If you’re new to calligraphy, or looking to strengthen your craft, you may be wondering how to go about choosing the best paper for your calligraphy projects!

What most people don’t know is that the quality of your calligraphy can depend on a lot of different things! There’s your personal skill, the type of nib you’re using, the type of ink you’re using, how clean your nib is, how thick your ink is, and last but certainly not least, the type of paper you’re calligraphing on!

Think about it this way, your final product is only as good as your base. A poor quality paper can cause your ink to feather, bleed, or even cause your nib to rip the paper while you’re calligraphing. NOT the look you’re going for.

So without further ado, here are the four things you should pay attention to when choosing paper for your calligraphy project!

Finish

One of the most common projects in a calligrapher’s arsenal is envelopes, and with the popularity of those gorgeous shimmer envelopes in today’s wedding invitations, you’re bound to come across a smooth, shiny finish paper soon! The finish of a paper affects how the ink sits on it, and therefore how precise your calligraphy appears! If you’re used to calligraphing on envelopes with more of a typical, cotton feeling finish, a satin, shimmer finish will behave differently. Since the shimmery satin paper is smoother, it is slicker – which causes the ink to run across it a little easier. That means that any excess ink in your downstrokes will spread even faster – leading to more ink globs. The smoother the paper, the more careful you’ll have to be with excess ink!

Thickness

This is an obvious one. If you’ve ever practiced with thin paper, you’ve probably seen that your ink goes right through it, and you end up getting ink all over your desk. If it’s an envelope, the ink could bleed through the front of the envelope to the back – which isn’t going to make your client happy! The thicker the paper, the harder it is for ink to soak through and ruin the other side.

Texture

Let me preface this by saying I LOVE me some gorgeous handmade papers. But, they’re not all created equal. Through the paper making process, the pulp that creates your paper can be smoothed out and made very flat, or left with a handmade quality which translates to a bumpy surface. Calligraphing on handmade paper requires extra care, so that as your nib glides over the bumps, it doesn’t skip and create jagged lines. You’ll see this most in your thin upstrokes. This is definitely not to say that you can’t calligraph on handmade paper – it is a beautiful medium and you absolutely should try it! But the smoother the paper, the easier time you’ll have!

Fibers

This is one of the trickiest aspects of paper! As you know your paper is made up of tiny little fibers – fibers that like to get stuck between your nib and make your upstrokes look chunky and sad. While there is no one characteristic of paper that creates this problem, the biggest offenders tend to be very thin paper, or handmade paper. With very thin paper, your ink saturates more of the paper, breaking down the fibers. That means when you go over a saturated spot (like to cross a t) you can very easily pick up fibers of the paper in your nib! Handmade paper’s natural qualities mean the fibers aren’t bound quite as tightly as more heavily manufactured paper, which also makes it easier to accidentally pick up fibers in your nib!

Capillary

Okay, I just couldn’t end this without science nerding out a bit. Remember back to school when you learned about the capillary action of water? You probably did an experiment with dye and showed how a piece of paper could draw the dye from one cup to another. This comes into play in calligraphy as well (#artistscience). When you apply ink to paper, the capillary action of the ink causes it to get sucked into the paper. If it gets sucked too far, that’s when you start to see that “feathered” look where the edges of your calligraphy looks hazy. The more porous (on a microscopic level) your paper is (the less fibers it has) the more likely you are to see this. You’ll typically see this in thin or low quality papers. They’re cheaper because they have less fibers in them! I also find that many recycled papers cause feathering as well.

So that’s it! The top five characteristics to pay attention to when choosing the paper for your next calligraphy project!

Now, don’t expect to go to your local art store and see these properties listed. You’ll be able to find the paper thickness/weight, composition (cotton, etc.) and finish, but many of these characteristics are not apparent until you test out your ink on the paper. Not all papers are created equal, so take a few home for trial and error to see which behave best with your ink and nibs.

Don’t have the option to pick the paper for your project, because your client is providing it for you? No worries. Next up I’ll share my troubleshooting tips for fixing some of the most common problems caused by paper! Hint: all of the issues listed above are fixable without switching your paper!