Handwriting and Calligraphy Tips for Round Charts – how to fill in a radial family tree

Follow these design guidelines to make sure your family tree looks fabulous, no matter how messy your handwriting may be.


Are you about to start filling in one of these radial, antique-style Birds & Bounty family trees?

Follow these easy pointers to guarantee that your finished family tree heirloom looks as fantastic as possible!

It doesn’t matter if you have messy handwriting. For future generations, having a handwritten family tree heirloom that was filled in by an ancestor is incredibly special. Use these easy text layout and design tips to make sure you’re filling out your family tree in a way that will look the most visually appealing and easy to read!

Here are some simple guidelines for the text, whether you use handwriting or calligraphy:

How to fill in the 11 generations on this family tree

Top 4 tips for filling in the blanks on your family tree chart artwork:

    Before inking in the information, use a pencil and eraser to gently write everything in first.  This allows you to correct mistakes and adjust the alignment of your text to make sure everything looks perfect before making it permanent.  This is especially important if you’re planning to use calligraphy.  Remember to draw the pencil lines gently so they can be fully erased at the end!

    After you’re happy with the layout and have double-checked for errors, you can ink everything in.  This can be very meditative, since the thinking has already been done.  Now you can put on some music and get into the flow of drawing the lines.  

    Pay attention to centering the text vertically in each area and spacing the lines apart from each other in an aesthetic and consistent way.  When filling in the circles at the top corners, center your text both vertically and horizontally.

    When filling in the boxes in the radial part of the chart, unless you can center everything perfectly (this is really hard), do this:
    Align all of the names to the outer edge of each circle (without touching the border, of course) to maintain a sense of visual consistency around each ring of the tree.

    The text can get progressively smaller on each ring, but try to keep it mostly the same size within each generation.

Choosing ink colors for your family tree

I often suggest using black ink for men and walnut or olive green colored ink for women (or vice versa).  Having a slight difference in tone makes the chart easier to read, and adds a unique visual touch to the artwork. 

Fountain Pens & Calligraphers

I’ve become a bit obsessed with fountain pens. Walnut is really a fountain pen ink color. In pens, it’s usually called sepia.  If you’re taking your family tree to a calligrapher or lettering artist, they’ll use either some sort of fountain pen or fine art pens. They’ll take a look at the paper you chose and let you know what’s the best option for ink.

DIY & Using Your Own Handwriting

If you do decide to go for fine art pens, I often buy Microns (with the finest point humanly possible). They have a gorgeous Sepia color. If you go that route, test it out next to the black pen in the store. Everyone sees color a bit differently so you’ll want to check if the color difference is enough for you to see it easily. If you want something a bit more distinct, you could choose a nice olive green as one of the colors (similar to the green in the family tree artwork). Just make sure it’s a good color match.

Choosing Fine Art Pens

What to look for:

The Staedtler® Triplus® Fineliner (available at Michaels and other major craft supply stores) is also quite fine and has a lovely range of historic colors, including olive green and warm sepia. Make sure that any ink you choose is light-fast and archival.

Colorful vs. Neutral Ink

The risk with colorful ink is that it might feel a bit busy. I prefer walnut brown and black. It has a more elegant and timeless feeling, in my opinion. The colorful inks tend to feel a bit contemporary.  

How Many Pens Do I Need?

If you printed this design at full size, and you choose buy fine art pens to fill it in, you’ll probably need more than one of each color, so order extras. There’s a lot of square footage to cover there!


That covers the most important design elements.  Good luck and have fun!

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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