The Cutting Edge of Paper
So you're getting married! Or you have another amazing and awe-inspiring event to dress and impress. You've set the date, the venue, decided on the all-important colour scheme (or color for my fellow Americans). You've settled on lovely, hand written calligraphy for your envelopes and placecards, and have found the most delightful glossy paper with a pearly sheen made from the tears of mermaids. Your ballpoint pen seems to write on them fine enough, so surely a more sophisticated style of writing will have no problem, right?
Would that it were so!
Calligraphy ink has a few requirements to join in inky harmonious bliss with paper.
It needs the right type of surface - too glossy, and the ink will just bubble on the paper. If the paper itself isn't pressed enough (too "loose") then it will feather into the paper, which, while it looks pretty in and of itself, doesn't contribute much in the way of legibility.
It also has to be the right weight of paper. Forget about the thin paper that we use in our printers. If you use ink on lightweight paper then it will warp in a most unbecoming fashion - think back to when we did our finger painting in grade school and saturated the paper with paint.
Certain types of calligraphy also work best when using extra smooth paper, such as Copperplate and Spencerian. If the paper is too rough, the nib will catch on the paper, supplying enough ink blots for an entire Provence of psychiatrists.
Also, and this is a bit of a rarity, but look to make sure that any coloured paper is dyed all the way through, and not just the colour painted onto the paper. This is probably something that you won't normally encounter, but keep an eye out for it. Painted paper can make for blotchy calligraphy; not to mention the true, white colour of the paper core underneath the paint will break through when you fold it, as with envelopes or placecards.
Now there are ways around some of these problems to a certain extent, but you won't get as much of a finished, polished look as when you have the 'write' paper. (Pardon the pun!)
So now that we've covered the 'don'ts', what should one look for to avoid the pitfalls of paper?
When you look for paper, try and find one that has a thicker feel to it. You don't need to go up to cardstock thickness, but use something that at least seems heavier than printer paper. Use paper that has a matte surface and turn a deaf ear to the siren call of the sheen of glossy paper.
Some papers will say what type of press it is. Ideally look for a 'Hot Press' paper, which is extremely smooth and will create fine, crisp thins and swoon-worthy flourishes. If you want a textured look and prefer a broad edge style of calligraphy (such as Italic, Foundational or Carolingian), then 'Cold Press' paper will work as well. Cold press paper is a bit trickier with pointed pen work. While it's doable, it takes more time and effort, and will result in the thin parts of the letter being thicker than if one used hot press paper. This is because the nib needs to be less likely to catch, therefore it will have a less pointy, sharp tip.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what type of paper to look for when perusing paper for that perfect sheet. Don't forget that the best way to tell if a paper will work is to see it first hand! While there are some excellent brick-and-mortar shops to look at, many online retailers will mail you a sample if you inquire.