While calligraphy nibs enable beautiful lettering creations, they can also prove to be finicky creatures! 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 … ink won’t flow. Or, maybe the nib writes, but not without scratching into the paper with a vengeance. Solutions for these two problems — plus a few others — can be found in the six nib usage tips below!
Tip #1: Clean the Manufacturer’s Oils Off of New Calligraphy Nibs
Whenever you buy a new calligraphy nib, you can bet the manufacturer has applied oils to it. Why? Oils keep the nibs in mint condition as they await your purchase! And that’s great — you want your nibs to be in good condition when you receive them. The only problem is this: oil doesn’t play nice with most other liquids (i.e. ink), which can cause your ink to bead up on your nib as shown in the photo below.
If you experience issues when trying to use a new calligraphy nib, you need to clean the oils off. There are many different ways to do it (as detailed in this blog post), 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, wipe the nib off and get to writing!
I use the “potato method” to prime all my personal nibs as well as the nibs for the workshops that I teach. It’s a very effective, cheap, and simple way clean off the manufacturer’s oils and get your nibs in beautiful working condition!
Tip #2: Clean Your Calligraphy Nib Often While Writing
As you write, you want to avoid ink congealing on your nib. To do so, you should 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; I like to use dinner napkins. Paper towels will work in a pinch, but pieces of them tend to get stuck in nibs. Those paper towel pieces won’t hurt the nibs, but they’ll certainly affect your writing! They have a penchant for dragging ink and consequently adding unwelcome character to anything you’re working on.
Tip #3: Avoid Rust on Your Nibs
If you’re plagued by rusty calligraphy nibs, remember not to let the barrel of your nibs come in contact with any liquid. Remember: you should only dip your nib in ink to just past the vent hole (as per The Beginner’s Guide to Modern Calligraphy) — there’s no need to dip it any further than that.
When you go to clean off your nib, you should 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 a rust on your nib!
That said, if rust appears on your calligraphy nibs — especially on the shank (the blunt end), it’s really not that big of a deal. As long as you can still insert the nib into a pen, then … whatever. Sure, rust isn’t a very pretty sight, but if the nib functions well, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to use it. That said, it is much easier to insert smooth, non-rusted nibs into pens than it is to insert rough, rusty nibs.
To wrap up this tip, I want to remind you to wipe water and ink off your nibs with a cloth once you’ve finished using them. Make sure they are completely dry! After that, you can either store them upright in pens (as shown above), or in a nib tin, as shown below.
Tip #4: Change Your Writing Angle
If you suffer from scratchy nibs, the problem may lie in your writing angle. You see, our instinct is to write holding our pens vertically, as shown below. While this feels natural — after all, it’s how we write with pens and pencils — it will more than likely cause the nib to dig into your paper, pick up paper fibers, and hamper ink flow!
There is an immediate 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 much more achievable at an angle like the one shown below.
While the photos above show a straight pen, 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 #5: Realize that You Won’t Love Every Nib That You Try
Every calligraphy enthusiast 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. There’s at least one participant out of every calligraphy workshop I teach that gels much better with the Brause EF66 nib, despite it being much more flexible than the Nikko G.
Really, the nib — or nibs — that you will write the best with depends on your personal style. 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 #6: Know When to Call It Quits with a Well-Used Nib
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 how acidic it is).
- How often you use the nib.
- How much pressure you tend to apply to the nib.
- What kind of nib it is.
I don’t mean to get all Yoda-esque on you, but when a nib has passed its prime, you’ll know it. It won’t be the appearance that tells you; in fact, both of the calligraphy nibs pictured above work equally well despite considerably more 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. I also start to notice less delicate upstrokes and a tiny bit of difficulty with ink flow!
I hope that these six 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!