Options for Writing in Color

Most ink manufacturers offer a range of colors, so that the beginner can try out different colors without thinking too hard.
For those of you who want to go further here’s the good news: you can mix your own colors. There are advantages and differences to each method.

Pros & Cons of different colors

Drawing ink (and also fountain pen ink – for differences see this post) comes ready to use in a bottle, it has the right consistency most of the time. But with those inks you’re bound to the colors the manufacturer thought were pretty.

Gouache and acrylic paint are usually used in painting and illustration, but they can be applied to calligraphy as well when they’re thinned. The advantage is that you can pretty much mix every color you like, and the paint dries very quickly and leaves the writing raised from the page which looks very elegant. You can also write on dark papers because there are a lot of pigments in the paint.
The finer those pigments are ground, the more expensive the paint is, but for beginners low- and middle-priced paints are a good option (actually, the brand in the picture is a fairly expensive one, but I happened to have these still around, back from my art school days…).


Colored Ink


Colored ink is available in many different hues by most of the big brands.
Pigment-based ink, which is lightfast, is available from Standardgraph, Koh-I-Noor, Rohrer & Klinger and Winsor & Newton, just to name a few. You can mix the colors with each other, but you should stay with one brand or the colors might not combine with each other. I personally like the quality of the Standardgraph ink, it’s also very inexpensive, so I’d recommend it for beginners. The ink from Koh-I-Noor is a thinner (as is the Winsor & Newton ink). For questions about consistency and a review of different inks, go here.

Gouache & Acrylic – How to Mix


For mixing gouache or acrylic paint you should use a separate container (like a small film container) und squeeze a dime size dollop of paint into it.


Then you add water, bit by bit, with an eye-dropper. You can mix the color with a short bristled brush or a plastic penholder (if you happen to have one).



The consistency should be similar to whole milk. If you want to mix a new color from several hues, you should mix those first and then add the water.

Both gouache and acrylic paint end up in a darker shade when they dry, so you should test if the dried color matches what you were thinking of. Also, you will have to test if the paint writes smoothly throughout the mixing process.

With the basis colors magenta, cyan, yellow, black and white you can mix any color you need.

For bigger projects you should mix a large batch of paint, so that you won’t have any discrepancies in the hue later. In a tightly  sealed container the paint doesn’t dry up, but eventually will thicken a bit. You can just add water again.

Examples for calligraphy with self-mixed colors

Here are two examples for the possibilities you have with colors – they’re almost endless.






Tips and Tricks for Writing with mixed colors

  • Writing with ink usually is less problematic, the consistency of thinned paint can be a bit tricky to get right and you have to test around a bit to get a feeling for it. If the paint is too thick, it gets stuck in upstrokes or the pen won’t start at all. In this case you should add a little bit of water to the paint.
  • White paint on black paper can have a stunning effect. For even-looking writing you might need to manually (and carefully) add paint to the downstrokes as long as the writing is still wet.
  • Gouache and acrylic paint are not as efficient as ink, you have to dip the nib more often. If the paint starts to dry on the nib itself, you should clean it in a bit of water with a soft brush.
  • While gouache is not waterproof when dried, acrylic paint is.
  • This kind of calligraphy takes a while longer, but it’s worth it for certain purposes.



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