How Tines Work to Square off Tops and Bottoms of Shaded Strokes

One of the most common questions I’m asked is:

How do you square off the tops and bottoms on your shaded strokes?

My answer is: 1) you must first understand how the tines of your pointed pen work; and then 2) practice, practice, practice!

In this post, I’ll be sharing how tines work.  My next blog will be about how to practice squaring off those stems.

What are tines?

In my previous blog, I talked about basic nib anatomy.


Comparison of a relaxed Zebra G nib and a flexed one.

Tines are the two prongs of the nib that are designed to flex (split open) when pressure is applied to the tip.  When the tines are relaxed, the slit is closed and the prongs are side-by-side.  The flexibility of the tines and the amount of pressure you apply to the tip of your nib determines the thickness of your shades.


How do Tines work?

You can manipulate the tines of your nib by adjusting the amount of pressure you apply to your pen.  The more pressure you apply, the wider the slit opens.  I used to think that the two tines always flexed together; that is, when one tine flexes, the other flexes too — but this isn’t the case.  The tines flex independent of each other. 

When squaring the top or bottom of stems, only one tine is flexed at a time; the other remains at rest.

HOW to manipulate the tines

Let’s take a closer look.  When you apply pressure to your nib, notice which tine flexes and which stays relaxed.  Which tine “moves” and in which direction?  When you release the pressure, which tine moves and in which direction?

To square off the tops of shades strokes, apply pressure to only the right side of your pen.  This will flex (bend upward) only the right tine, which will make the  relaxed left tine move downward.  The pressure on the right tine will keep the right tip in place.  As you pull you pen down ward to make the stem stroke, maintain a consistent pressure.

To square off the bottom of the stem, carefully release the pressure from the pen.  Doing this will relax the right tine, which will close the slit to the left and square the bottom.

Next week, I’ll go more into detail about squaring the tops and bottom of stem strokes and share some fun drill exercises with you.


Give it a try.  See if you can manipulate the movement of tines on your nib.

When you apply pressure, see if you can:

  1. move the tines side-to-side
  2. move both tines simultaneously
  3. move only the left tine (put more pressure on the right side of the pen)
  4. move only the right tine (put more pressure on the left side of the pen)
  5. flex only the right tine (up).  What happens to the left tine?  Which direction does it move?

Try it one more time.  This time, align your pen with the main slant angle (52-55 degrees from the baseline).


When writing Copperplate, your pen should be aligned with the main slant.

Let me know how this works out for you!

Happy writing!

Your Copperplate Companion,


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