Budget Calligraphy – Manuscript Dodec Review

As part of the United Inkdom review team, I received a Manuscript Dodec Calligraphy Set and also a Manuscript Hand Lettering pen  to review. These are very much budget, entry level options and ideal as a sub-£10 toe-dipper into the world of decorative lettering.

First impressions

At this price point, I had no great expectation of being swept away by style and quality. They do feel very much like the inexpensive and lightweight plastic pens that they are, but there is nothing wrong with that if they do the job. The job, in this case, is to have fun with lettering.  And I did.

The Calligraphy Set comes with 3 stub nibs in 0.85mm (Fine), 1.1mm (Medium) and 1.6mm (2B). This rather throws the, admittedly quite variable, accepted definitions of Fine and Medium out of the window. There is also one barrel and one cap, plus two small cartridges, This does mean that you can realistically only keep one nib permanently inked beyond your writing session, otherwise the ink will dry out. Fortunately, I did receive a spare barrel and cap.

The sets also come with a small cartridge or two. I have no idea if they are blue or black, as I didn’t use them. Instead, I picked up a couple of 50p Manuscript converters and took the opportunity to play with some of my more interesting inks.

My calligraphy skills are not great – I basically just write normally and make allowances for the nib width if I remember – so don’t expect wonderfully artistic lettering!

how do they write?

Surprisingly well, actually. I didn’t have many difficulties getting mine going* (though I know some reviewers did), and they were quite fun to use. As I said, I’m no great calligrapher so I was mostly just messing around with ink.

*I did have a little difficulty with the 2B on this sample.

Essentially, the Manuscript Dodec sets are basic steel nibs in budget plastic pens, built down to a price, but they do an entirely adequate job. They are light and comfortable to hold, which is a bonus if you are planning to spend a long time practising your calligraphy.

In practical terms, you may have to wiggle the nib a bit to straighten it if it’s off-centre on the feed, as at least one felt a little loose. They may also be in need of a little encouragement to start, though a good flush to ensure the feed is clear of manufacturing debris should help. That is good practise anyway.

The performance of the 2B was a little disappointing, but this could be a consequence of my writing speed. (I really need to slow down more). The other nibs behaved perfectly and would make excellent penmanship practise pens.

warning! inky digression ahead

This isn’t really a review of ink performance, but since calligraphy is all about creating decorative lettering with ink, I feel justified in referencing it. It’s also not a bad way to gauge the performance of a pen.

I didn’t get a lot of shimmer coming through the feed with the Medium nib. I could see the shimmer in the feed but it just wasn’t coming through onto the paper. That said, quite a few of my many pens don’t play well with shimmer inks, so it may have just been one of those things. In the sample below, of the three pens inked with the same shimmer ink, only one gave a really good result with it. It wasn’t the Manuscript (top and main text), despite it being by far the broadest nib of the three.

Comparing shimmer ink performance

The sheening ink worked rather better, with plenty of sheen evident in those nice thick lines and also the thin ones. The feed on the 2B size does seem to have struggled somewhat to keep up, though that could be down to the choice of ink or the speed at which I write. 

Yes, I did a little bit of fancy lettering

There was certainly some shimmer in evidence with the Fine nib, but if you want to go for ink effects, then sheens are probably a better bet than shimmers. The 2B would probably benefit from a wet ink as well.

In Summary

This is an excellent budget starter kit for anyone wanting to try out calligraphy and lettering. You might happily give this to a youngster without worrying about it being broken, lost or stolen. It is also an inexpensive way to get a few broader nibs into your collection. That way you can play with inks without needing to buy more…er, never mind! Well, anyway, you can get extra nibs in sizes that may not be readily available for other pens.

For the price, I can’t really fault the Manuscript Dodec sets. This little foray into calligraphy made me want to sit down and spend more time exploring fancy lettering. I really should work on my handwriting and penwomanship some more too. Their light weight does make them suitable for practise sessions without taking too much of a toll and they are quite fun.

  • Cheap to buy
  • A good beginner set
  • Lightweight and comfortable to hold
  • Inexpensive converters available
  • Fun!
  • Gateway to more calligraphy
  • Quality may be variable
  • Shared cap and barrel on Calligraphy set
  • Warning: Gateway to more calligraphy
Who is it for
  • Toe-dippers into calligraphy
  • Adults (and children) with an interest in art/lettering
  • Anyone wanting a basic set of fat nibs
The lowdown

The Manuscript Dodec Calligraphy set and Hand Lettering pen are available from a wide range of stationery retailers. Prices start from about £5.60 for the calligraphy set and £3.10 for the Hand Lettering set. You can also buy additional nib units from around £3. At these prices, it’s hard to resist having a go.

These pens were supplied by Manuscript for review purposes with no obligation.

See my Reviews page for more pen and ink ramblings, or check out my Artwork gallery



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