Calligraphy Papers

As I started doing more calligraphy and playing with pens and ink, I found that the original Bienfang pad I bought wasn’t meeting my standards.  I’ve tried several different papers now, so I’m going to give them a short review here.

The following is a list of the four papers I’ll discuss:

  • Bienfang Calligraphic Parchment.  8.5” x 11”, 50 sheets, 60lb (74 gsm)
  • Bee Paper Calligraphy Practice Pad.  9” x 12”, 50 sheets, 60lb (98 gsm)
  • Rhodia Reverse Book.  8.25” x 8.25”, 80 sheets, spiral bound, 80gsm
  • Canson Pro Layout Marker.  9” x 12”, 50 sheets, 18lb (70 gsm)
The four papers reviewed here
The four papers reviewed here


If you’re not going to read the rest of this post, here’s the quick rundown of each paper.  I go into more details below.

  • Bienfang: Avoid it for thin inks like Parallel Pen or fountain pens.  Acceptable for dip pen but surface finish could catch fine nibs.
  • Bee Paper: Nothing really special about this pad.  Small amount of ink feathering.
  • Rhodia: Nice gridded paper, minimal ink feathering.  Compact size.
  • Canson Pro Layout.  Exceptionally smooth and no ink feathering, but fairly transparent and slow drying.  Works well with different inks.

Bienfang Calligraphic Parchment:

This was the first pad I bought when I started with my first Parallel Pen.  It’s made in Canada (yay, my home country).  The single pad contains paper of 4 different colors—canary, cream, pink, and light blue—which is nice for seeing how your ink looks with different backgrounds.

The paper surface has a fine texture to it, and isn’t as smooth as the Canson or Bee Paper pads.  It’s not an issue so much with the Parallel Pen, but dip pen users who like fine pointed nibs should beware.

Included with the pad are several different spacing guides, in heavier stock, which I found really helpful.  There are three guide sheets, for fine, medium, and broad nibs, and they are printed on both sides, so you can practice straight vertical lettering on one side, and italics on the other.

Parallel Pen ink on Bienfang paper
Parallel Pen ink on Bienfang paper

I noticed fairly pronounced feathering with Parallel Pen ink, which is probably a more free-flowing ink similar to fountain pen ink.  With sumi and dip-pen ink (which I’ve now started experimenting with), which is thicker, it was less of a problem.

I haven’t been using this paper much lately, but will keep it around for its different colors, and making notes with dip-pens.

Bee Paper Calligraphic Practice Pad:

I bought this paper hoping for something better than the Bienfang.  It’s made in the USA (locally, in my current city of Beaverton, Oregon, actually!)

Although it says it is 98 gsm (grams per square meter), the sheets feel thinner and lighter than the 74gsm Bienfang paper.  The whole paper weight system is a bit confusing anyway, and I don’t think all manufacturers are playing by the same rules, even though the gsm unit of measure is very straightforward.

The surface finish is very smooth on both sides, and the color is bright white.  I was hoping that the smoothness was an indicator that it was sized, and therefore less prone to feathering with thin inks.  This proved to partly be the case, as feathering with Parallel Pen ink was less on this paper than the Bienfang.  Each sheet is quite thin, so writing on both sides is not really practical.

Bee Paper sample
Bee Paper sample

The pad comes with several spacing and lettering guides, which are always helpful to have around.  I noticed that the sheets do tear out quite easily, which I personally find annoying, as I like to keep my practice sheets intact for future reference, or just to thumb through to see my learning progression.

Rhodia Reverse Book:

After some research I found a near cult-like following of this notebook, which is spiral bound and made in France.  I picked one up at the local Blick to form my own impressions.

The first thing you notice is the orange cover (also available in black, but that seemed boring) and the spiral binding.  The metal spiral is well made so that it doesn’t constantly unwind itself from the pages, as some spiral notebooks have a tendency to do.  As an engineer, I like these details.

The paper itself is smoothly finished, and has a 5mm square grid on both sides, in a light and unobtrusive violet color.  Some reports on the Net say that the grid lines are fuzzy, smeared, or not well printed, but my sample looks crisp.  The sheets have very fine perforations near the spiral binding, so pages can be torn out with a clean edge, and are thick enough that writing on both sides, even with the wide 3.8mm Parallel Pen, is possible.

Parallel pen on Rhodia
Parallel pen on Rhodia

My test with Parallel Pen ink resulted in no noticeable feathering at a normal viewing distance of about 12”.  You really have to look up close to see slight, but unobtrusive feathering.  Based on this I would think that dip pen inks would hold up very well.  I have to say I like this notebook a lot.  It’s a nice balance of size and portability and when I travel I’ll be taking this with me.

Canson Pro Layout Marker:

This is my latest acquisition, and it’s pretty nice stuff.  I would probably appreciate it even more if I were an artist working in pens and markers.  I can’t tell if it’s made in France or the USA, as it lists both countries as place of manufacture.

The paper is bright white, and quite transparent so it would be great for tracing.  It is sized, so it has an exceptionally smooth finish, and my Parallel Pen ink does not feather on it at all.  I’ve also tried Yasutomo Sumi ink, Winsor & Newton Calligraphy Ink, and Sennelier metallic gold inks on it and don’t see any feathering.  Inks do take a long time to dry on this paper though, so left-handers beware!  Also, the transparency means that writing on both sides is not really practical as you can see the other side.

Canson Pro Layout
Canson Pro Layout

One interesting thing I noted about the Canson was that after the ink dried, you could see the areas where it pooled up.  If you look at the image above, you can see what I mean.  This generally doesn’t pose much of a problem, but when viewed from certain angles this can be a bit annoying.