Calligraphy nibs enable beautiful lettering creations, but they can also prove to be finicky little things! We’ve all been there: you open up a new packet of nibs, insert one that you’ve been excited about using in your pen, and … the ink won’t flow. Or, maybe the nib writes, but not without scratching into the paper with a vengeance. You’ll find solutions for these problems — plus five others — in today’s article.
Tip #1: Clean the Manufacturer’s Oils Off of New Calligraphy Nibs
Whenever you buy a new calligraphy nib, you can bet that its manufacturer has applied oils or waxes to it. Why? Oils keep the nibs in mint condition as they await your purchase. Unfortunately, oil doesn’t mix well with other liquids (i.e. ink), which can cause your ink to bead up on your nib as shown in the photo below.
Whenever you receive a new calligraphy nib, you should clean the oils off of it. There are several different ways to do that, but my favorite is the “potato method”. Simply ease the pointy half of your nib into a russet potato and let it sit for fifteen minutes. Once fifteen minutes has passed, you can wipe off the nib and get to writing!
Tip #2: Clean Your Calligraphy Nibs Often While Writing
As you write, you want to avoid ink drying on your nib. To do that, swish your nib in water every minute or two as you work. Remember to only swish around the part of the nib that has interacted with the ink! You don’t want to dunk the whole thing in; otherwise, the nib and the metal components of your pen will both start to rust.
After you swish the pen around for a couple of seconds, dry it off with a non-fibrous cloth. (Paper towels will work in a pinch, but pieces of them tend to get stuck in nibs.) Then, start writing again!
Tip #3: Dilute Your Ink
When your ink starts to misbehave, it’s easy to blame your nib. Before you jump to conclusions, try diluting your ink with a bit of water. Oftentimes, too-thick ink is the culprit of writing woes, and that thickness really creeps up on you! Remember that as you write, water slowly evaporates out of your open jar of ink. Eventually, that leads to a thick ink that’s difficult to write with.
I should officially recommend that you dilute your ink with distilled water. The truth, though, is that I use tap water to dilute my inks, and I’ve never had an issue.
Tip #4: Avoid Rust on Your Calligraphy Nibs
If you’re plagued by rusty calligraphy nibs, remember not to let the barrel of your nibs come in contact with any liquid. You should only dip your nib in ink to just past the reservoir! There’s no need to dip it any further than that.
When you go to clean off your nib, only let the part of the nib that was in contact with ink come in contact with water. Dunk it any further than that, and you may unintentionally get water in the pen itself. That will lead to rusty metal components in the pen and rust on your nib!
That said, if rust appears on your calligraphy nibs — especially on the shank (the blunt end), there’s no need to panic. As long as you can still insert the nib into a pen, then … whatever. Sure, rust isn’t a pretty sight, but if the nib functions well, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to use it. However, your nibs will last much longer if they remain rust-free.
Tip #5: Change Your Writing Angle
If you suffer from scratchy nibs, the problem might be your writing angle. Our instinct is to write holding our pens vertically, as shown below. While this writing angle feels natural — after all, it’s how we write with everyday pens — it will cause the nib to dig into your paper, pick up paper fibers, and hamper ink flow.
There is an easy fix for this issue: change your writing angle. Instead of holding the pen vertically, try to hold it at a closer angle to the paper. You want to strive for letting the nib “skate” across the surface of your paper, and that’s more achievable at an angle like the one shown below:
The same philosophy should be applied to oblique pens. If you experience a lot of scratchiness and a bit of erratic ink flow while writing, take a moment to examine the angle of your pen. Taking the angle down a few notches will more than likely help!
Tip #6: Accept that You Won’t Love Every Nib That You Try
Every calligrapher has a couple of different nibs that he or she loves. Switching up nibs can be fun because the appearance of calligraphy changes depending on the shape and flexibility of the nib! For example, you can see that the Kaitlin Style calligraphy below looks very different when created with the Brause Rose nib versus the Nikko G nib.
While I recommend the Nikko G nib for beginners, it’s not for everyone. Everyone has a different “Goldilocks nib”. If using a certain type of nib endlessly frustrates you, feel free to pass on using it! There’s no need to force yourself to use something you don’t like just because others swear by it.
Tip #7: Know When Your Nib is Kaput
It’s very difficult to predict how long calligraphy nibs will last. Their lifespan depends on a number of factors, including:
- The type of ink you use (and its acidity)
- How often you use the nib
- How much pressure you tend to apply to the nib
- What kind of nib you’re using
When a nib has passed its prime, you’ll often just know it. It won’t be the nib’s appearance that tells you; in fact, both of the calligraphy nibs pictured above work equally well despite the increased wear on the right nib. The telltale sign will be the way the nib writes. If the nib becomes scratchy and unpleasant to use, that’s how you know. You’ll also start to notice less delicate upstrokes and a tiny bit of difficulty with ink flow!
I hope that these seven tips help you to use your calligraphy nibs more comfortably and effectively! If you have any questions — or additional tips — please feel free to contribute them to the comments section below. Thanks very much, as always, for reading TPK! I am so glad to have you here, and appreciative that you took time out of your day to learn a bit more about calligraphy. Keep learning and experimenting, and you’ll continue to improve!