The Scratchy Nib

How to assemble a copperplate starter kit

Learn Calligraphy, StationeryJuhi Chitra4 Comments
Written with a Hunt nib in the Turned Wood oblique holder and Daniel Smith walnut ink on Daler Rowney 45gsm Layout paper.

Written with a Hunt nib in the Turned Wood oblique holder and Daniel Smith walnut ink on Daler Rowney 45gsm Layout paper.

If you want to start learning copperplate, but don't know which tools to buy or where to find a pointed pen in India, this is your guide.

Your kit will contain:

  1. An oblique holder
  2. A pack of nibs
  3. Sumi ink
  4. Paper pad
  5. Rough cloth and water
  6. Guideline sheets
  7. Instructions

Alright, let's start:


1. Order calligraphy tools (pointed pen, nib, ink, paper) from

For the first four items on the list, Amazon is your best friend (honestly, it's your best friend for most calligraphy supplies). You can have them delivered wherever in India you happen to be. I have even created a handy-dandy wishlist on Amazon with all these items: Copperplate Starter Kit by The Scratchy Nib.

Oblique Holder


While, it's perfectly possible to do copperplate with a straight pointed pen (in fact, the master scribes who invented copperplate were all using straight holders), it will make your life easier if you get an oblique one. In India, that means you have two options: 


Speedball plastic holder
This one's lower-quality, non adjustable, won't fit every nib, and is a bit at an off angle. But it is cheaper (about ₹470 + delivery) and not bad to start with, specially if you're not sure how long your calligraphy bug will last (I mean, did you also buy a guitar which is now gathering dust?)


Turned Wood oblique holder
The Turned Wood costs ₹1990 + delivery but is high-quality with an adjustable flange and set at a better angle for calligraphy. Get this if you don't mind paying. I personally started with the Speedball and moved to this months later (actually I started with a straight holder, then Speedball and now this)


Flex Nibs


Don't get just one nib. They don't last too long. Second thing to know when buying flex nibs in India is that they are generally sold under vague names different from the model name which is printed on the nib. So Amazon might have the Hiro No. 41 being sold as the 'Crown nib'. It's confusing. Just remember to read the name on the body of the nib for the correct info. Your options, in order of my recommendation, are:


Leonardt set of 5 copperplate nibs
Each nib in this set is pretty decent to start with and you get to try 5 different ones. Costs ₹485 for 5. Pictured on the right.

Pack of 3 Leonardt Steno
This is my personal favourite for copperplate. Beautifully thin upstrokes. Costs ₹180 for 3.

Pack of 2 Principle
One of the most acclaimed nibs worldwide. Great for beginners too. Costs ₹380 for 2.

Pack of 3 Hiro No. 41
This is the nib we use at my workshops and is a great, cheap option to begin with.

Remember to prepare the nibs before use.


Sumi Ink

A lot of people recommend India inks to start with, but I prefer sumi because you can use it on the lowest quality printer paper and still get the perfect flow. In fact I've found sumi to be the most reliable ink that works well with every nib/paper combination. Plus the rich black is incomparable to most India ink. You can find other brands in India sometimes, but the best option is:

Zig Kuretake Sumi ink 60ml
Costs ₹310. Learning copperplate can quickly get expensive, yes.

You can also try the sepia-coloured Daniel Smith Walnut ink (₹724 + delivery), which I recently discovered on the Amazon Global Store and like a lot. Or if you want more opulence, try the Zig Gold Mica (₹560 + delivery), Silver Mica, or Posterman White. If you're made of money, you can also get the McCaffery's Penman ink (₹950 + delivery) which is recommended by master penmen. On the other hand, if this is all getting too expensive, you can just go for the good old Camlin Drawing inks which come in a pack of 12 colours and can be found in local stationery shops as well (just remember they will only work well on heavy papers).



While your normal printer paper is perfectly suited for everyday practice (as long as you're using sumi ink, for other inks, you'll need heavier paper, specially for drawing inks), you might want to invest in a good-quality paper pad  just because it's a joy to work on better paper and you're not gonna be making final pieces on printer paper. Look for any pad sold as ‘layout’, ‘marker’ or ‘sketch’ paper and get one above 85gsm. My favourite option is:

Daler Rowny A4 Sketch Pad 95gsm
I use this for everything including everyday practice. It's tape-bound so you can take out loose sheets for printing guidelines or final work. Costs ₹315 + delivery.

For artworks, you can buy some heavy card-stock paper. While not my favourite, cartridge sheets work perfectly fine with most inks too.


2. Find some old cloth and water

Pointed pen practice is quite messy. Find an old piece of cloth, tear it in small pieces and use them for cleaning the nibs, wiping the ink from the seemingly impossible places it will appear in, and for cleaning surprise spills.

And a cup of water, also for cleaning purposes.


3. Print some copperplate guidelines

Copperplate guidelines have 55° diagonal lines which are super helpful for maintaining a consistent slant when learning. You can always draw the guidelines by hand but this can quickly get tiring. I have written a post about which of the guideline PDFs available online you should use depending on your level of comfort with the script. But I'm assuming you're an absolute beginner, so you should get this one:

Dr. Vitolo's free copperplate guideline PDF
Go to the link, download the PDF and print it on a bunch of either printer paper or your A4 pad. If you have a printer at home, it's gonna be super handy.


4. Find instruction

The best option, of course, is through a book. The best one around by general consensus and the one I study from, is:


Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy
by Eleanor Winters
Has clear step-by-step instructions starting from drills to each letterform, minuscules and majuscules, expansive instructions on spacing between each letter combination and further onto finished compositions. It's perfect. Costs ₹639.

Script in the Copperplate Style
by Dr. Joseph M. Vitolo
If you wanna start with a free tutorial, master penman Dr. Joseph M. Vitolo's comprehensive online PDF on is the only great one I've found.

Copperplate is very nuanced and good instruction is imperative, so don't try to learn on your own from a sample.

Bonus: The Universal Penman
by George Bickham
This is NOT an instructional text. It's a facsimile of a 17th century copperplate engraver's volumes showing samples of the script by many different masters of the time. It's a treasure trove of fascinating samples from the golden age of copperplate.


That's it. You're good to go. If you want to learn copperplate but haven't used a pointed pen before, get familiar with the pen first. (I take pointed pen workshops in India)

Since the only thing I can't tell you is where to buy the large supply of motivation you'll keep needing, I'll leave you with a quote instead.


Happy practicing :)