a large variety of nibs to choose from, they tend to fall into two basic categories: pointed and chiseled. These two types of nibs can help you achieve very different looks. However, for beginners, Chernoff recommends you start with a pointed nib. 

Nib Holder or Pen Holder 

To use your dip pen nibs, you’ll need to place them into a nib holder or pen holder. Again, there are many different pen holders to choose from, so Chernoff suggests simply choosing one that feels comfortable to you. 

Dip pen nibs are inserted directly into nib holders, or handles. This particular nib is a pointed nib, which is ideal for beginners. 
Dip pen nibs are inserted directly into nib holders, or handles. This particular nib is a pointed nib, which is ideal for beginners. 

Ink

Sumi ink is Chernoff’s favorite type of ink for calligraphy because it’s easy to use, applies well to different types of paper, and dries quickly. It’s also considered an archival ink, which means it’s resistant to weathering and fading over time. 

You’ll also need paper to practice on—but because it’s for learning purposes only, focus on getting something inexpensive that’s easy to write on. 

You need a few essential tools for calligraphy: dip pen nibs, a nib holder, ink, water, and paper.
You need a few essential tools for calligraphy: dip pen nibs, a nib holder, ink, water, and paper.

Step 2: Prepare Your Dip Pen Nib

Next, you’ll prepare your nibs for writing. If you have a brand new nib, be aware that it may come from the manufacturer with an oily residue, which can prevent the ink from adhering correctly. Gently wipe it off with a paper towel. Once it’s clean, place the nib into the nib holder.

Step 3: Dip The Nib Pen 

Before you dip your pen, it can be helpful to transfer a small amount of ink from the original bottle into a smaller, more compact container. This allows you to dip more precisely and minimizes your chances of spilling ink. 

To dip your pen, simply insert it straight into the ink. Make sure to dip past the reservoir (the hole in the top center of the nib), but don’t go so far as to get ink on the handle or nib holder. Lightly tap the nib on the edge of the ink container as you lift it up to get rid of any excess ink. 

Skillshare instructor Bryn Chernoff demonstrates how to properly dip a nib pen. Dip past the reservoir on the nib, but make sure not to dip as far as the nib holder. 
Skillshare instructor Bryn Chernoff demonstrates how to properly dip a nib pen. Dip past the reservoir on the nib, but make sure not to dip as far as the nib holder. 

Step 4: Position Your Pen To Begin Writing 

Before you actually put ink on the page, make sure you understand how to hold the nib pen correctly for the ink to flow smoothly. “Think of the nib like a fingertip,” Chernoff explains. You want to write with the pad of your finger, not the very tip of your finger. Essentially, that means positioning your pen at about a 45-degree angle from the paper. 

Bryn Chernoff demonstrates how to hold your nib pen at a 45-degree angle from the surface of the paper.
Bryn Chernoff demonstrates how to hold your nib pen at a 45-degree angle from the surface of the paper.

Step 5: Begin Writing Practice Strokes 

To write with a nib pen, you simply apply pressure as you draw a downstroke. With little pressure, you can achieve a thin line; with more pressure, you can create a thicker line. The easiest strokes to start with are simple vertical lines. Then, you can move on to practicing other shapes, such as slanted lines, o’s, or loops. These shapes will become the foundation for creating letters and words.  

Practicing simple strokes with your nib pen can help you prepare to write beautiful letters and words in calligraphy. 
Practicing simple strokes with your nib pen can help you prepare to write beautiful letters and words in calligraphy. 

Ready to Move on to Letters and Words?

Introduction to Modern Script Calligraphy With Bryn Chernoff

How Do You Take Care Of A Nib Pen? 

To properly take care of a nib pen, you should wash and dry it any time you want to take a break from using it—whether you’re pausing your work for a few minutes or ending for the day. You can purchase special nib cleaners, but for the most part, water is sufficient to clean your dip pen nibs. Simply dip the nib into a container of water, swirl it around a bit to rinse the ink off, and then wipe it down with a dry paper towel. 

Make sure to take the nib out of the nib holder when cleaning it, because ink can drip down into the pen holder. 

To clean your dip pen nibs, simply swirl them around in some water, then thoroughly dry them off with a dry paper towel, making sure to wipe off all traces of ink. 
To clean your dip pen nibs, simply swirl them around in some water, then thoroughly dry them off with a dry paper towel, making sure to wipe off all traces of ink. 

Learning how to use a nib pen can open up endless creative possibilities, from hand lettering wedding invitations to creating event signs. Once you master the basics of a nib pen, you can move on to finding your personal script style and developing a calligraphy practice that is unique to you. 

Take Your Lettering to the Next Level

Calligraphy II: Finding Your Personal Script Style