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What Is The Difference Between A Calligraphy Pen And A Normal Pen?

Tom's Studio Luxury Modern Calligraphy Kit Straight by Tom's Studio at Cult PensSounds like a simple question, but it sort of assumes we know what a ‘calligraphy pen’ is, and, perhaps more significantly, that it’s a single thing at all. There are, in fact, many types of calligraphy pens, and some types of calligraphy that can be done just fine with a ‘normal’ pen.

In most cases, there are two things that need special pens in calligraphy - line variation with pressure, and line variation with direction. And they’re done quite differently, and used for different styles of calligraphy. (And some calligraphers will be getting a bit annoyed at this point, because there’s way more to it than this, but this is an oversimplification to answer the question in a reasonably short way.)

Many of the more traditional styles of calligraphy are done with italic nibs. These are wide from side to side, but narrow from top to bottom. The result is a wide line when pulling or pushing, but a narrow line from side to side. Blackletter or Old English styles need this variation, and they’d be a lot harder to do with a more standard-shaped nib, or a normal pen.

Modern calligraphy styles are usually more flowing, with the line going wide and narrow with different strokes, but commonly widening for ‘pulled’ strokes, or downward strokes. This can be ‘faked’ by drawing in the thicker lines, but it’s faster to use a flexible nib that can vary the line width when you press down a bit harder.

Neither of these types of pen would be easy to use for regular writing. There may be some people out there using a thick italic nib to write their shopping list, but they’re probably a bit weird. Maybe weird in a good way, but also maybe don’t let them get between you and the exit, just in case.

And the most flexible nibs can be easily damaged, or quite scratchy to write with. Again, some people might be happy to make that trade-off for a super fancy-looking list at Sainsbury’s, but if you’re seeing it too often, it might be time to change supermarkets. There’s good sushi at Waitrose too, and they have the dark Tunnock’s wafers.

You’ll often see calligraphy done with a dip pen, too, with different nibs being used for different styles. In this case, there’s a ‘nib holder’, which is the pen-shaped bit held in the hand, and a ‘nib’, which pushes into the holder to be dipped in ink and written with. While it’s perfectly possible to write with a dip pen, it’s not done much these days, as there are plenty of pens that are way more convenient.

But for calligraphy, or for many styles of art, dip pens can be great - yes, they need dipping in ink frequently, but changing nibs is quick and easy, as is changing ink. And dip nibs can be made far more flexible, because it doesn’t matter too much if they wear out after a while.

So if someone is using a dip pen and they’re not a calligrapher, they might just be an artist. Admittedly most artists are a bit weird, but nearly always in a good way.