All About Ruling Pens

What is a ruling pen?

A ruling pen is a drawing instrument for drawing with ink or with other drawing fluids. The pen contains ink in a slot between two flexible metal jaws, which are tapered to a point. It enables precise rendering of the thinnest lines. This pen was originally used for technical drawings in engineering and cartography but you’ll see it a lot today all over instagram. I hope this blog post gives you a little peak into the world of ruling pens, if you’re interested, I have a skillshare course on the Ruling Pen! In my class I show you how to make your own pen, all the different types of pens and the styles they create and how to implement all the methods I use.

This is a list of my favourite artists that practice this style of calligraphy:

Types of Ruling Pens:

  1. No22 Ruling Pen: This calligraphy ruling pen is designed specifically for lettering. You vary the line width by tilting the pen. Wood handle with brass collar & writing unit. Example of pen in use.

  1. Folded Ruling Pen: The folded pen made its debut into the international calligraphy world in 1995, at the Letterforum conference.  The original model by Matthew Coffin is still produced today: a folded metal nib affixed into a straight penholder.  The calligrapher can create thick and thin lines by simply adjusting the angle of the pen. Many calligraphers have gone on to fashion their own folded pens, cutting nibs out of aluminum soda cans and taping them to wood dowels, unsharpened #2 pencils, chopsticks and the like.  Thus gave way to the colloquial names “cola pen” and “pop can pen” (and the continuation of the regional debate of soda versus pop). Show how to create one. Example of pen in use.

  1. Traditional German (Haff) Ruling Pen: I believe this is the ‘OG’ ruling pen used for more technical things like architecture etc. It creates the thinnest lines but can also vary in thickness.

  1. Little Lie Ruling Pen: Little Lie is a distinct model, appropriate for delicate calligraphy in smaller sizes with stroke precision. Its writing surface is slightly curved and narrow, allowing regularity in stroke width. Example of pen in use.

  1. Automatic Pen: This pen is meant to be similar to the parallel pen and create more gothic style calligraphy. However, if you use it on it’s side and just use the point, you get a lot of splats and a similar feel to a folded pen. Example of pen in use (traditional way)

Ruling Pen Technique:

By varying the speed of writing, the tilt of the pen and the smoothness/roughness of the surface you can  create a lot of varied effects. These are a few other methods to try out:

  1. Using different inks: Dip the ink GENEROUSLY, sumi ink is best – but watercolour or thinned down gouache. I also love the ecoline ink for these pens. For white ink, thin it out with some water and test out the opacity.
  2. Using different surfaces, speed:  Splatters will occur quite naturally but they can also be induced by quick strokes from bottom to top (pushing instead of pulling the pen) or by writing on rough paper.
  3. How to hold a ruling pen: Don’t be afraid to create up strokes when it’s normally a down stroke. Try holding the pen by placing your index finger on top of the pen close to the nib.
  4. Get Creative: Trying splashing one colour on the page and go over with another colour in your pen.

Where to buy Ruling Pens:

Ruling Pen Inspiration

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