Vertically aligned carbon nanofibers (VACNFs) were synthesized using ligand-stabilized Ni nanoparticle (NP) catalysts and plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition. Using chemically synthesized Ni NPs enables facile preparation of VACNF arrays with monodisperse diameters below the size limit of thin film lithography. During pregrowth heating, the ligands catalytically convert into graphitic shells that prevent the catalyst NPs from agglomerating and coalescing, resulting in a monodisperse VACNF size distribution. In comparison, significant agglomeration occurs when the ligands are removed before VACNF growth, giving a broad distribution of VACNF sizes. The ligand shells are also promising for patterning the NPs and synthesizing complex VACNF arrays.