Smooth paper works best

No matter how how heavy your paper is, in order for the nib to flow steadily across the page, avoid snagging, and produce even lines, your paper should have a very smooth surface. Especially when you’re still learning. Structured paper can have a beautiful effect on the letters, but in the beginning you’ll save a lot of frustration if you practice on smooth paper.

Be aware that normal uncoated drawing paper is usually rough and the ink will bled a lot on it. Many watercolor papers are not optimal because of the rough surface, as well as paper that’s paradoxically called “calligraphy paper” – at least that’s the case here in Germany. Visibly coated papers don’t work so well because ink forms little puddles on them.

For practice: Layout Paper

What works best for your daily practice is layout paper, under which you can place a guide sheet. Layout or marker paper ist extremely thin, smooth sketching paper which doesn’t bleed when you draw on it with markers or, in this case, ink. I usually use the Hahnemühle Layout Pad, another good one is the Schöllershammer Markerpapier. (Please note that all my recommendations are based on my local German art supply stores, in your country you’ll probably find different supplies.)
A very useful variant is the Rhodia Dot Pad, it has little dots printed on, which makes it easier for orientation and drawing straight lines.
There are some printer papers that work, too (laser printer paper is usually smoother than simple copy paper). I’ve made good experiences with the Biotop 3 Printer Paper (which has a lovely cream color) as well as HP Bright White Inkjet Paper (90g). Both papers tend to bleed very little if you don’t use too much ink and they’re fairly inexpensive compared to layout paper.

For real projects: thick paper and archival paper

There will come the moment where you want to stop practicing and use your skills in a real calligraphy project, a beautiful invitation card or an inspirational quote for your wall. You should switch to thick, heavy paper for this.
What works best for this is Bristol Board. This very white, very smooth uncoated paper is available in different sizes and weights. It’s available in DIN A4 and A3 as a pad (Lana Bristolkarton 250g), or in single sheets (up to A0). Bristol Board is available in different weights, it’s a very versatile paper for all sorts of calligraphic projects.
A beautiful cream-colored paper for calligraphy is the Hahnemühle Nostalgie paper (220 g).


Difficult and unsuitable paper

Like I said earlier, structured and rough paper is more difficult to handle. Here is a list of papers you shouldn’t use for calligraphy:

  • drawing paper
  • printer paper
  • all sorts of craft and recycling paper
  • structured paper
  • some watercolor papers, especially the rough ones

The writing characteristics depend of course on the nib and the ink, too.

General tips for handling paper

You should always place a small piece paper next to the sheet you want to write on, for test and scribble purposes. You can also put another sheet of paper under your hand to protect the good paper underneath from ink blots.
Whenever you can you should get a few single sheets or small pads of a new paper you’re just testing out. Some manufacturers also send sample sheets.
If nothing works right with a paper you absolutely want to use, you can try to write on it with thinned acrylic color – I’ve explained this technique in this blog post.


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