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Fountain Pen Nibs: The Basics

The nib primer you have been waiting for!
from the fountain pen of Richard Binder

Fountain pen nibs are made in a bewildering array of sizes and styles. Of course, covering everything about every kind of nib in one article would be bewildering as well—I won’t do that—but there should be enough useful information to help you better decide what nibs might best suit your writing style. In this article, I’ll pretend to be knowledgeable about the following aspects of nibs:

  • Nib tip shapes
  • Nib sizes and types
  • Problems

Nib Tip Shapes

There are three basic nib shapes: Round, stub, and italic. Ball point, oblique, and calligraphy nibs are merely slight variations of the round and italic shapes, and I’ll discuss these variations in their appropriate contexts..

Round Nibs: A round nib is ground and polished to have roughly a circular footprint, so that its line width is fairly uniform no matter what direction the nib is moving across the paper. I say “roughly” because the shape is rarely a true circle. Nibs are small, and hands are big. Grinding a nib to a geometrically perfect shape by hand just isn’t possible, but this is one area in which “close enough” really is close enough. Here is a magnified silhouette representing the basic shape of a round nib, together with a cross illustrating the uniform stroke width that this nib produces:



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Flex Chart - The Illustrated Joy of Flex
Flex Chart is an illustrated companion to the Joy of Flex article.
NOTE: This page may take a little time to load due to it's graphical nature!
from the fountain pens of Bob Helfrich

This chart illustrates the concepts of flexible nibs as outlined in the Joy of Flex article, and is designed to be used in conjunction with the article. It consists of a series of lines laid down by flexible nibs, both vintage and modern.

Each block of lines shows how the lines "widen" as pressure is increased on the nib, eventually reaching the stage where the tines lay down a pair of parallel tracks. The type and date of each nib/pen used is written under the relevant block. The diagram on the left shows an annotated sample.


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The Anatomy of a Nib
from the fountain pen of  John Mottishaw

The nib is an elegant answer to a question of aesthetics and function. It has a characteristic shape that, with a few notable exceptions, has remained very much unchanged for one hundred years.

In an effort to recognize a common language about pen nibs, I have given this article over to examining the nib's anatomy. The following are terms in use, as well as an outline of the structure of pen nibs. (Nibs are sometimes confusingly called pens, probably dating from the time when dip pen nibs were sold as replacement pens and were held in holders that could also be purchased separately. This confusion continues today, encouraging people to think that replacement nibs for vintage fountain pens are readily available.)

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The Joy of Flex
Everything I Know About It - Which Won't Take A Long Time To Read

from the fountain pen of Bob Helfrich

Q1. What is Flex, Why do some nibs have it and others don't ?

A1. Actually that's two questions, but it it weren't for the second
part, the first couldn't be asked.

With increased hand pressure on the pen, some nibs respond by
having the tine tips move apart and leave a wider ink line. The tines
do not bend, they move apart like scissors. With the release of
pressure, the tines snap back together quickly, and make their 'normal'
line width.

Nibs have flex because they are designed that way...

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Nibs under the microscope

Nib images from a Scanning electron microscope
By Bruce Robinson

Scanning electron microscopes have been available since the mid 1960s.They can achieve much higher magnification and have a better depth of field than optical microscopes. This is an big advantage for examining large curved things like nibs... SEMs work by firing a finely focused beam of electrons, in a vacuum, at the sample. The beam is rastered sequentially across the surface of part of the sample. Some of the electrons are reflected back from the specimen, detected and displayed to form the enlarged image direct on a computer screen, and captured digitally. Sadly, electron microscopes only work with monochromatic electrons (of one energy), so the pictures are inherently black and white. There are techniques for later colouring the images.

(Read More ... | Q&A Session ... )

Nib Section Content




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