The Right One: Choosing Nibs That Fit You

Fountain pens can be as varied as the people who are drawn to them. I think one of the aspects of the hobby that has endeared me to it is the range of choices that are made available to us. From the overall aesthetic — the colors, body material, shape, and size — to the feel of the pen in hand, the combinations seem endless. In addition, the whole experience of writing with the fountain pen itself can be seen from a prevalent consensus to a more personal point of view. 


However, the fountain pen is, first and foremost, a complex instrument made for a specific purpose. Be it for writing or drawing, its main function is only realized if one of its main components can be utilized to its full potential. This is the nib, a quintessential element that defines the fountain pen itself. No matter how striking the whole pen’s appearance is or how good it feels in your hand, if you are not satisfied with how the nib works for you in particular, then that might detract from the full enjoyment of the pen.


So how do we choose a fountain pen that makes us want to keep on using it? Aside from considerations related to visual and tactile appeal, another crucial factor to take into account is how the fountain pen nib works with you.


General Guidelines When Choosing A Fountain Pen Nib

Here are a few guidelines to get us started —


What are you going to use the fountain pen for?

If it will be for everyday use, examine the size and style of your handwriting. Take into account how you will be using the fountain pen — the angle, speed, and pressure with which you write, dry times, and the feel that you want, whether buttery-smooth or with a hint of feedback. Consider as well if you are looking to add a bit more flair to your penmanship, such as some line variation. If it will be for a more specific use such as signatures, calligraphy, or sketching, determine what you want to achieve beforehand. Some fountain pen nibs are specialized just for these purposes. 


What ink and paper are you going to use the fountain pen with?

Some inks call for a specific type of fountain pen nib to fully show their properties, such as shading, sheen, and shimmer. If this has great significance to you, then a nib that lets that ink shine is an important factor. The paper likewise affects the whole experience. Managing the dynamics of fountain pen, ink, and paper to your own satisfaction is one of the challenging and intriguing facets of being a fountain pen user.


What are the options available to you?

Consider the availability and your budget when choosing the nib. Fountain pen brands or shops can differ in the range of nibs that they offer, from regular types to the more specialized ones. The nib material used partly determines the price of the fountain pen, as well as your future experience with using it.


Major Aspects of the Fountain Pen Nib

Prior to discussing the specifics of the different kinds of nibs, here are the general factors to consider — 


Nib Tip Shape

This element directly affects the line. It determines the kind of line that is created with the fountain pen ink. Round nibs are considered the regular and most common type available. Whether writing on a horizontal or down stroke, these lay down a monoline, varying only in the thickness (due to the nib tip size, see below). Other, more specialized nibs such as the stub or italic offer line variation because of the specific grind, or the position of the nib tip on the paper such as seen in fude or zoom type nibs.


Nib Tip Size

This affects the thickness of the line laid down on the paper. Sizes commonly range from extra fine to broad for round-tipped nibs. Note that these sizes may vary between the manufacturers, brands, or countries of origin. A classic example is the difference between Western and Japanese fountain pen nib sizes, with the latter tending to be of smaller caliber, even if the same size is stamped on the nib. This can be explained by the inherent detail and complexity of Japanese writing, which would require a finer, more precise nib tip. Finer nibs tend to provide more feedback when writing. 


Other factors to consider that are connected to nib size are the flow of ink, the writing experience, and the paper being used. Take note that the smoothness of the nib may also be due to its tipping, usually consisting of a mix of hardier metals such as tungsten, osmium, and iridium. The amount of tipping used can also affect the width of the line, as it is the direct point of contact between the nib tip and the paper.


Nib Flexibility

Simply put, this is the ability of the nib to respond to pressure. It refers to how far apart the nib tines can spread. Line variation can be seen depending on the nib’s responsiveness to force. Take into account that not all nibs are designed to flex, and as such, exerting undue pressure may result in damage or a “sprung” nib. In contrast, a “springy” or soft nib yields a bit to the pressure variations that come with handwriting. This typically returns to its original state, but is still not considered a flex nib. Firm nibs, and to a greater extent — “nails” — are stiff nibs which offer little to no variation. Even a flex nib has its limits though, and requires a practiced hand and some concentration to maximize its potential without overtaxing it. Most modern fountain pens offer little or no flexibility unless specifically designed for it


Nib Material

This either consists of steel, gold, or titanium. The outward color of the nib does not necessarily reflect the metal used in construction. Steel nibs are the most prevalent. They are firm, durable, more affordable, and not as fragile as gold or titanium. This kind of nib is usually recommended for beginners. Gold nibs offer a different writing experience. The “give” while writing is due to the metal’s inherent softness. This kind of nib allows for a little more line variation. Titanium nibs, a more recent and less common option, fall between steel and gold in terms of cost. They are more springy than gold but stronger, and offer some line variation as well. The quality of feedback is different, and not as smooth as either steel or gold.


Other Factors

One of these is the actual nib size, with different manufacturers or brands using varying systems of nomenclature. This can affect the overall writing experience. Typically, the longer tines of larger nibs provide a “softer” writing feel because of their greater propensity to yield to pressure. Another is the fountain pen brand or nib manufacturer itself, with each having their own qualities or standards. Third is the opportunity to change nibs. Some brands offer nib exchanges, while others sell nib sets separately, allowing the user to modify their fountain pens themselves. In the event that these two aren’t possible, you can also send your fountain pen to a nibmeister to be adjusted to your specifications.


The Different Nib Types

(Please note that the line widths given are estimates, and can also be affected by either or both ink and paper that are used with the specific fountain pen, as well as the manner of use. In addition, the broader the nib, the more the ink properties will be seen. Paper quality is also a factor when bleeding, feathering, and toothiness are concerned.)


Extra Fine or Fine

Recommended for those with smaller handwriting, or for precise and deliberate work during sketching

- usually gives line widths ranging from 0.3 - 0.6 mm

- allows for quicker dry times

- more feedback may be experienced

- no line variation



Suitable for those with average-sized handwriting, or for everyday writing

- usually gives line widths ranging from 0.6 - 0.8 mm

- still allows for quick dry times

- smoother writing feel than fine nibs

- no line variation


Broad or Double Broad

Best for those with large handwriting, for signatures, and loose or gestural sketching

- usually gives line widths ranging from 1.0 - 1.4 mm

- slower dry times

- smooth writing feel

- may produce appreciable line variation depending on the direction of the stroke



Rectangular, flat, with rounded edges and corners

- recommended for those with larger handwriting, prefer bold and decorative flair, good for showcasing fountain pen inks

- line width depends on nib tip size, and partly the angle of rotation at which the nib tip is fully touching the paper

- slower dry times

- smooth writing feel

- good line variation — thin on horizontal stroke and broad on down stroke, also depends on how rounded the corners are (the sharper the edge, the more evident the difference from the direction of the strokes)



Rectangular, flat, with sharper edges compared to a stub nib, often untipped

- suitable for calligraphy, formal lettering, and precise print handwriting, good for showcasing inks, requires more skill and concentration

- line width depends on nib tip size as well as the angle of rotation at which the nib is fully touching the paper

- slower dry times

- writing feel ranges from toothy to scratchy, depending on how crisp the nib is ground

- amazing line variation, highly dependent on the writing angle or pen rotation 



Designed specifically to work with variations in pressure, may be tipped or untipped

- for calligraphy, embellished handwriting, or regular writing without flexing, good for showcasing inks, requires more skill and concentration

- line width depends on the pressure applied

- slower dry times with thicker lines

- writing feel depends on presence of tipping, as well as the pressure and direction of the strokes

- amazing line variation, dependent on amount of pressure applied



Broad with rounded edges, with one side usually cut at a 15-degree angle

- suitable for users who write at a certain angle, with their pen rotated either clockwise or anticlockwise

- line width depends on the nib tip size

- dry times dependent on nib width

- smooth writing feel

- line variation depends on the nib grind, with flatter nibs producing broad lines on the down strokes and thinner ones on the horizontal strokes



With a shape opposite that of a stub nib, narrow from top to bottom and with rounded edges

- designed with architects in mind, allows for sketching straight lines and rapidly accentuating or shading them in, for technical drawing, good for showcasing inks

- line width depends in the nib tip size, as well as the direction of the stroke

- dry times dependent on nib width

- smooth writing feel

- good line variation, with thick lines on horizontal strokes and thin ones on down strokes



Has a long tip bent at an upward angle, usually untipped

- designed to imitate the strokes made by by a Japanese calligraphy brush (“fude” meaning writing brush or paintbrush, or the use of the tool itself), for Oriental calligraphy or sketching

- line width depends on the direction of the stroke, as well as the angle of lift from the paper, possible to do reverse writing which produces thinner lines

- slower dry times

- writing feel depends on the angle at which the pen is held and direction of the stroke, reverse writing can be scratchy

- good line variation, dependent on the angle of bend of the nib tip, the direction of the stroke, and the angle of lift from the paper



Usually has three tines, also known as trident point, with the middle ink channel allowing for a more generous ink flow

- specifically designed for musical notation

- line width depends on the direction of the stroke

- slower dry times

- may exhibit feedback

- good line variation, with thin lines on horizontal strokes and thick lines on the down strokes



Especially made by Sailor, the nib tip is akin to an extra-broad but with a triangular writing surface, with the apex at the very point

- designed specifically to mimic the strokes of Japanese writing, for Japanese calligraphy or sketching

- line width determined by the angle at which the pen is held

- dry times depend on line widths

- smooth writing feel

- good line variation, dependent on the angle at which the pen is held, with thinner lines produced at higher angles from the paper and broader lines at lower angles, reverse writing is likewise possible


Final Words

(If you have made it this far, I applaud you!)


Given all the considerations when choosing a nib, I leave you with these essential points. First, know yourself as a fountain pen user. Second, learn about what you want — research, inquire, and try out the nib you are considering if you can. Third, be adventurous and open to discovery.


Happy hunting!



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Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!

Author: Lekz

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