Image by Kingkongfive – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30045837
In my last post I talked about cleaning fountain pens and fountain pen nibs. Some of you have commented about writing with fountain pens when you were in school or when you were younger. It really delighted me to hear such stories and it seems to be quite common to feel a bit awed and that it felt like we were entrusted with a great responsibility. Unfortunately my school didn’t make us write with fountain pens but thankfully I discovered them on my own!
Having touched on the benefits of writing, I thought that I would go into a bit more detail about pens. I will probably focus on the nibs first; specifically nib thickness and the different types of nibs available.
Fountain pen nib materials
To start, fountain pen nibs usually come in two materials. Gold and stainless steel. Both have their distinctive characteristics and with the body of the fountain pen, is usually a significant other component which gives a fountain pen it’s defining characteristic. Or perhaps I should say the defining characteristic as the nib is arguably the functional part of the fountain pen!
In the past, fountain pen ink was made from iron gall which was corrosive to fountain pen parts. Hence, fountain pen nibs were made with gold which is chemically nonreactive. Still, older or vintage fountain pens may still be observed with some corrosion on the nib or the tail hidden inside the section. Using gold nibs on “modern” paper however also presented some problems. Paper is usually treated with a bleaching agent which is mildly acidic. Gold tends to react with the acids on the paper and wear down over time.
Modern fountain pen nibs now employ a gold alloy utilizing titanium. This trace amount of titanium is enough to ensure that the nib is corrosion resistant and yet retains the unique feel of writing with a gold nib. Modern pen tips are also made with or tipped with iridium which is even less reactive than gold and also very durable.
Gold is slightly malleable and when using fountain pens with gold nibs, they impart a “softer” and more fluid feel to writing. This is in comparison to nibs of other materials. Due to this softness, they had a tendency to mold and conform to the owner’s own unique way of handling and writing with the fountain pen.
Because of this, fountain pen owners used to avoid lending their pens to others as they didn’t want the nibs to adapt to another person’s grip. This issue is less of a concern nowadays with the materials used to make fountain pen nibs. However, some owners still swear by this so don’t be offended if a fountain pen owner politely declines lending you their pens for a test run!
Most of the time, gold nib fountain pens would not be a choice for entry level users due to them being a bit more expensive. However, due to the material being more precious, gold nibs often have beautiful and ornate designs on them. Watching them flash up at you as you write though is an absolute pleasure.
Stainless steel or “steel” nibs
The most marked difference when using a stainless steel nib is how it feels. This is where the difference in material is most marked. Gold nibs would usually tend to have a smoother and softer feel. Stainless steel nibs however, do not have any “give” at all. This makes it more appropriate for writers who tend to press down a bit more firmly as they don’t risk bending gold nib pens.
Stainless steel nibs are also very durable and due to their usually lower price point, make for a good choice when it comes to entry level fountain pens. This is not always the case however and there are some stainless steel nib pens at about the same price point as gold nib pens.
There really isn’t a clear winner when it comes to determining if a steel or gold nib fountain pen is better. Ultimately, the choice is very individual and both have properties which make them desirable for different reasons. I personally would prefer gold nibs both for the feel and the ornately decorated nibs though this is not always the case with steel nibs as in the picture of a steel nib above.
Let me know in the comments which nib you prefer and why. Increasingly, fountain pen nibs are also being made of platinum. While I don’t have any personal experience using these nibs, do let me know if you have and how they feel!
Different size of nibs
Apart from the materials used in the manufacture of fountain pen nibs, another distinguishing feature would be the size of the nib. Nib size is an even more inexact science as it is. Generally, the thickness of the line produced by the nibs are as follows:
Extra fine: 0.4mm
This is generally for people with very small handwriting or for writing Chinese and Japanese characters as the strokes would still be able to be clearly seen. Extra fine nibs are a little less common.
Slightly thicker than extra fine nibs and most people would be comfortable with this nib thickness.
This is the most common nib thickness and is usually the default nib which is attached to most pens. Some people have lamented that having a one-size-fits-all nib type stymies creativity and gives makers less incentive to produce other types of nibs. But I’ll talk about that in another post.
Broad (or bold): 1.0mm
This is the thickest available standard issue nib width and does produce quite a distinctive line. Some people prefer this as the ink color would be more clearly visible and you would also be able to see the slight variations or shadings in the line.
Stub and italic nibs
The last 3 examples were written with a stub nib which means the nib is tapered instead of being rounded which produces writing with a bold down stroke and thin cross stroke. These come in various sizes as well and the examples shown in the picture below have thickness of 1.1mm, 1.5mm and 1.9mm.
Italic nibs mean the nib is broad as well but slanted at an angle to produce a “natural” italic slant to your handwriting. This also means that the fountain pen must be held at a particular angle and it does take some time to get used to this. These types of nibs are most often used for calligraphy or for titling letters. Actually, what you use it for really depends on you!
Below is an example of writing by a Lamy Studio fountain pen which has interchangeable nibs.
Image by By Francis Flinch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28010915
I mentioned that nib sizes are an inexact science as the thickness which I talked about above are not fixed. They actually vary a little depending on where they are made and which manufacturer makes them. If they are made in Asia chances are they will have a thinner nib though. A general rule of thumb though is that if you go with a medium nib, it would most likely suit you just fine.
Do you have any favourite pens or any experience with writing calligraphy? I always wanted to take it up and I even have a set of pens specially for this purpose which I’ve yet to break out. Leave a comment below and let us know which particular brand or what particular type of nib you like best!