“I can’t get used to it!”
I hear this all the time from anyone who has bought an iPad for calligraphy and has stopped using it.
I don’t want this to be you!
The secret is treating your iPad practice as if you were learning a new skill.
The biggest misconception is that you’ll “forget” how to do calligraphy with a nib and ink, and I’m here to tell you that that is absolutely FALSE. I promise this will only enhance the calligraphy skills that you already have!
BUT – if you jump into trying to write how you do with a nib/ink, you’re not going to love the results. 🙁
And the last thing I want is for you to get frustrated, put down your $500+ investment, and never touch it again.
So, as with any new skill, you have to return to the basics.
That’s why I’m here to teach you the exact steps that I took. You’re about to learn how to create natural-looking calligraphy on your iPad! I’m so excited for you.
This is a skill that (among many, many reasons!) has:
Helped form muscle memory with my own letterforms.
Allowed me to create digitized (natural-looking!) calligraphy for my own clients lightning-fast.
And save SO MUCH MONEY not buying Rhodia paper or burning through nibs for funsies ($$$).
Save money. Did I say you’re going to save money?
You’re going to love your iPad so much that you’ll to want to buy a second one for back-up! (JK. You don’t actually need to do this. But I do use mine so much in my own stationery business that I don’t know what I would do without it!)
So, let’s get started:
If you’re here, you’re most likely wanting to use your Apple Pencil and the Procreate app to create calligraphy – so do yourself a favor and use a calligraphy brush!
I created my own set of brushes specifically for this purpose – you can grab the full set here. I recommend the Bold Calligraphy brush when you’re starting out, it makes it easier to see the transitions between thin and thick lines while you’re learning how to use your Apple Pencil! When you start with a brush made to look like real calligraphy, you’re already ahead!
It’s a different feeling to write on smooth glass than it is to write with a scratchy nib on paper, so I started by practicing drills on the iPad to get used to the way the pen moves across the glass.
If you’ve learned, or practiced, calligraphy before, you are most likely familiar with drills. You may even have your favorite drills that you like to practice! They’re also great to practice while you’re on the couch, since you don’t have to worry about spilling your ink!
Whichever you practice, here are the steps that you’ll want to take:
1. Start by practicing the shapes/movements, without pressing down on the glass.
2. Once you’re comfortable, you can slowly start adding in thicker “downstrokes” by pressing down on your Apple Pencil.
3. Adjust the Streamline setting as needed (if your lines are “shaky” or you write slow). The slower you write, the higher you might want to adjust your Streamline setting. Start by bringing it to 100 so that you can see the effect, and then bring it down to 50 and adjust from there.
Here is a video to show you where to find the setting:
Remember to write with your whole arm and not just your wrist/fingers; keeping your hands/wrist/forearm steady and moving only your shoulder and elbow.
Here are some of my favorite drills, taken from Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship by C.P. Zaner – save these to your iPad and bring them into Procreate as a layer so that you can trace them!
*Tip: I like using a larger canvas size – somewhere between 3000×5000 pixels and 6000×8000 pixels
(Here is also a link to the full book, which is in the Public Domain)
P.S. I realize that this is a totally different calligraphy style than mine, but it was amazing for learning how to control the Apple Pencil!
Take a photo of your own calligraphy or use one of the below guides, also from Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship. You can bring them in as another layer so that you can trace them!
Here are the steps you’ll want to take:
1. Zoom in, and trace the calligraphy letters slowly, taking care to mimic the thin upstrokes and the thick downstrokes.
2. Then, start to take notice of the transitions between the thin upstrokes and the thick downstrokes; are you creating smooth transitions with gradual pressure?
Don’t forget to use your whole arm!
Adjust the Streamline setting as needed, and as you get more comfortable with your pencil.
Now that you’ve got the basics down of how the Apple Pencil works with a calligraphy brush, and a little bit of practice creating variations in thick/thin lines by adjusting the pressure, you can start translating this skill into creating words!
You can continue to trace your own calligraphy, or you can start free handing your own words.
If you need help writing in a straight line, I have guidelines you can download for free here!
While it’s not the same as writing with a nib and ink, I do find that some styles of calligraphy are best written with a “fast” hand. Mine is!
Your objective is to make your iPad calligraphy look as natural as possible, so do try writing at a normal speed now that you’ve figured out how to adjust the pressure for thick/thin lines!
As you speed up your writing, you might need to bring the Streamline setting down a bit.
Don’t forget to continue your practice! You can return to any of the steps as needed (and in fact, it’s encouraged!). The more you use your iPad to create calligraphy, the more you will get comfortable with it.
But above all, don’t be discouraged – it took me many hours to get the hang of it, and it’s well worth it! You’ll not only have a tool to create digitized calligraphy without having to use a scanner, but you’ll be able to practice your calligraphy (and learn new styles!) anywhere you want without wasting paper or burning through nibs.
Beautiful, natural, realistic-looking calligraphy on your iPad that is going to look fantastic in your work… I’m just saying 😉
Could you drop me an email or DM on Instagram if you found this helpful or if you need any more advice? Cheering you on, always!
P.S. I created my own calligraphy brush specifically for myself (and other calligraphers!) to create natural-looking calligraphy that can quickly be vectorized for web applications or print (even letterpress and foil!), and it comes with a helpful PDF on adjusting the settings to your own style (whether you’re light-handed, heavy-handed, etc.) – you can check out the full set here!