Can fountain pens be used for calligraphy?

Just a quick disclaimer. This post discusses off the shelf fountain pens that haven’t been modified to fit nibs that are usually used with dip pens and all opinions are my own and made through my experience with fountain and calligraphy pens.  So do not take my word as definitive.

I have just come back from a morning at our local craft market where I found that a few of the people I talked to were under the impression that fountain pens are calligraphy pens.  The short answer is yes they can be used for calligraphy but to successfully use a fountain pen for calligraphy a person needs the right type of nib. Nibs are the part of the pen that conducts ink on to the paper Fountain pen nibson the end of these nibs is what’s called tipping and this varies in size from .1mm to 4 mm and sometime above. The tipping is a ball of metal that helps make the shape of your pen strokes.   When you start getting closer to the 1 mm tipping size then there is different styles of nib that emulate the variation in line width that a calligraphy pen offers.

The most common type of nibs that are used for broad pen calligraphy, without swapping your fountain pen for a dip pen and nibs, are the stub and italic nibs.  A stub nib is cut straight across the top of the nib and is the easiest to use as it still has somewhat rounded edges. An italic nib will produce sharper and crisper line variation because the edges and corners of the nib are sharper and less rounded.  The next most common type of nibs for calligraphy are pointed and these nibs are mostly used by dip pens such as the the speedball calligraphy kits.  These type of nibs are not just pointed but are usually flexible and that is what gives them the line variation, not the shape of the tip.  To get line variation you press down on the nib firmer on the down strokes than you do with the up strokes. This causes the nibs tines to part on the downstrokes and make a broader line of ink.  You can find nibs such as this to fit fountain pens(thanks to the internet) but they are not normal for a fountain pen and may need the nib or the pen or both to be modified. This then brings us to the ink used in fountain pens and calligraphy pens and dip pens.

Diamine bottles

The other main difference between fountain pens and calligraphy pens is the makeup of the ink in each type.  Fountain pen ink is generally a solution in which solutes have been dissolved in to make the colour so its is a thinner liquid than calligraphy ink and it is fed through the feed that has fins which regulates the release of ink.  Calligraphy ink though is made up of pigments finely ground and some thickening agents like gum arabic are added so that the ink doesn’t fall straight off the nib when you try to write with it. These inks are thicker and come in bottles for use with dip pens.  They should never be used in your fountain pen as they are mostly shellac-based which means they have to be cleaned out with an alcohol and the pigments and thickeners alone will clog the feed of your fountain pen sometimes irreparably.

To re-cap you can use a fountain pen with a special nib to achieve a calligraphy like quality to your writing, but you should never put calligraphy or art ink in a fountain pen as it may wreck your pen.  If you do want to learn calligraphy either broad or pointed nib style you are best to get a dip pen set and calligraphy ink.

If you are wanting to buy calligraphy supplies Eckersley's is a good place to start HERE .

If you are looking for more information about types of nibs go and have a look at as they are the fountain of knowledge, at least I have found.

Finally you will find information about Everything to do with fountain pens and calligraphy pens on The Fountain Pen Network, this is where I go when I am stuck or want to know more.



Lee Saul

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