Calligraphy is a special, formalized style of writing characterized by long, looping letters and decorative strokes. Calligraphy has been an art form for thousands of years and dates back to ancient China during the Shang dynasty (c.1600 BCE). Modern calligraphy takes many forms and is used for specialized documents, invitations, typography, and even artwork.
For many, calligraphy offers a creative outlet and means of expression. It can also become a viable side hustle to make some extra cash. People need fancy writing for all kinds of occasions, and if you are a good calligrapher, then the demand for your skills will be high.
If you are an artistic individual and want a job that makes you use creativity, then calligraphy might be a good idea for you. So to help you out, we put together this comprehensive article on how to start a calligraphy business from scratch.
How Much Can I Make as a Calligrapher?
Like most creative professions, salaries can range widely depending on your level of skill, experience, and location. According to CareerExplorer.com, the average annual salary for a calligrapher in the US is around $64,000 as of 2021.
The bottom 20% of calligraphers report making an average of $27,900 per year and the top 20% report earning an average of $148,800 a year. Oddly enough, the state of Georgia has the highest average pay for calligraphers at $100,780.
Even starting-level calligraphers face decent pay prospects. Starting level calligraphers make an average of around $13 per hour, not too shabby for a beginner. The decent pay plus the flexibility in artistic careers is one reason why people choose to start a calligraphy business. Also, calligraphy is a unique art form, so you will definitely be filling a niche role.
Starting a Calligraphy Business
Many people might not realize this, but calligraphy is a fairly in-depth discipline and there are a lot of technicalities. Strokes, letterings, and even types of ink all have special names and designations in the professional calligrapher’s handbook.
If you want a chance of marketing your services, then not only do you have to develop an attractive lettering style, but you must also show clients that you understand the art form at a fundamental and deep level.
The best way to learn the ins and outs of calligraphy is probably to buy a book. There are several books aimed at novice and expert lettering. Here are some of the more popular options.
- Lettering and Modern Calligraphy: A Beginner’s Guide
- A Guide to Classical Lettering
- Modern Calligraphy
- Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy
- Creative Lettering and Beyond
These books cover a wide range of calligraphy topics from basic stroke techniques to how to create your own, unique style of lettering. An alternative to buying a calligraphy book is to take a calligraphy course.
Calligraphy courses taught by pros can likely be found in your area and cost anywhere between $100-$300. You can learn anything extra you need from videos on Youtube and other platforms.
Once you have a good lesson plan, the next thing is to practice. Like all art forms, calligraphy is a specialized skill and needs refinement to get better.
2.Find the Right Equipment
You can’t just use any pen or pencil for calligraphy. Calligraphers use special pens and pencils with unique shapes and designs to generate the loop, fancy letters they draw. So you will need to buy your own set of calligraphy tools.
The type of calligraphy tools you need depends on what kind of letterings you want to do. It’s like asking what the best ball for sports is—it depends on what sport you are talking about!. Some calligraphy scripts, such as the famous Blackletter gothic font, will be very difficult if not impossible to accurately replicate without the right kind of calligraphy pen.
What counts as the right calligraphy pen depends on the writer; however, we can give a few pointers on what kinds of pens to look for (Quick note: The term “nib” refers to the tip of the pen that makes contact with the page).
- Broad, wide nibs. These kinds of pens are best for large, blocky letterings like Roman script, Gothic fonts, and other broad strokes fonts.
- Sharp, pointy nib. These kinds of pens are best for the wispy, elegant letterings that you see on things like wedding invitations. Copperplate and Spencerian are two common calligraphy fonts that are written with these kinds of pens.
These are the two types of pens you can choose from, and there are many variations that stand in between. The main thing you need to remember is that if you want to do wispier and thinner lettering, then you need a thinner pen nib. If you want thick, blocky letters with angles, then a broad-tip nib will get the job done.
Price depends on the quality of pens that you get, but you can find a decent starter set with a few different pens and nibs for probably $70-$150. High-end calligraphy pens can cost upwards of $800-$1,000, so you may want to wait to buy a Montblanc or Nakaya calligraphy pen until you already have a working business.
3.Pick a Specialty
Most calligraphers have a particular niche that they work in. For example, calligraphers might specialize in wedding invitations, baby shower announcements, formal letters, formal dinners and placeholders, and more.
Other unique projects you could do include wedding vows speeches for formal occasions. Some calligraphers get hired to make calligraphy art for display. Calligraphy is one of those art forms that is very flexible, so you have a lot of room in choosing what kind of projects you want to work on.
The good thing about picking a niche is that you can drum up repeat business with clients. But there is nothing wrong with branching out of your comfort zone every now and then.
You can divide your work between routine projects that are relatively easy to complete and more intellectually stimulating projects that take more work to complete. Since you will be working on your own, you can split your work up however you like.
4.Create an Etsy Store
In addition to selling your services directly to clients, you can also open an Etsy store to market and sell your wares. Etsy is an online marketplace where anyone can create a store and sell their wares.
Etsy has become known as the home of handcrafted arts and the like, so it is a great space for a calligrapher such as yourself to set up shop. Etsy gives you a platform to showcase your artwork and also will help you sell your products to customers.
Creating an Etsy account is simple. First, go to the home page and click on the Sell on Etsy link. From there, enter an email, name, password, and hit Register. You can also set up an Etsy account using your Facebook, Google, or Apple account.
Once you register your account, you can set your preferences for the store, which includes the default language, home country, and currency for your listings. Keep in mind that if your sale currency is not the same as your bank currency, then you will get a 2.5% currency charge when customers make purchases on your Etsy store.
Next, you can choose your Etsy store name. Ideally, you should pick the same trade name that you run your calligraphy business under. Store names have to be between 4 to 20 characters long and cannot use special characters. Names also have to be unique.
You can now list your products. Photos for your products should be examples of the kind of finished product that customers can buy. Try to have an example finished product for the kinds of lettering you do, like placeholder cards, letter envelopes, cards, or anything else that you want to make. These sample photos are what customers will see on your page, so make sure that they are good.
Also, make sure that your product listings have accurate descriptions and use the right keywords. Using the right keywords will make it easier for clients to find your services if they search for key terms like “calligraphy”, “envelope”, “placard”, etc. Just think about terms you would google when looking for calligraphy services.
Also, keep in mind that Etsy charges $0.20 per listing, so you will probably need to spend a few dollars just to list your product selection.
5.Think of a System for Orders
Most calligraphers take on custom jobs, so you need to think of a system for when clients buy your services. Make a list of things you need from your clients for each order; something like:
- What is the deadline for the project?
- What is the size of the order? I.e., how many units of writing do you need?
- What color ink should be used?
We would recommend putting these questions in the product descriptions. The customer can contact you with these details and make a custom order. Then, you can quote them a price or stick with the standard price listed in your descriptions.
Once you have the client details and agree on a price, you can make a custom listing on your Etsy store so the customer can buy it. You can either provide the materials for the project or have the customer send them to you.
Once you have the project finished, you can mail it back to the client. Make sure that you include and shipping costs when pricing your products.
Speaking of pricing, when you first start out, you might have to put your prices a bit lower than you would like, in order to drum up clientele and build your resume or projects. Research competitors on Etsy to find a good price point for your calligraphy. After a few sales, you should get a good idea of how much you can charge for what projects.
For example, say you create custom envelopes. Based on our research, a good beginning price point for individual envelopes is about $1.50 per envelope. This price point is a bit low but you can increase prices after you get some experience. A good mid-range for envelope pricing would be between $2.50-$3.50 per envelope.
As you gain more experience and take on more projects, you will get a good idea of how much you need to charge to keep your business sustainable and make the work worth it.
6.Market Your Services
Now that you have an Etsy shop set up and you have a solid system for making and delivering orders, it’s time to start marketing your services to a wider audience.
Calligraphers typically rely on word-of-mouth advertising and client referrals to find projects, but thanks to websites like Etsy, it’s easy to expand your reach. Etsy allows users to create for their store and display them on social media, so you can get clients that way.
Social media is another potent marketing resource. Consider creating a Facebook or Instagram page for your business so you can show off your completed projects. Since calligraphy is a visually-oriented art, the more pictures you have of your completed work, the more attention you will get.
One last piece of advice: Your clients do not only have to be individuals. Many companies and corporations need calligraphy services as well. If you can land a corporate client, then that could be a lot of money and regular work headed your way.
Calligraphy is a good career for someone who is artistically motivated and has some business sense. With a bit of practice (and some luck), you can have a fully functioning and sustainable calligraphy business up and running in just a few months.
From there, it is just a matter of how much work you want to do, and how much you want your business to expand.
Ruben has been doing online marketing for the last 4 years. Prior to that, he spent 15 years managing different brick-and-mortar businesses, in the home improvement and logistics industries. Overall, he has 20 years of business experience under his belt. Recently, he added SEO, affiliate marketing, and link building to his business skills.