The Beginner’s Guide to Nibs
Nibs, nibs, nibs. Tall ones, pointy ones, short ones, fat ones. Nibs of every shape, size, and variety. They are integral to calligraphy, but where do you even start with them? And what even is a nib, anyway? I’m going to break it down for you and share my three favorite beginner nibs, too.
When I started calligraphy, I only had a vague idea in my head about what I wanted my calligraphy to look like. Maybe you’re the same too. You’ve seen the pictures and videos of people creating these beautiful works of art with their pen and ink, and you want to try it to. Only- you have no idea what they’re using to do it, where to get it, or how to use it once you do have it. That’s what I was facing anyway, when I started!
It took a lot of research, trial and error, and buying nibs that I never ended up using, because they weren’t for the kind of calligraphy that I wanted to do at all. Thankfully, resources are a little easier to find now than they were when I started, but there is still so much information, I know it can get overwhelming. So let’s break it down to the essentials, and learn the basics of nibs!
What is a nib, anyway?
Basically a nib is what you are going to insert into your pen holder and what actually gets dipped into ink to create the calligraphy. It’s made up of some basic elements that span across most all nibs, and may also include features specific to that particular nib. But, in all, it’s the thing you are going to dip into ink to create calligraphy!
Parts of a nib
One thing I love to do during my calligraphy classes is briefly go over the “anatomy” of a nib. It is a strange and foreign object to most people, as it’s not something we would commonly write with these days. The basic parts of a nib are: the base, where you will find the name of the nib printed, and this is also what gets inserted into the pen. The tip/point, which is what touches the paper. The tines, these open up when you apply pressure on any downward movement, and creates your thick line that is iconic to calligraphy. And lastly, the vent hole, which helps with the ink flow. Most nibs will have some sort of vent hole, but some do not.
Prepping a nib for use
When you first receive your nib, it will usually come to you with some sort of varnish or coating applied. Because nibs are made of metal, this coating is applied so it does not rust over time before it gets to you to use. There are several different methods that you can use to clean the coating off and “prep” your nibs for use. In theory, you can use your nib without prepping it, but the ink beads up and you don’t get a good ink flow right off the bat. Prepping your nibs eliminates that and allows you to have smooth flowing ink right from the start.
I will be creating a little free cheat sheet of five of the basic methods that people use to prep their nibs, how to do them, and which one is my favorite (and which one is my least favorite). If you would like to be the first to know when that cheat sheet is ready, you can do that here! You can also read how to insert your nib in your pen holder correctly here.
My top three favorite beginner nibs
This is by far my absolute favorite beginner nib. It’s what I start all of my calligraphy students out with, too. This nib is sturdy, has some flexibility, but not so much that all of your ink will spill out with one push. The Nikko G helps you to learn how to apply pressure to get your thin and thick lines, and also learn how to control your ink flow. This nib can create a gorgeous thin upstroke.
The Gillot 404 is another nib that I start out my students with. It has a little bit more flexibility than the Nikko G, so you don’t have to push down quite as hard to get a good thick line. The point is also just a hair bit bigger, so you have a little bit thicker thin line, which can be useful if you want a bolder look. I love using this nib with gold or metallic inks because that little bit thicker thin line shows up much better.
Brause Steno (or the Blue Pumpkin)
Who doesn’t love a nib that has the nickname “Blue Pumpkin,” am I right? This is another fantastic nib to add to your beginners arsenal. It’s on the wider side compared to the Gillot 404 and Nikko G, but can also hold a touch more ink than the previous as well. It is a little more flexible than the Nikko G as well, so again, you don’t have to push down quite as hard. You do have to work at the ink flow control a little bit more with this one, but the results are simply gorgeous from this nib!
Where to get your nibs and how to care for them
The best place to check first for your nibs is your local art store. Michaels and Hobby Lobby don’t carry these nibs individually, though may have a kit including one of them. It’s best to see if you have a local art store, and ask if they have a calligraphy section. Those that do will usually have an assortment of different nibs. Just be sure to ask, because it can be overwhelming walking into an art store and not knowing where the things are.
My next favorite place to get nibs is online! Paper Ink Arts (paperinkarts.com) is based out of Nashville and has all things calligraphy in their online store. I’ve always had a wonderful experience with them, and purchase a lot of my supplies through them. You can also check out Blick Art, and John Neal Bookseller for nib and calligraphy supplies.
Once you have your nibs and have prepped them, you can get a lot of use out of them with proper care. Make sure that you take the nibs out of the pen holder when you’re done, clean them off with soap and water or nib cleaner, and keep them dry. Trust me, I’ve had several rust at the bottom because I didn’t get them dry enough when I was done. Oops!
You can store them in an art box, a little cup, or even an old tin! Really you just want to make sure you don’t lose them, and most importantly that they stay clean of ink when you’re done, and that they’re dry.
There you have it, a beginner’s guide to all things calligraphy nibs! There are literally hundreds of different types of calligraphy nibs out there. Try out a few, see which ones you like! Once you learn, it’s really going to come down to personal preference and what feels good to you and lends itself to your style.
If you need a refresher on how to correctly insert your nib into your pen holder (straight or oblique pen holder) you can find it here!
I would love to hear from you now, what is YOUR favorite nib and why? Let me know in the comments below!