What is a nib?
Nib is the part of the pen that writes. Whether it’s an old-fashioned quill or dip pen or a modern fountain pen, ball point pen or stylus, it is what comes into contact with the writing surface whether it is paper, canvas or glass. It is the part that deposits the ink and the different types of it affect the style and ease of writing.
Different types of nibs
Nibs vary in their purpose. Each type is different in shape, size and material used to answer to a specific purpose.
Copper and bronze: They are used as far back as ancient Egypt and lasted through the 18th century. Back then, they were considered luxury items specially made by a craftsman. It is characterized by its sharp point or edge that is much longer than the edge of a quill’s nib. It has a slit that leads the ink from a vent hole to the writing surface and works through the right combination of gravity and capillary action. It wears out more quickly compared to the other options and requires great skill to sharpen.
Steel: It was developed in the 1820s by the likes of John Mitchell, Josiah Mason and others who set up a factory in England that started manufacturing which helped to its rise to popularity. In the past they were made of steel alloys that were susceptible to corrosion unlike modern steel nibs which are made of stainless steel and are more durable. They are more workable and can be customized with etched designs. It is best for people who write at a fast pace. They are hard and last longer and do not require sharpening. It has also helped improve the rise of education and literacy as it afforded writing tools that are cheaper because they are easily produced.
Gold: Aside from the aesthetic delight, gold nibs are more stable than other metals that makes them highly resistant to corrosion, oxidation, and discoloration. Although it may soften and get misshapen over time it is favorable for its smoother spread across the writing surface. Its malleability gives a more pliable feel, bounce and flex in writing allowing a wider range or variance and style in writing. It may be more expensive but it is worth the extra cost.
Titanium: Considered a new material, it is the middle ground between steel and gold nibs. With its affordable price, you can achieve good feedback. Applying different writing pressure allows some line variation and flow. It is softer than steel so it has a tactile feel, that can be further described as springy or bouncy bit not that it does not have flex capability.
Palladium: A precious metal, it is rare and a signature offering of Visconti’s along the high-end of writing instruments market. Like gold, it is also highly resistant to corrosion and has strength that it can be used almost pure. But because the manufacturing process is more difficult it is more expensive. That said, palladium nibs have better mechanical features and are soft hence it does not require pressure. It is gentle and smooth to the surface that easily adapts to any person’s writing style. The exclusivity and quality of this kind makes it good for both collection and daily use.
Broad: Also known as the broad-edge or chisel-edge nib. It is an older type of nib that is characterized by its rigid and flat edge. By holding the pen at a constant horizontal angle, it is perfect for scripts that require angles. Examples of this are old writing styles developed in the past centuries such as the Medieval Uncial, Blackletter and Carolingian Minuscule scripts (and their variants), the Italic Hand of the Renaissance. Apparent in these scripts are the thick and thin strokes created by varying the direction of the stroke.
Pointed: As the shape describes, it comes with a sharp point that has enabled new styles of penmanship following the broads due to its flexibility. This type also comes handy for artists and drafters as it works great for sketching, mapping, and technical drawing. By applying different amounts of pressure and direction, it can create thick and thin strokes. The lightest pressure can create the finest hairline strokes whereas pushing downwards allows more ink flow that creates the thick strokes. Just avoid applying too much pressure as it can likely dig into the paper. Newer scripts developed through the 17th to the 19th century using this shape include the English Round Hand, Copperplate scripts and the Spencerian script.
Stub: This is the shape between broad and pointed but is generally smaller. It has a flat point and more rounded corners that can be used for decorative writing as well as rapid and easy writing. This works well for marketed professions that need to write a lot quickly without worrying about their style. This is most common in fountain pens today. Because of its characteristics, it allows modulation in line as well as smoother and easier action when used for writing. Furthermore, by holding at a consistent angle of writing it can produce italic scripts at 45⁰ and cursive at 0⁰. This is best for experimenting to see which angle suits you best with your style of writing.
Round: This is also called regular nibs and the most common nibs found today. Because of its round tip, it is easy to use and enables you to write at nearly all angles. As they are very smooth, they are very easy to use and can produce consistent line-width that is perfect for beginners. It also works great for daily use such as in note-taking or simple writing tasks.
This pertains to the writing surface that comes into contact with paper. Varying range of widths allows how much ink a type of nib is using. The most common nib sizes are described below.
EF (extra-fine): This gives a line width of around 0.4mm that is used for very small writing.
F (fine): This gives a line width of around 0.6mm that is used for small writing.
M (medium): This gives a line width of around 0.8mm used for average-size handwriting.
B (broad or bold): This gives a line width of around 1.0mm that is used for large writing or for signatures.
A ("Anfänger" = beginner): This is a rounded point initially made by Lamy for the abc and nexx fountain pens. This size was designed for beginners and young writers that gives a line width between fine and medium.
Other nib sizes are used by specialists that are a product of the variation between broad and pointed nibs. To mention a few are Music, Zoom, Oblique and Left-handed.