How to Prepare a New Nib for Copperplate Calligraphy

Why isn’t the ink flowing?

Why does the ink come out in blobs?

Why isn’t the ink staying on the nib?  I can only write a few strokes before I need to dip again.

Those are a few of the frequently asked questions I’ve been receiving lately on Instagram.

As calligraphers, we may run into some problems with our tools.  When this happens, it’s best to examine what may be causing the problem one at a timeWhen I’m having trouble with the ink and ink flow, I examine my nib before anything else.

If it’s a new nib and you’re having trouble with ink flow, ink staying on the nib, or blobs of ink coming out, preparing your nib may be the solution to your problem.

In my last post An Introduction to Copperplate Calligraphy Nibs, I talked about what kinds of nibs we use to write Copperplate script (pointed nibs).  In this post I’ll be showing you how to prepare you new nibs before you use it.  It’s important to understand how your tools work so that you can use them to their full potential and minimize frustration during our practice.  Knowing how to care for your nibs will also help prolong its life.

What Does Preparing a Nib Mean?

During manufacturing, nibs may be sealed with a clear protective varnish or oil that prevents it from rusting in storage. Preparing a nib means to remove this protective, water-repelling layer so that ink may adhere to the nib – which is important when using dip pens.  The nibs we use act as a reservoir for our ink, which allows us to write several strokes at a time.  For instance, with a prepared Tachikawa G nib, I can write “anintran” in one dip — that is, I write without losing my rhythm, which is important when I’m practicing the consistency of my strokes.


How the Ink Adheres to Brand New Nibs Before Coating is Removed

Ink may not adhere to the nib evenly if the protective coating has not been removed.


There are several ways to prepare new nibs. One is to pass the pointed tip of the nib up to the vent hole through a flame.  A few other ways require the use of ammonia or other chemicals.  The way I prefer is Lindsey Bugbee of the Postman’s Knock and Dr. Joe Vitolo’s method: using dish detergent or toothpaste, respectively.


  • Dish Detergent or Toothpaste
  • Q-tip
  • Clean Cloth/Paper Towel
  • Water

    *Despite what’s shown in my photographs, I personally prefer to use dish detergent (original blue Dawn soap) over toothpaste.


Note: Before handling any of your tools, make sure your hands and fingers are washed and clean of any debris and oils.

Step 1 – Apply some dish detergent or toothpaste onto your Q-tip.  You don’t need too much.

Toothpaste Qtip

Step 2 – Scrub the pointed half of nib, from vent hole to tip.  Be sure to scrub both the topside and the underside.

Clean Nib

Scrub both sides several times.  Scrub, scrub, scrub. 

Step 3 – Rinse the soap or toothpaste off the nib thoroughly with clean water.

Rinse Nib

Step 4 – Dry your nib with a clean cloth or paper towel. Once dry, avoid touching the pointed half of your nib with your fingers.  Use a clean, dry cloth to insert your nib into your holder.

Dry Nib

After preparing your nib, the ink should evenly coat your pen — no spheres or uneven pools of ink.

Clean nib

Once the protective coating has been removed, ink does not have any trouble adhering to either side of the nib.

Now, there have been times when I’ve cleaned my nib in this way and the ink still won’t stick evenly to my nib.  In this case, I repeat the scrubbing one more time.  A few of my friends have suggested applying saliva on the nib — which I have yet to try.

You may be wondering if you absolutely need to do this before you can start using your nib.  The answer is no, you don’t.  If you aren’t experiencing any problems with your nib whatsoever, then you may not need to do this at all.  As for the protective coating, it will eventually wear off with use due to the acidity of your ink and the constant cleaning of your nib.  However, if you are experiencing some issues with ink flow and such, give this a try.

Once I’ve prepared the nib, I don’t usually have ink flow or blob problems.  If I do, I then the next thing I examine is the ink I’m using.  But that’s a topic for another blog post.

Happy writing, guys!

Your Copperplate Companion,

3 thoughts on “How to Prepare a New Nib for Copperplate Calligraphy

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