When you can pay for your cup of morning joe with your smartphone, it’s easy to get swept up in everything digital. The charm of pen and paper often takes a backseat to lightning-speed texts. Yet, there’s a realm of pointed sophistication with the written word waiting to be uncapped-the fountain pen nib. This is the tiny but mighty section of the fountain pen where your stroke style, thickness, and artistic flare originate. From delicate lines to bold lettering, there are different types of fountain pen nibs for everyone. From the classic fine nib to the artistic stub nib fountain pen, this expert guide to the various types of pen nibs will help “point” you in the right direction.
The 17 Types of Fountain Pen Nibs
Getting to Know Your Fountain Pen Nib
The writing nib is the quintessential heart of the fountain pen. Without it, the ink would have no way to flow from the pen’s internal reservoir onto your paper. The nib of a pen plays a pivotal role in its overall performance. Different pen points also hold huge sway over the overall experience and feel of your pen. Nibs are available in various materials, including stainless steel, gold, or alloy blends. We’ll get into the materials of nib types later. First off, let’s look at the different parts of fountain-pen nibs.
The nib tip is the pointed metal piece at the end of your fountain pen that is responsible for dispensing ink onto paper. It is usually tipped in iridium or another hard metal for added durability and smoothness. Some types of nibs are designed with special cuts, like the italic nib or oblique nib, for uniquely slanted lines.
The nib slit refers to the narrow opening running down the center of the nib from the breather hole to the tip. It serves a critical function in the ink nib flow mechanism. The width and shape of the nib slit affect the pen’s performance. If the slit is too narrow or wide, it can result in too little or too much ink output.
Also called the “vent hole”, the breather hole is a small opening in the nib that meets the nib slit. It is responsible for equalizing the pressure inside the pen by allowing air to enter the ink chamber. It also works as a stress relief point to minimize the risk of the nib material cracking or warping.
Tines are flexible metal prongs that extend from the base of the nib to the tip. The gap between the tines regulates the flow of ink and offers flexibility to the pen nib. This gap also facilitates capillary action, the process in which ink is drawn from the reservoir of the fountain pen onto paper. If the tines are misaligned, your pen may scratch or skip. Properly aligned tines allow for a smooth nib glide across your writing surface.
The shoulders on ink pen nibs aid with ink flow and influence the line width produced. Generally speaking, wider shoulders result in broader lines and narrower shoulders result in finer lines. Some shoulders are more pronounced, while others align more flush with the body of the fountain pen. Nib shoulder design is particularly important with a calligraphy fountain pen nib, where line variation is a must.
The body is the part of the nib that is closest to the base. It is typically the section that is imprinted with the company name or logo. These help establish brand recognition, craftsmanship, and authenticity. Intricate patterns, designs, or engravings on the body add to the appeal of the pen for writers.
There are a few main aspects to consider when shopping for fountain pen nib types. Shape, size, flexibility, and the material it is made from all have as direct of an impact on your writing experience as the nib on the paper. Understanding these characteristics can help you choose the fountain pen nib types that best suit your style.
Different fountain pen nibs come in various tip shapes. Each shape influences how the pen writes on your paper and creates lines. The tip shape and tip size have a reciprocal relationship. Let’s take a peek at the different types of nib shapes.
Also known as “ball nibs”, round tips are the most common nib. Beginner-friendly and versatile, round tips are the types of fountain pen nibs that produce a consistent line width in all directions. They are very smooth, steady, and easy to write with.
Ideal for calligraphy, italic nibs have a distinctly sharp edge. This creates a thicker downstroke and a thinner cross stroke. While they are aesthetically pleasing and add an impressive flair to your writing, italic nibs require a bit of practice to get the hang of.
Other Specialized Tips (Oblique, Zoom, Arabic/Hebrew)
These different pen points are most commonly used for expressive, artistic lettering and calligraphy. While not exactly beginner-friendly, oblique, zoom and Arabic fountain pen tips produce some of the most beautiful penmanship imaginable.
This type of nib is designed to accommodate “side writing”. They are commonly used with European fountain pens and are one of many calligraphy pen nib types. Oblique nibs come in left or right oblique variations depending on the writer’s hand orientation.
Zoom tips are one of the most versatile types of pen points. The bulbous tip changes line width based on the angle at which you hold it. Lower angles produce thick strokes, while higher angles produce thinner strokes. The range of line thicknesses within a single stroke makes zoom tips popular amongst artists and calligraphers.
Also called an “Architect nib”, these pen point types produce thin downstrokes and thicker cross-strokes. The writing style is reminiscent of block lettering found on architectural drawings. This distinct pairing of thick and thin lines is characteristic of Arabic calligraphy.
Fountain pen nib sizes have a direct effect on the type of writing you can accomplish. Consider your personal style, handwriting size, and desired aesthetic. Let’s look at the different pen (round) tip sizes at a glance.
Extra Fine (EF)
Produce very thin lines for intricate writing.
Offer fine lines for everyday writing.
Create versatile, middle-of-the-road lines for various uses.
Produce thicker lines for bold writing.
Comparison of Japanese and Western Nib Sizes
Japanese fountain pen nibs tend to be a full size finer than Western nibs. These flexible nibs are designed to produce the very fine lines needed to write Japanese characters. In contrast, Western nibs are larger, broader, and stiffer for a more robust writing style. Japanese fountain pen types deliver precise, controlled lines, while Western nibs create bolder, pronounced, more stub-like writing strokes. Fountain pen broad nibs are the ones to reach for when you want to make an impact. In contrast, a fine nib fountain pen shines in intricacy and details.
When it comes to different types of fountain pen nibs, flexibility refers to the degree to which the tip will bend under pressure. This enables variations in your line width when writing. The degree to which your pen can flex is determined by two prongs at the tip of the nib, called tines. The more flexible the nib, the more the tines will spread apart to create wider lines. The ease at which a pen will flex varies between brands. Some fountain pen nib types require minimal pressure, while others need more force to flex.
Firm nibs, sometimes called “nails”, have the least flexibility and maintain a consistent line regardless of pressure. They are ideal for uniform, everyday writing, and note-taking since they last a long time. If you tend to press down hard on your paper when writing, this durable nib is a good choice for the best pens for writing notes.
These fountain pen types fall right in between firm and flexible nibs. Allowing for slight line variation with increased pressure, they have a certain “springiness’ for a responsive feel. They are a good choice for both calligraphy and daily writing. At Goldspot, we recommend semi-flexible nibs for beginners, as they span a variety of uses.
Flexible nibs, like those found on Japanese fountain pens (Pilot's Falcon and FA nibs) or Italy's SCRIBO, offer the most line variation. They are designed to respond acutely to the amount of pressure applied. Flexible nibs are the best choice for intricate, artistic work or writers with a delicate touch. Also called “soft nibs”, note that applying too much pressure could damage these nib types.
Gold vs. Stainless Steel Nibs
There are pros and cons to gold vs. stainless steel fountain pen nib types. Gold nibs are easily customizable and seen as a status symbol because of their value. They are also pricier and require frequent maintenance due to their softness. Stainless steel nibs are a more budget-friendly option. These nibs are more durable than gold and are corrosion-resistant so they last longer. The drawback is less flexibility for a stiffer feel in the hand.
Impact of Material on Writing
Gold nibs are very malleable, gliding across the paper with ease. They are also lightweight, lending to a smooth writing experience with a range of line variations dependent on pressure. In contrast, stainless steel nibs are heavier yet offer more consistent performance. Some writers prefer the weight of stainless steel nibs for a more substantial feel, while others like the lightness of a gold nib.
Types of Fountain Pen Nibs
Fountain pen nibs come in a plethora of sizes and styles, each catering to different writing techniques and preferences. Let’s break down their defining characteristics.
-Produce thin, fine lines.
-Ideal for precise handwriting.
Extra Fine Nibs
-Produce very thin, fine lines.
-Use for intricate details and petite penmanship.
-Produce a standard, versatile line width.
-Suitable for everyday writing.
-Produce a wider line that uses more ink.
-Use for bold writing or art projects.
Italic & Calligraphy Nibs
-Flat tips produce thick and thin lines dependent on angle.
-Use for calligraphy or decorative writing.
-Available in left or right oblique variations.
-Choose orientation that matches your dominant writing hand
-Wide, flat tips produce broad strokes.
-Use for calligraphy and artistic writing.
-Broad nib contains multiple tines.
-Use for musical compositions or expressive writing.
-Wide, flat tips produce very broad strokes.
-Common in Japanese calligraphy.
-Adjustable nibs produce different line widths.
-Use for great flexibility across different writing styles.
-Nibs flex easily under pressure for line variation.
-Use for a smooth, consistent writing experience.
-Also known as a flex nib.
-Two tines spread apart to allow line width variation.
-Cut in opposite direction than regular nib for left-handed writers.
-Include Reverse Oblique Nibs and “Bent” nibs.
-Sister to Italic Nibs, with unique rectangular grind.
-Produces thin vertical and wide horizontal strokes.
-Use for upright print (Roman) writing styles.
-Produce an extremely fine line.
-Use for highly detailed writing and lettering.
-One of the most common nib shapes.
-Produce traditional, standard line widths.
Reverse Oblique Nibs
-Slanted in the opposite direction of Oblique Nibs.
-Produce line variations ideal for left-handed writers.
-Can only be used with dip pens (not fountain pens).
-Available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and styles.
-Use dip pen nib types for endless art projects.
Choosing the Right Nib for Your Needs
When choosing your fountain pen and nib, consider your desired aesthetic and end goal. If possible, try out different nibs in a store or borrow them from friends. The right type of nib for you will lead to a positive experience and ideally match your handwriting style. Fountain pen nibs can be split into two broad categories, Arabic nibs and Western nibs. The primary difference lies in their design, angle, and level of flexibility.
Arabic nibs are stiffer, smaller, and offer a more consistent line width. Designed to be used at an upright angle, they are best suited for writing styles common with Asian languages. Western nibs are known for their flexibility and tend to be larger in size. A flex nib in this category shines when held at a low angle like the traditional grip used in Western calligraphy.
Size, shape, and material all play a part in how to choose the right fountain pen nib. Do you have small, delicate handwriting? Try fountain pen fine nibs. For thicker lines, reach for a broad nib. Are you interested in calligraphy? Consider an Italic or stub nib over a round nib. Do you value a smooth and flexible writing experience? Then prioritize gold nibs over stainless steel. The right nib size is a decision of both form and function.
Care and Maintenance of Fountain Pen Nibs
Buying a good-quality fountain pen is an investment. Regular maintenance of your pen nib will ensure you get the most out of it for years to come. Despite the variations across different types of fountain pen nibs, you can maintain them all in the same way. Flush nibs with water once a month or whenever you change ink colors. Use high-quality inks for minimal clogging and cap your nibs when not in use to prevent the ink from drying up.
Store your fountain pen in a horizontal position to prevent ink build-up in the nib. Above all, be gentle with your nib. Fountain pens are designed to write with minimal pressure, so avoid pressing down too hard when writing or you risk misaligning the tines. If your nib becomes scratchy or the ink flow is inconsistent, it may require an adjustment. Occasionally, you may need a new nib, in which case we stock a variety of fountain pen replacement nibs to choose from.
Every Nib a Snowflake
Through thick and thin, fountain pens have remained a source of nostalgic prestige for decades. The right types of fountain pen nibs can become cherished companions on your journey to writing self-expression. Like a snowflake, each nib and ink is as unique as the individual drawn to it. Finding your perfect writing nib is like reconnecting with an old friend. We hope this article helps you make that connection.
About the Author
Madeleine is a copywriter and video script whiz for creative and inventive brands. As an empathy-based marketer, every website, landing page, blog, email, and video she writes showcases her clients at their best. Some say she's a mind-reader, but she's really just an expert listener with one goal in mind: to inspire readers (and viewers) to take action. A true logophile, she's the one who (unabashedly) keeps a hard copy thesaurus on her desk. When she's not on set or crafting copy, you can find her nose in a book sipping a matcha latte.