Knowing how to choose a fountain pen nib can be an overwhelming experience, even if you’re an experienced fountain pen user. It’s like the tires on a car; the fountain pen is only as good as its nib. As you’ve seen from our guides, nibs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be made from different materials.
Table of Contents
This can vastly change how your pen writes and your experience using it. This makes the nib the single most important factor in choosing the fountain pen that best fits your needs. So knowing the importance, let’s take a closer look at he characteristics of fountain pen nibs and how to choose the best one for you..
What is a Fountain Pen Nib?
Like I said above, the nib of a fountain pen is the most important part of the pen. It is also the most recognizable piece of the pen and what separates it from other pens like ballpoint or gel pens. The nib is a pointed , thin piece of metal that pulls ink from within the pen and allows it to flow onto the paper.
You can see more about how fountain pens work Here.
Fountain Pen Nib Characteristics
There are four characteristics of fountain pen nibs to look at: flexibility, nib material, tip size, and tip shape.
The tips of the nib are shaped differently to create various line types. Today, most fountain pen nibs feature rounded tips. This creates uniform lines no matter the orientation or direction of the nib on the paper.
Italic or calligraphy is another major tip shape. The calligraphy nib tips are flat and wide, which creates narrow horizontal strokes and wide vertical strokes, which is why it gets the calligraphy name. They are also great for adding style or flair to your writing. More attention and practice is needed compared to round tips, but the extra effort more will be worth it for the end result if style is important for you.
Additional tip shapes include Arabic/Hebrew, oblique, left-handed, and zoom. These are harder to find and not as common than italic or rounded tips.
The size of the tip is the second biggest factor in how a fountain pen will write. The wider the tip, the wider the line the pen creates. Tip sizes can vary from broad and stub nibs to extra fine. Wider nibs offer more line variation, or the difference in size of the line.
Finer nibs can also create line variation by adjusting the pressure while writing though that is also dependent on the flexibility of the nib. If you write small or don’t want a lot of line variation, a finer nib is best.
Round nibs can usually be found in four sizes: Broad (B), Medium (M), Fine (F), and Extra Fine (EF).
Italic nib tips can either be sized using these same sizes or, by using the actual width measurement of their tip. For example, the most used sizes for italic nibs are 1.1 mm italic and medium italic, which are usually similar.
However, there is a bit of a catch when it comes to how fountain pen sizes compare across brands. Because Japanese writing is more complex than Western writing, it requires a finer, more precise tip for pens. Pens from Japanese companies usually have smaller tips than “Western” brands.
It’s also worth noting that the line width actually created when you write will vary depending on the type of paper and ink being used in the pen.
Typical Line Widths for Japanese and Western Fountain Pens
Below are examples of line widths you can expect from popular Japanese and Western nibs.
|Broad (B)||Medium (M)||Fine (F)||Extra Fine (EF)|
*Broad tips are almost never found in Japanese fountain pens due to the complexity of Japanese writing.
To help give you an idea here is a list of the top Japanese and Western fountain pen brands. Even though a few brands brands (TWSBI and Ohto) are based in Asia, they are lumped in with Western style brands because they use Western-sized nibs from European manufacturers.
*The exceptions to the rule are the Platinum Plaisir and Preppy. The Preppy extra fine is a Japanese extra fine, however, the fine and medium Plaisir and Preppy nibs use Western-sized tips.
Japanese Fountain Pen Brands
Western Fountain Pen Brands
Other Factors to Consider
Your personal preference for line width while writing aside, there are a few other factors to think about when looking for a tip size for your new fountain pen.
Finer nibs typically control ink flow better which makes them the more forgiving option for lower-quality paper or those newer to writing with fountain pens. However, finer nibs don’t have as smooth of a writing experience broader tips do which may not be the ideal experience for all writers. In fact, very fine tips like the Japanese extra fine tips can dig into or tear the paper if you press too hard when writing.
Typically, broader nibs often have a faster ink flow than finer nibs, which creates a thicker line of ink. This fast flow also better lubricates the nib, creating a smoother and more effortless writing experience.
However, the faster flow increases the chance of bleed-through or feathering, especially on low-quality paper. You can find more info on the best paper for fountain pens Here.
Pros and Cons of Broad or Fine Nibs
|Broad Nibs||Fine Nibs|
Showcases ink better.
|Less likely to need fountain pen paper.|
Best for those with smaller writing styles.
|Cons||Can be very wet for non-fountain pen-friendly paper.||Not as smooth writing experience.|
The flexibility of a nib refers to how far the tines spread apart when pressure applied to the nib. This creates line width variations that add depth and dimension to writing. Formal scripts like Copperplate and Spencerian rely heavily on line variation.
Now that most people don’t write in such formal scripts, fountain pen nibs have almost no flexibility. Modern nibs that are “soft” or flexible, like the Pilot Falcon, would be considered semi-flexible in comparison to the flexible vintage nib.
Some firm nibs, such Lamy’s steel nibs, are often referred to as “nails.” They are so firm that they allow almost no line variation.
Gold nibs and most steel nibs provide a decent amount of line width variation when pressed. However, they should not be used as flex pens. Over-flexing these nibs can create irreparable damage to the nib if done too often or with enough pressure.
Semi-flex nibs are a fun way to add personality and flare to your writing. However, they aren’t recommended as a daily writer unless you like to really take your time and concentrate on each stroke. The best daily writer would probably be a firm nib that doesn’t take a lot of practice or time for quick notes or lists.
Probably the least important part to consider when looking at a new nib is its material. This is because it has the least impact on how the pen writes compared to the other factors we’ve discussed. Nibs can be made from a variety of materials, but are most often made from either stainless steel or gold.
It’s important to keep in mind that the nib color doesn’t actually indicate whether it’s made from steel or gold. For example, the steel nibs from Kaweco are sold in gold, black, and silver colors.
Real gold nibs may be plated with silver metal like rhodium but they will usually have an etching signifying its gold content, usually 18K or 14K.
Remember that the material of the nib won’t necessary make for a different writing experience. Gold will not necessarily give you a smoother writing experience. The smoothness will be determined by the metal placed at the tip. This is usually an alloy of a harder metal like tungsten, osmium, or iridium.
However, because gold is springier than steel, a gold nib may help cushion any scratchiness that may be caused by tiny imperfections in the tipping better than steel nibs.
So, we’ve covered the basics of what makes up a fountain pen nib to help you choose a nib that best suits your needs. In the comments below, let us know if you have a favorite type or if you have any additional questions about fountain pen nibs.
And be sure to check out our other fountain pen posts so you can learn all there is to know.