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.

2. 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. It’s easy to create your own folded pen, I also sell them pre-made on etsy.   Example of pen in use.

folded pop can pen

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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


  • Sabine from WO(rms) says:

    Hi Sarah,
    I love this article. And I have a question about the last photo of stay weird – which ink have you used? (sorry – untrained German English ;)). Is it Skull and Roses?
    Best wishes for a great new year 2019 for u and beloved
    Yours Sabine from WO(rms) in Germany

    • elvispresley says:

      Hi Sabine,

      I used two different inks. For the red colour I used Ecoline and for the purple colour I used Schreibtinte (Rohrer & Klingner). Happy New Year to you as well 🙂


  • Michael says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I love the post! Do you have recommendations/tips on how to take care of your ruling pens? Specifically, the “Traditional German (Haff)”-style ruling pens.


    • elvispresley says:

      For me, I just make to sure rinse them with water to make sure I get all the ink out as soon as I’m done. I let them dry completely and then store them horizontally in my pen storage.. which is a drawer thing. So far that’s all I’ve needed to do!

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