There are so many nibs you can use for calligraphy out there and if you’re a beginner it can be a bit daunting to find out which nib is right for you and your practice. Scrap that, it’s not just beginners who struggle with nibs and trying new ones, I’ve been practicing calligraphy since 2015 and I tend to play it safe and stick to the same nibs. So what started as a plan to put together a guide on calligraphy nibs for those learning modern calligraphy has lead me to revisiting all the nibs that sit in my tin and really testing them out again to see how they work with my style and whether I should be experimenting with more of them.
I’ve tested all the nibs using a moblique pen holder and three types of surface, practice paper, plain card and textured card to see how they perform on each. I did also start testing them on pressed paper however the ink I was using for this bled too much on the paper but that gave me an idea for a future guide / blog post - pressed paper and what inks work best - watch this space for that one.
I’m starting off with the Nikko G nib, this is the most popular nib for calligraphers of all levels and it’s my go to nib of choice for most bespoke calligraphy projects. It’s a great one for beginners which I think is mainly down to it’s medium flexibility - while you’re getting to grips with the strokes of modern calligraphy having a nib that isn’t too stiff or flexible allows the ink flow to be controlled and it gives the beginner one less thing to worry about.
The reason I like the Nikko G is that I’m a fairly heavy handed calligrapher, which means I apply a lot of pressure to the nib naturally, so I need one that can take that whilst giving me smooth lines and flow of ink. The Nikko G performs well on all paper surfaces as you can see from the photos and one of the main things I like about it is that it holds a decent amount of ink. I only need to re-dip every 3-4 words - it may be less for you if you’re not as heavy handed as me.
Next up is the Gillott 303 nib, this isn’t one I use a lot and during the process of testing for this blog post I remembered why. I find it quite a fragile nib, you have to be really light on the touch because of its flexibility, if you’re not the ink flows out. That’s why it’s not great for me due to my heavy handed nature however if you have a lighter calligraphy touch it’s a great nib to create beautiful hairlines strokes and it’s well suited to copperplate calligraphy. It doesn’t hold a lot of ink therefore you have to dip more often, which could get tedious during a longer calligraphy piece. In order to test it properly I concentrated on a lighter touch and was pleased with the result, it works well on most paper although I found it felt a little scratchy on the textured card.
Another nib similar to this is the Gillot 404, it’s not as flexible as the 303 which is better for me and it can still create those gorgeous hairlines strokes. This would be a good nib to use for any calligraphy projects that require smaller lettering. However similar to the 303 I don’t find that it holds a lot of ink so lots more dips required. It’s definitely surprised me and thanks to this testing it’s one I’ll try and use a little more often.
Now for the Brause 361, often referred to as the Blue Pumpkin. I want to love this nib but we just don’t get along. I cannot get the pressure right. It's either not enough and the ink doesn’t flow or it’s too much and the ink pools out. I do find that if I go faster and bigger with my lettering it works better but that’s really not my style of calligraphy. However please don’t be put off by my thoughts on the Brause 361, a lot of calligraphers love it and it can be another good one for modern calligraphy beginners, so I hear. I found that it did write well on all paper surfaces and holds a decent amount of ink which are both plus points.
One of my favourites is next, the Hunt 56, it’s the one I use when I require smaller calligraphy lettering as it gives beautiful hairline strokes but remains medium in flex which handles my heavy hand well, unlike the Gillot 303. I find it holds a good amount of ink and writes beautifully on both smooth and textured paper.
The next calligraphy nib has surprised me, it’s the Zebra G. I’ve always thought or maybe assumed it was like the Nikko G so I’ve never really given it a go, until now. It is very similar to be fair but it gives a slightly thinner downstroke (not too thin) that I really like. It feels like it has a little less flex than the Nikko G which is why with my heavy hand I get a thinner downstroke. It holds a good amount of ink and works well on all paper textures. After trying it out for the purpose of writing this blog I’ve accidentally found my new favourite nib, I’ll definitely be using it more on bespoke calligraphy projects coming up.
The last nib of this guide is the Brause Rose. It’s a beautiful nib and one I have been meaning to try for a while. It’s bigger than the other calligraphy nibs so I had to bend my nib holder slightly to give more of a curve and secure the nib in place before writing. It did slide into the straight part of the pen holder fine so you shouldn’t have any trouble if you write with a straight pen holder rather than an oblique. The Brause Rose is a really flexible calligraphy nib which as you know from earlier nibs isn’t a good combination with my heavy hand. My first few strokes were very inky, I had to try really hard to press lightly and go slowly to get some form in my letters and stroke in this one. However I do feel that for a flexible nib it holds a good level of ink and writes well on the practice paper and card. It felt a little scratchy on the upstrokes when writing on the textured card. I think this nib would work well for bigger modern calligraphy pieces so I’m going to put that on my list to come back. I’ll let you know how I get on.
There are so many more calligraphy nibs out there, just to give you an idea I have at least 3 Leonardt nibs I haven’t included in this guide. Mainly because I think they are better suited for copperplate and I don’t practice that however maybe I’ll do a part 2 later in the year and try these along with the Hunt 101 and any others I have missed.
I hope you find this guide to calligraphy nibs useful whether you are starting out learning modern calligraphy or you’ve been doing it a while and are interested in trying new calligraphy nibs out. If you use a nib I haven’t mentioned here definitely get in touch and tell me, either on instagram @what_sarah_inks or email me firstname.lastname@example.org