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Fountain Pen Nibs – It’s All Relative

04/03/2012

When it comes to nib size, fountain pen users have a multitude of choices. Recently I was doodling with the inky beauties on my desk and was struck by the differences between them. Even two from the same maker and of the same width produced varied results. Getting the perfect line size to show your writing to its best may take a little trial and error, but the satisfaction in seeing your words look their best is worth it.

I have become an equal opportunity user though I was stuck on narrow nibs for a very long time. Most fountain pen nibs are either fine or medium with a smaller number available in broad and extra-fine widths. The tip of the nib is round in shape, a bit like a ball point pen when you put it to paper. That angle of contact suits general use very well.

Moving beyond the typical nib, the sweet spot where nib meets paper becomes less forgiving and requires more care in use. If it suits your writing style, even an exotic nib should work well once you get the hang of it. Less common categories include double broad (BB), stub, italic, cursive italic, music, and Arabic. There are other exotic nibs but they are too rare for a general discussion.

If a rigid nib doesn’t thrill you, there is a unique characteristic called flex which can be an attribute of any sized nib. It is measured in degrees from a soft give that produces just a slight squish with pressure to a wet noodle that puts down ink like a paint brush.

Another quirk is that Asian nibs for the most part are more narrow than Western nibs. Add to that the interplay between nib, ink and paper as well as the rate of flow from the ink supply to the nib tip and the range of line widths can get ridiculous.

Still there is a range and that is what the image demonstrates. Size is relative.

Fountain Pen Line Comparison

Fountain Pen Line Comparison

Note that the ink scan has not be color adjusted. Take that aspect of this post with a grain of salt.

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8 comments

  1. Very well said and demonstrated. I notice that Noodler’s Lexington Gray looks a tad wider in comparison to the two exact same size nibs. Which makes me wonder if it is because of ink, nib, paper, or the combination. I’m guessing the latter.

    Well done.

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    • Elena, Lex Gray did write a wider line and does so in my Apica journal and a Levenger calendar as well. That eliminates paper as the variable. The nib is slightly less smooth than the other two Lamy italic nibs and the flow “feels” more generous. Not that Lex Gray isn’t abetting that perception but I do think the nib is causing the wider line. I think it looks rather nice but I am partial to wide nibs. ;)

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  2. I guess color is also tempering the perception…

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    • True and the scan does not do justice to the tiny differences between some of the line sizes. Still the differences are there. I am such a sucker for color that it would probably have been useful to make a gray-scale scan just to eliminate that distraction.

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  3. Well said & demonstrated. I am no longer amazed at the variation of actual writing width to indicated nib size on the pens I buy. I have noticed that Pelikan M620 18K nibs now seem to write wider that the same model nibs from 10 years ago. I tend to standardise on one pad of Rhodia paper to eliminate one of the variables. Inks vary too in their characteristic so it is a real game of how will this combination of nib and ink write. Its all part of the fun of the hobby.

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    • Ah, yes, Rhodia. That’s what I use, too.

      I had a couple of vintage Pels that wrote significantly finer than the modern ones I’ve used. The two Pels in my collection have gotten little use because the flow was a bit much back in my narrow nib days. Perhaps I should give them a new opportunity to “wow” me now that wider nibs are more appealing. Thanks for the reminder, Davey.

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  4. […] –> Inkophile: Fountain Pen Nibs – It’s All Relative Share […]

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  5. So true. I think even the same nib can write very differently depending on the ink you use (how free-flowing it is), and the paper. All these variables make writing and experimenting with different combinations even more exciting.

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