Practice Paper Uncovered

A question I get asked a lot is “What paper is suitable to practice on?” There are a multitude of options to choose from, from dedicated calligraphy practice pads to laser printer paper packs. I find calligraphy practice pads aren’t value for money as they only have around 20 sheets in a pad also, depending on the ink being used can be subject to ink feathering (spreading). In practicing calligraphy you’re going to go through a lot of paper so it’s important to choose a suitable paper stock that will aid your practice rather than hinder. When I first started I used sketchpads; I thought they were easily available, came in A3 size and cheap – a great option! What I didn’t appreciate was that sketchpad paper is rather rough (even with a zebra G), the nib would often catch and the ink would always feather on the down-stroke shades. It wasn’t an effective way to practice. The only thing sketchpad paper is good for (in my opinion) is: calligraphy practice with a pencil or hand lettering in pencil.

So here’s my super quick run-down on 4 great calligraphy practice papers.

My advice would be to always opt for a smooth matte paper; a particular favourite among calligraphers are the Rhodia paper pads, they are a bit more expensive but they handle ink extremely well. Easily available on the high street and online (they generally work out cheaper when bought online) they come in various sizes to suit your needs and have blank, lined and dotted options. Rhodia is great all-rounder; personally it’s my go-to practice paper for my more precise drills and exercises.

Along with Rhodia, Clairefontaine is another excellent choice; both are owned by the same company Exacompta and are considered by many to be the best paper stocks on the market. Clairefontaine paper comes in packs much like printer paper and is more cost effective than Rhodia however; this paper only comes in blank sheets so I would use this paper if you’re just beginning to get to grips in controlling the nib. The price for Clairefontaine paper varies from stockist to stockist – so beware of how much you’re paying for a pack. (Since starting calligraphy more options for Clairefontaine paper like excercise books have started appearing on British retail sites but again the price for these varies.)

An alternative to the Exacompta papers are the Navigator Ultra Smooth colour document packs. You can buy this paper in reams of 250 sheets at a higher weight of 160 gsm for under £10 and is far more accessible than the Clairefontaine paper. This was my paper of choice when learning calligraphy (after the sketchpad fiasco) and when the ink was dried I used them as warmup sheets to cut down on paper waste. I went through a lot of paper when I first started so this option was the most cost effective way for me to practice.

NB: With these papers mentioned above you will have to draw your guidelines on with a protractor and ruler.

If drawing guidelines is too time consuming and you want to use guide sheets and be able to see them easily, layout paper is a good option. Unlike the other papers mentioned; layout paper is extremely thin but is non-porous so is able to withstand walnut ink without feathering. Some stockists sell layout paper at exorbitant prices, if that’s the case I would use the layout paper sparingly or if it works out cheaper, buy it in A3 size and half the sheets to A4. I would use layout paper if I was short on time to practice or if I couldn't be bothered drawing out my guidelines.

It’s ultimately up to you whatever paper you choose it’s purely a personal preference but, time is precious and it’s no use practicing on paper ill- suited to your purpose. The right choice in paper can make all the difference to your practice, getting the wrong paper/ink combo can cause many a budding calligrapher to give up at the first hurdle. It’s so easy to make an ill-advised choice like I did with the sketchpads when starting out because; I didn’t understand the importance of the correlation between the paper, ink and nib. Good practice comes with a good set-up so choose your paper accordingly.

Top tip: If you don’t have access to a leather blotter to use under your practice paper, just use some old newspapers which will give the nib some bounce over the paper.

NB: These paper recommendations are on the assumption that walnut ink is being used as practice ink.