How to Practice Squaring Full-Pressure Stem Strokes

Squaring tops and bottoms of full-pressure strokes in Copperplate is easy once you understand how tines work and put in some practice — which is what this blog is about.


What are squared stems?


Red brackets indicate squared tops and bottoms of stem strokes the word “pin” written in copperplate script.

Squared tops and/or bottoms of stems appear in letters such as ‘p’, ‘i’, ‘n’, and other letterforms with similar strokes.  These squared-off stems are parallel to the horizontal baseline.


A drill is an exercise where you carefully and accurately draw the same stroke or sequence of strokes repeatedly.  The purpose of drill exercises is to memorize the strokes and to develop muscle memory.  In time, you’ll be able to draw practiced strokes without much effort.


A sheet of full-pressure strokes drills.

Be sure to practice drills precisely. Be mindful of the proper height, length, width, and overall shapeDrills help you achieve consistent strokes.

Recommended materials for practice

Aside from your favorite nib, penholder, and ink, I recommend using lined paper and a guide sheet (if your paper doesn’t already have guidelines).

Lined paper will help you practice the proper proportion of this stroke. Lined paper will also help you to check if your squared ends are parallel to the horizontal lines of your paper.  I like to use the Rhodia Bloc (gridded) pad from

A guide sheet under your paper will help you practice at the correct angle (52-55*). You can print out guidesheets from IAMPETH.COM.


The full-pressure stroke is a long, shaded stroke with an evenly shaded stem.   In the alphabet, only the letter ‘p’ contains this stroke (see “pin” photo above). This stroke is typically between 2.5 to 3.5 x-heights in length, depending on the exemplar you’re following or your personal preference.


Note: for this exercise, I drew this stroke in 2 x-heights in length to show that the squared edges are parallel to the horizontal baseline.


  1. Place pen on paper along a horizontal line. Stop.
  2. Apply pressure to your nib to open the tines to the desired width. Stop.
  3. While maintaining the pressure, pull your pen down.
  4. When you reach the desired length, stop.
  5. Slowly release the pressure.  Be mindful of your tines.  The left tine should remain stationary while the right tine closes to the left.

Try also practicing shorter and longer lengths.

Be mindful of the position and angle of your nib. It should be parallel to the main slant of your script (follow guide sheet).



A. Pointy or rounded tops (or bottoms) are a result of creating the stroke before the tines are fully open.

Try this: Be sure to open the tines before you pull your pen downward to make the stroke.

B. Tapered strokes result from uneven pressure applied while making the downstroke.

Try this: Maintain the pressure on the down stroke.

C. Clipped paper fibers at the tip of your nib may result from the following:

a.  You’re applying too much pressure to your nib (you’re really digging your nib in there).

b.  Your paper is too “soft” and the sharp tines easily snag the paper.

Try this:

  • Apply less pressure
  • Use a more flexible nib
  • Try good quality paper designed for calligraphy

Squaring the tops and bottoms becomes easy when you understand how tines work and with practice. Remember to practice your drills carefully and accurately.

I hope you found this helpful.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Happy writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,



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