All About Calligraphy

Calligraphy is an expression of one’s heart, head and hands. Its two Greek roots define the word: kalli and graphia meaning “beautiful writing.” Most often associated with writing done by scribes during the Renaissance, the allure of calligraphy lives on embedded in the rich traditions of special events. 

Calligraphy establishes a formal tone of honor and elegance, making it the perfect choice for engagement announcements, wedding invitations, place cards, programs and thank you notes. For many guests, the invitation will be their first impression of things to come so it should reflect your personality and the tone of the wedding. The following information will help you design wedding invitations that convey the importance of this blessed event and your love for each other.

Many of us have dabbled with calligraphy, either in a school course or as a weekend hobby at home. Does this mean that we’re qualified to address 300 envelopes? Is it realistic for a bride to do it herself?

Freelance calligraphers advise, “The littlest things like the slant of your handwriting can make the difference between your envelopes looking tacky or professional and these skills only come from experience.” They add, “Because of everything else a bride has to do, she should think about hiring a calligrapher.” If you do decide to be your own calligrapher, it is important to practice before starting on the actual envelopes. Calligraphy is a perfectionist’s playground and the slightest smudge, drip or misspelled name will cost you time and money.

For most of us, this is a job to contract out to a skilled professional who has the training, the tools and the patience to address your wedding invitation envelopes. Start by meeting with several artists before choosing the calligrapher that’s right for you. Find out who pays for supplies, them or you? Ask to see paper and ink samples, catalog examples of finished work and references in the form of names and telephone numbers of previous clients. Take a close look at your budget and time constraints before making a financial commitment.

The industry standard is to charge by the envelope. Depending on factors like where you live and the expertise of your calligrapher, plan on spending upwards of $2.00 per envelope. Order 20 extra envelopes for every 100, to compensate for any “oops!” mishaps along the way. Extra costs come into play with oversized or odd-shaped envelopes. Show your attention to detail with envelope liners created by hand to match your wedding theme. Envelope liners cost between $.50 to $1.25 per liner. You may also consider having the calligrapher script your wedding reception programs, place cards and thank you note envelopes.

Paper in ecru, buff, eggshell or ivory is the most popular and appropriate choice for wedding invitations. Wood fiber paper does not bind as well with ink and has a tendency to break down or wear out over time. On the other hand, cotton fiber paper has a soft luxurious feel and binds well with most inks. Another benefit to using cotton is that it doesn’t decompose, so your wedding invitations will look as beautiful on your 25th Anniversary as they did on your wedding day.

Less formal second wedding and vow renewal ceremonies can use alternative paper choices for invitations. Howard Clark, of Twinrocker Handmade Paper, suggests a combination of fine cotton and linen fibers with unique wood fibers or metallic thread for an elegant texture.

Invest in a quality set of calligraphy pens with detachable and interchangeable nibs (tips) for fine detail, spring-loaded dip pens for large areas and thin sable brushes for outlining and letter build-up. Box sets are convenient because they come with a wide variety of nibs and you’ll use them all. Also, remember to change your nibs at the first sign of wear to avoid lettering that skips or looks scratchy.

You can avoid the messiness of liquid ink altogether by using felt-tipped calligraphy pens, a popular writing tool that delivers a steady, continuous flow of ink. The only drawback seems to be the need for frequent replacements because the tips wear down quickly.

Color: Formal invitations should be engraved or printed with a rich black ink. For second weddings and vow renewal ceremonies, colored ink is quite appropriate.

Strokes: Thick, bold calligraphy like Statesman, can look too heavy in black ink so use dark grey ink or stay with black ink but choose a thinner type style like Floridian.

Ingredients: According to Evan Lindquist of Arkansas State University’s Art Department, the best inks begin with gallnuts. This ingredient causes oxidation, which results in a permanent “slow burn” of the ink particles into the paper or parchment.

Interactions: Calligraphy inks that have a high acid count won’t interact well with your wedding invitation paper or parchment. Read your labels and choose inks with a pH level of 6, 7 or 8.

Smudges: Tissue sheets were originally inserted as part of the invitation package to prevent the slow-drying inks of the past from smudging. As print technology improved, the need for these tissues all but disappeared. The dainty invitation tissue has remained due to tradition, not necessity. Today’s modern inks are quick drying and as long as you give individual paper pieces ample time to dry before assembling them for mailing, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Tradition never goes out of style. Black ink calligraphy on classic ecru paper stock consistently takes first place among brides and wedding consultants. Calligraphy lettering has many beautiful type styles but two in particular, Royal Script and Shaded Antique Roman, rate highest on the popularity chart. Both styles are very legible as monograms and full-page text and look stunning when printed on classic ivory cotton fiber paper with a natural deckle edge.

Calligraphy Organizations and Resources
Get free advice from fellow calligraphy enthusiasts by contacting national and local organizations and clubs. Among those who might point you in the right direction is The Society of Scribes