What is a Nib?

In my previous post, I mentioned that nibs are one of the basic tools you need.  There are two main types of nibs: 1) broad, square-cut nibs; and 2) pointed nibs.  For Copperplate script, we use pointed nibs that vary in shape, size, and flexibility.

Pointed Nibs


A nib is the removable, sharp-pointed steel part of a dip pen.  Nibs, sometimes also referred to as pens, vary in shape, size, color, and flexibility.

Nib Anatomy

Anatomy of a Hunt 22 Nib

Tip – The sharpest part of the nib is the tip.  This is the point that comes in contact with the paper.

Slit – The slit divides the two tines in half from the vent hole to the tip.  The slit allows for ink to flow down to the paper via capillary action.

Tines – Tines are the two prongs that split open (flex) when pressure is applied to the tip of the nib.  When relaxed, the points of the tines make up the tip of the nib.  The flexibility of the tines and the amount of pressure you apply to the tip of your nib will determine the thickness of your shades.

Shoulder – The shape and characteristic of the shoulders affect the flexibility of the tines.  You may have noticed the slits on some of the the shoulders of your nibs.  Sometimes it’s a thin, barely-visible slit and other times it’s an obvious cut; these add to the flexibility factor of the nibs.  The width of the shoulders may also be something to not (or not).  Wide shoulders may be indicative of a stiff nibs (e.g. Tachikawa Manuscript nib).  Some of the more flexible nibs may be quite narrow (e.g. Brause EF66).

Vent Hole – The vent hole is a small hole that terminates the slit, which help prolong the life of the nib by acting as a sort of shock-absorber to the tension created when tines are flexed.  Without it, nibs would have a higher probability of splitting in half lengthwise.  Here’s more good news about the vent hole: it also acts as a reservoir for ink.

Body – The stiff body is inserted securely into the penholder.  This is the main support of the nib — supporting the tines as they flex and relax.

Nib ID – These imprinted words and numbers on the body of the nib help you to identify which nib is which.  In time, you’ll come to recognize and identify the nibs by their shape, color, and size; however, if you’re new to the world of nibs or if you own nibs that look identical (e.g. Nikko G and Tachikawa G, Hunt 22 and Hunt 99, etc.), this bit of information comes in handy.

Base – I’ve got nothin’ on the base except for it’s the end of the nib that’s inserted into the penholder ;).


Different Kinds of Nibs

You may be wondering why there are so many different kinds of nibs.  Not all nibs are created equal.  Different nibs accomplish different tasks.  For instance, more flexible nibs can create thicker shades and the sharper ones can achieve finer hairlines.  What nib you use solely depends on your script style and what you’re trying to achieve.

If you’re new to Copperplate or don’t know much about nibs, try out a few different kinds. A couple of nibs that I recommend to my students are the Nikko G and the Brause Steno 361 – which are medium in sharpness and flexibility.  They also seem to glide across the paper on the upstrokes.  I also like the Hunt 22 and the Hunt 101 – which are sharper, more flexible, and create thinner hairlines.  If you’re looking for super sharp and super flexible, the Brause EF66* is your nib.  Perhaps the Gillot 303 is the sharpest and most flexible of them all.

*The Brause EF66 does not fit into the plastic Speedball penholders because its size.

In time, you’ll develop your own Copperplate style.  You’ll have your own preference in slant angle, thickness of the shades, letterform ratios, etc.  You’ll naturally start to gravitate toward specific nibs that can accomplish your script style.

Thanks for reading.  Happy writing!


Your Copperplate Companion,