How to Find the Right Nib for your Handwriting Style

For beginner and intermediate fountain pen users, finding the right nib size can be a daunting (and expensive) journey. Lacking the ability to test an array of nibs before buying a fountain pen, we have to rely on reviews and feedback from people who may not have the same handwriting style.

Getting a nib size that isn't suitable for your handwriting can lead to a disappointing experience, shipping the pen back and/or spending money to get the nib modified by a nib specialist. The following primer is meant to increase the potential satisfaction for someone who is looking for their ideal nib size.

The "right" nib size is a decision of both form and function. As an artist may select an array of brushes that suit a certain painting style, the writer has the same ability in the choice of their pen nib.

Finding the perfect nib doesn't rely solely on empirical measurement but still can be gauged by a set of criteria based on your handwriting preferences.

When looking at the nib size options below, first ask yourself the following questions:

  • How large is my handwriting? Is it big and bold or small and neat?
  • How quickly do I write? More methodical and deliberate or loose and fast?
  • Do I prefer butter smooth or writing with feedback?
  • Is dry time a concern?
  • Do I savor seeing the ink shading/sheen/shimmer on the page?

Extra Fine

The size zero of fountain pen nibs, Extra-Fine tends to be a size that is best suited for those who write small and neatly. The tipping (usually an iridium ball) is so small and delicate that it may cause some writers to experience a scratchy feel. Ink flow tends to be on the stingier side, so don't expect to see beautiful pools of shading and sheen in the ink that is laid on the page. On the other hand, less ink on the page makes is quicker to dry and less prone to smearing.

Best suited for: Technical, precise and deliberate writers. Those who are switching over from using 0.5mm tip gel pens or needlepoint tip pens.

Not suited for: Writers with large and quick handwriting. People who love seeing the sheen, shading, and shimmering qualities of some inks.

Neatness: 5/5 (Neatest)
Writing Speed: 2/5 (Slow)
Smoothness: 2/5 (Toothy)
Dry Time: 5/5 (Quickest)

FINE

Generally, most fountain pens are usually available in fine or medium point. These points are common in most brands of pens. However, not all fine points (or other nibs) are made equal. There isn't any standard to say that they must produce at least a 0.7mm line (for example). As a rule of thumb, most are usually between a 0.5mm and a 0.7mm line, with the Eastern (Japanese) nibs being on the finer end and the Western (Italian, & German) nibs being on the thicker end. Going with a fine point is still better suited for smaller, more deliberate handwriting styles.

Best suited for: General purpose writing, favoring those who have small, neat handwriting.

Not suited for: People who want to show off the color of their inks. Those looking for a calligraphic flair to their letters.

Neatness: 4/5 (Neat)
Writing Speed: 3/5 (Moderate)
Smoothness: 3/5 (Smooth)
Dry Time: 4/5 (Quick)

Medium

The default nib for most fountain pen models, the "medium" point size might be the only option in certain pen designs. It's the "middle of the road" - not too thick where smearing and bleedthrough might be a concern. It is also not prone to more feedback (A.K.A. scratchiness) like the finer sizes would be. Paper quality should be more of a concern with this size and larger, as the higher flow of ink on the page may cause feathering, bleedthrough, and show through on cheaper papers. Similarly to the fine point, some translation is needed between Eastern and Western sizing. (Generally, a Western medium nib is more like an Eastern broad nib. An Eastern medium behaves like a Western fine nib.)

Best suited for: General purpose writing, signatures.

Not suited for: Writing on cheaper quality paper, smaller handwriting.

Neatness: 3/5 (Average)
Writing Speed: 3/5 (Moderate)
Smoothness: 4/5 (Smoother)
Dry Time: 3/5 (Average)

Broad

Now, we're dipping our toe into the deep end of the wet and wild. Most broad nibs lay down more ink and will keep up with quick, gestural handwriting. An ink's shading, sheen, and shimmer (if applicable) are more evident when using a broad (or larger) nib size. The tradeoff is that you need to use fountain pen friendly paper to handle the volume of ink. Even with higher quality paper, increased dry time will be a concern, especially for left-handed writers.

Best suited for: Quick signatures, letter writing, journaling. Writers who enjoy the fine qualities of their ink on paper.

Not suited for: Small note-takers, cheap (or recycled) paper, those who like quicker dry times.

Neatness: 2/5 (Gestural)
Writing Speed: 4/5 (Quick)
Smoothness: 5/5 (Smoothest)
Dry Time: 2/5 (Slow)

Stub / Calligraphy Nib

The defining characteristic of a stub nib is its shape. Instead of having a round ball of tipping material to create a monoline, the rectangular shape of the stub nib provides a broader vertical downstroke and a thin horizontal one. The purpose is to add a calligraphic flair to your handwriting. The degree of line variation will depend on how well the edges of the stub are polished. A highly rounded stub may not provide much line variation but will be smoother than a sharper stub nib that produces more dramatic line variation. These can be adjusted and fine-tuned by an experienced nib tinkerer. Much like a broad nib, you can expect to see more depth of ink on the page with higher dry times.

Best suited for: Aspiring calligraphers, adding a touch of flair to your everyday writing. Those who love seeing the depth of their ink on paper.

Not suited for: Small note-takers, cheap (or recycled) paper, those who like quicker dry times.

Neatness: 2/5 (Gestural)
Writing Speed: 3/5 (Moderate)
Smoothness: 3/5 (Smooth - Varies)
Dry Time: 1/5 (Slowest)

Flex Nib

Back in the days of old, pointed pen calligraphy or Spencerian penmanship would call for a flexible point that yielded generous line variation with gentle finger pressure applied evenly to the tines. In the golden age of what we refer to now as "vintage," flexible fountain pen nibs were much more common and refined to be more responsive and flexible. By older standards, today's modern "flex" nib is comparatively semi-flexible, providing some degree of line variation, but by no means, a "wet noodle" like you would find with certain vintage pens. Writing with a flex nib takes some practice to do correctly and there is a good chance that a newbie will push it too far and break the nib. Think of flex like driving a stickshift car. For those who have the patience to learn and enjoy the fine control, there's nothing quite like it.

Best suited for: Calligraphy, embellished signatures, other general purpose writing (when not using the flex).

Not suited for: People new to using fountain pens, cheap copy papers

Neatness: 2/5 (Gestural)
Writing Speed: 2/5 (Slow)
Smoothness: 2/5 (Some feedback - varies)
Dry Time: 2/5 (Slow when flexing)


Other specialty nibs

Depending on how far down the rabbit hole you are, you may be asking about the other nib types you may have heard of - "King Eagle," "Needlepoint," "cursive italic," "oblique," "zoom," and so forth. As this article is written for the novice or intermediate pen user still navigating their way through the standard set of nib options, we'll table specialty nibs for another time.

If it is available to you in your area, ask around for when the nearest pen show is coming to town. Since there is a lack of pen or stationery shops that will let you try different point sizes, an organized pen show is one of the best ways you can experience all the nib types first hand. Always remember to ask first!

Another great way to experience different pens and nibs is to be part of a local pen club. Ask around on a website forum like Fountain Pen Network or FP Geeks to see if there are interested pen people willing to meet up near you. Everyone brings their pens, geeks out and has a great time. There, you may just find your new favorite pen and nib to write with.

The gif animations in this post were used from the following Goldspot Pens YouTube Videos:

Sailor Fountain Pen Nib Comparison
For the Love of Writing : Part 2 - Flex Nibs

 


21 comments

  • Excelente trabajo. Muy bien acompañado por los videos corespondientes. Claro y conciso.
    Gracias

    antonio borrego
  • This is another great article; thanks for putting this together.

    Ron
  • May I suggest another topic for an article, a take-off on the title of this one:
    How to Find the LEFT Nib for your Handwriting Style!
    It would be great to see a similar article for us lefties. I have ben using a fountain pen since the 60’s and I push the pen with the paper placed horizontal. Back in the 50’s, no one taught lefties to slant the paper and thereby pull the pen along the line. My hand covers the words just written and I found that fountain pen ink dried faster than the original ballpoint pen ink. The result using a ballpoint was that I would pick up the ink on the side of my hand and reprint it along the page, like an offset printer! What a mess. But a fine point fountain pen’s line dried fast enough, unless my hand was sweaty or damp and then I became a stamp pad again! And you can imagine what happened when I used Speedball C-nibs trying to do calligraphy! I had to pencil each line of script and letter it backwards! Felt tip calligraphy pens solved that, but that’s another story! Thanks for what you do here! bob.c

    Robert Coleman
  • great article!

    Ray han
  • Nice Nib information.

    Fábio Mello

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