When using a steel pen, such as Speedball, on ordinary inexpensive paper, the ink bleeds and the result ranges from ugly to illegible. I have done a lot of genealogical research of 19th century handwritten records that have been reproduced on microfilm, and the results are good.

Does this mean that 19th century ledgers had better paper than the ledgers available today, or did they use a different ink? Is there an ink available today that will give good results with a steel pen and ordinary 21st century paper?

  • I think it comes down to the bleach and lime used in paper making today. Paper in the 19th century wasn't nearly as processed (or colorless) as it is today.
    – Scott
    Feb 1, 2021 at 21:11
  • Your question is similar to this on Crafts.SE. What means "ordinary"? For an human or for a printer? Printers paper is designed to have grain and hygroscopy suitable for the printer ink, but I have lot of examples of 21th century ordinary paper (ordinary for people, I mean, e.g. in some brands of school notebook). It also depends on your pen and on the way you write. Asking if there is an universal ink available is a too broad question in my opinion, there can be many types of answers. Mar 4, 2021 at 17:19
  • My guess is a little bit of everything... Different paper (cotton), different inks, pens and penmanship skills; the people who wrote records did a lot of writing. Maybe if you could point to one specific issue you're interested in we could be more helpful.
    – curious
    Mar 4, 2021 at 18:05
  • I second that the problem is hard to solve with inks, and the best solution is to find a suitable paper. Most suggestions in this thread are quite expensive options though. If you look for a cheaper alternative I can recommend trying a copying paper for ink jet printers, and make sure that the surface of it has an egg shell finish. That works very good for me with a steel pen and ordinary ink. The paper doesn't have to have a lot of glue in it to work. Bristol board is not glued, but still great for steel pens (even though the ink will take a while to dry). Nov 25, 2021 at 12:02

2 Answers 2


It is often not about the ink. And decent waterproof ink works well... It's more about the paper.

For all my final pen and ink work I really prefer Borden & Riley Paris Bleedproof Paper For Pens.
It is by far the best paper for ink work I know - whether it's calligraphy, ink washes, ballpoint.. et. al.

However, you do have to be careful to let the ink dry, 'cause it ain't gonna soak in much.

I'll use 100% rag vellum for rough stages, which works very well too, then use the Borden & Riley paper for final passes.

Standard bond paper is just too absorbent for most pen and ink work in my opinion. IT's fine for rough sketches or preliminary ideas, but once you start trying to nail down something with more refinement, you really need better quality paper. Bond paper, even "good" bond paper has teeth... small fragments of the cotton that will catch a nib or an ink drip and blowout a line. Vellum or the Paris paper won't have these. You'll get clean sharp , crips, lines all the time.


Yeah, that's normal, if by ordinary paper you mean like general purpose copier/printer paper. That kind of paper isn't generally designed for writing on, especially not with proper pens. It's the lowest of the low.

You probably need to buy something a bit better quality. However, I have found that regular Xerox Universal 80GSM copier paper is quite nice for practising pen work/calligraphy. Obviously, you'll want something a bit thicker if you are writing something for a client. Also note that back in the day, they often used parchment/vellum (not paper) for legal records. It was (and still is) horrendously expensive in comparison to cheap paper. A single book often required a whole herd of cows/goats!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.