Olive & Reid Studio


Luxury calligraphy London

Ever needed calligraphy ink alternatives?


This post wasn't planned to be about calligraphy ink alternatives. Originally, I was going to talk about envelope suppliers in the UK, but during the sample testing process, I suffered some sad calligraphy ink catastrophes. ...so you bought less-than-perfect quality envelopes and now your ink is bleeding everywhere like a scene from CSI. Don't panic. All is not lost.

What's the ideal stationery gsm weight for calligraphy?

As a general rule of thumb, envelopes (well, pretty much any form of stationery) for calligraphy should be at least 120gsm. It's still always a good idea to test the paper stock if you can because you just never know.

I recently made the schoolgirl error of buying 110gsm envelopes... I swear I thought it was 160 gsm! With a solid helping of optimism, I tested it out, and things did not go so well. Next to the 130 gsm counterpart I was testing, it was a right mess. Hollywood superstar Daniel Craig doesn't deserve to receive this trash calligraphy.


Testing sample envelopes for calligraphy

The sample envelopes I used for testing

Do you think it was the fancy name of the 110 gsm ones that blinded me? Before you answer, it's important to know that I'm a sucker for marketing. And as a marketer, I should know better. Maybe I thought more expensive meant better? I wish we could just forget they ever happened. But they did, and now we have to find a way to fix this.

The black inks I used to test with

  1. Sumi Ink
  2. Winsor & Newton Calligraphy Ink
  3. Pelikan 4001
  4. Winsor & Newton watercolour

Accent Antique Magnolia 110 gsm envelopes

You can see for yourself how the envelope fared with these inks. I used Leonardt Principal EF nib and within seconds of nib to paper I knew it was going to be hazardous. It takes a lot of effort to persist when your writing looks like this. You're wiping away tears and clutching at your heart and reputation all while creating the calligraphy version of a Pinterest Fail that you very absolutely intend to share with the internet. You're welcome.


There really isn't much point in assessing each ink, but I would say that the watercolour may make them usable, and the Pelikan 4001 suffered the most. Sad, really.

Although I went to bed annoyed at myself for these envelopes, I woke thinking, "I CAN FIX THIS".

What can you use instead of ink for calligraphy?

You see, calligraphy isn't restricted to inks. There's a range of water-based paints and products that can be diluted to the right consistency to write with. Rummaging through my inky tool box, I pulled out four alternatives that I thought could be worth a try.

  1. Finetec "Inca Gold" watercolour
  2. Dr Ph Martins "Bleed proof white"
  3. W&N watercolour
  4. Schmincke Horadam Gouache


Every single one of the alternatives to ink works on these envelopes. Well, the fact that the white is barely legible is beside the point; it didn't bleed. Cos it's "bleed proof". Dr Ph Martin did not lie. And — come on! — secret writing is exactly perfect for James Bond. Maybe not for Royal Mail.

Let's compare the inks with the paints in close view to just really prove the point that all is not lost with the envelopes — we have many alternative options to play with.



Ivory envelopes 130 gsm

Now, this is more like it! Bring on the inks, I say. I used Gillott's 303 nib for this test. My only struggle was that they were a little hard to see through in parts on the light box, but, if all else fails, rule it up my friends. Draw those guidelines and erase once you're done. Old school.


  1. Sumi - was lovely! It created beautiful hairlines and was easy to write with on this envelope. It did dry slowly, though.
  2. W&N Calligraphy Ink - slight bleeding and the hairlines aren't so fine, but still works. I do find this ink thicker than it should be, so could be watered down for a better result. I just haven't tried it yet.
  3. Pelikan 4001 - went on smoothly and hairlines still very nice
  4. Watercolour - also lovely and created thin hairlines and a smooth experience.

Top tip for troubleshooting calligraphy inks and stationery

At the end of the day, the main thing is to test your stationery and be ready to adjust your expectations. Be willing to experiment with different media, and have fun!