Pelikan M800 Italic Nib

Fountain Pen Nibs

Fountain pen nibs are typically made from gold, platinum, titanium or high-alloy steel. Often it is assumed that the only good nib is a gold nib. Not so. The characteristics of gold can be important to how a nib performs, however, there are plenty of very good nibs which are not gold.

With the significant cost increase in gold, pen manufacturers are looking for alternative materials. I noticed that in 2012 and continuing in 2013 the use of materials other than gold is more prevalent.

The nibs on pens today are gold with other metals, gold alloy. That is what the well known 14K or 18K designation on nibs stands It is the percentage of gold used.

Steel nibs, if well made, can create a very good writing experience. I noticed that in 2012 and 2013 some of the major manufacturers of pens became replacing gold with steel nibs. It is all a means of keeping production costs down. Write with a well made steel nib. It is a great writing experience.

On the tip of the nib is a small ball, and the cut of the ball goes to determining the style of the nib (fine, medium, broad, stub etc.). The final cut of the end of the nib itself helps to shape the line.

Width of Nibs Vary

There is not universal standard to nib widths. A a medium nib made by one company can be different from a medium nib by another. That is why it is so helpful to buy a pen in a store where you can test it.

If you are staying within the same brand, then a medium Waterman nib is fairly consistent across the Waterman lines, although the nibs do vary. In fact, no two mediums write exactly the same.

But across brands there can be more noticeable differences.


The fountain pen nib

The part of the nib that is we typically see is called the body of the nib. But for almost as much in length, within the nib section of the pen body is the tail or base of the nib. That part is covered by the nib section of the pen.

The body of the nib covers the ink and air channels that allow ink to flow out of, and air into, the ink chamber.

The vent or air hole, as well as the gills under the nib, are included on some nibs as a means to help air going back through the feeds into the ink chamber. Not all nibs have gills below the body of the nib, not all nibs have an air hole or vent on the top of the nib.

The tip of the nib is the end portion that flows across the paper.

The tines are the two sides of the lowest part of the nib, separated by a slit. The ink runs underneath, along the sit, towards the tip.

Around 1808 the first English patent for a steel pen nib was noted. This design was refined around 1830 for a nib with a hole and slits that gave the nib better flexibility.

Gold started to be used as a material for nibs. But, because gold is relatively soft and with use, wears down, it was in 1834 that manufacturers started to use use iridium in the form of a small pellet that was added to the tip of the nib. This gave increased life to the nib.

I had the opportunity to watch the entire nib making process when I visited the Waterman pen factory in France a number of years ago.

The metal that is used for the nib is rolled into thin sheets. The nib shapes are then stamped from the sheets to form blanks which are then heat tempered.

Curving and shaping takes place and this step adds strength to the metal. Then the tip is applied to the nib point. An ink canal is cut with and the point is ground, shaped and polished.

It is the quality of the tip, the iridium for example, that really in essence makes the writing experience of the nib. The metal of the nib contributes in that it can have give, a spring, or be very stiff. It all impacts the writing experience.

Fountain pen nibs are typically classified such as fine, medium or broad based on the size and shape of the metal pellet on the tip of the nib that touches the paper. The end of the nib is but to match the style of the nib. Stub nibs have a squared pellet, and the nibs themselves are squared off. All visually matches, and if there is fluid ink on the paper, the actual cut of the nib helps to shape the writing line.

Nibs vary in terms of the width of a fine or medium etc. European nibs are in the same general range. There is a more marked difference in the width of nibs from Asia. As a general overview, Asian nibs are narrower than say the standards set by the European manufacturers.

Some manufactures made many variations that include oblique or italic nibs as well as those than can be slanted for left-hand writing. Pelikan, for example, has ten different nib styles ranging from Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad, Double Broad, a Triple Broad, Oblique Medium, Oblique Broad, Oblique Double Broad and a Triple Oblique Broad.

Stores on the other hand typically stock fine, medium and broads and even sometime the double broad. It is the exception store that stocks some of the other styles.



In fact, the trend is for manufacturers to ship pens to stores with a limited style choice, e.g. broad, medium and fine nibs, and then require to the store to order any other variation as a special order. I hear this as a point of concern by many store owners.

Only the largest of pens stores, or those that specialize in fountain pens can make the investment to have a selection of nibs in the store. The selection, also only works where the nib section, fitted with the particular nib, can be screwed into the pen body. For many lines of pens, the nibs are heat-sealed into the body and require the manufacturer to make the change.

Even if you send you pen to a service centre for OMAS, Visconti, Delta etc., you will find that they send the pen back to the manufacturer for nib repairs/replacement. That means more time, and just one more reason why you need more than one fountian pen! (You knew I would get that point in!).

A nib can be changed by a crafts person who can grind the nib to alter the shape of the pellet and nib. You can go from a larger nib width to a smaller nib width through this process.


I had the opportunity for Gustavo Rodriguez, a noted craftsman with extensive experience with pen repairs and pen nibs, custom grind a nib for one of my Pelikan M1000's. I had a double broad, which on the M1000 was just too broad for me.

He asked for a sample of my writing, and to outline my expectations in the nib. I wanted something with more of an "edge" to the line and a bit more characteristic to down and horizontal strokes.

He did a great job. The pen arrive back safe and sound and from the moment I filled the pen with ink, and the nib touched the paper, I knew this pen was now a real winner.

Visit his site at:

to become acquainted with his background and to contact Gustavo.

Can I Let Someone Write with my Pen

I am often asked if nibs change according to one's writing? Can you let someone write with your pen?

The pen nib, and how it sits on the feed, will change over time depending on how an indivdiual writes. The pressure they use, the slant at which they hold the pen and the nib drags across the paper. So with use, over time, the pen melds to your style.

I am often asked, if it is safe to allow someone to sign with your pen. My view on this is not to worry. A change in the alignment of the nib is a result of prolonged use and not the casual writing by another person.

Another fountain pen user is a relatively safe experience. I have looked on in horror as someone jammed a pen of mine onto the paper... not it is not a ball point that can take unlimited pressure!

Nib Flexibility

Flexibility of nibs is another point that is discussed often. Is an 18 karat gold nib more flexible than a 14th karate gold nib? Maybe, but not solely based on the quality of the gold. The difference in flexibility based solely on the gold is negligible. Other factors in the construction of the nib have more influence. They include the thickness of the nib metal itself, the length and shape of the nib, the length of the slit and the way the nib is fixed onto the feed mechanism.

The nib is the pen. One of the advantages of going to a pen store and trying a pen out is that you get a feel of the nib before you buy the pen.

You will never know if it is the right pen for you till you dip it in ink and you can experience the moment when the nib starts to glide across the paper.

Greg Minuskin also offers pen re-tipping services. You can read about his services that include regrinds to italic/stub nibs, new sacs, nib crack repair and flow adjustment. His site also has testimonials of his customers.


Thinking of trying to grind a nib? A number of years ago Ludwig Tan sent me a copy of an article for this web site. He wrote the article for the Journal of the Society for Italic Handwriting, Writing Matters (August 2000 & Spring 2001). The article provides a very detailed description of the steps involved.