A fountain pen nib exists for every style of writer. Whether you press hard and dig deep into the page or prefer to elegantly draw loops and curls, there is a perfect nib waiting for you. The tricky part is looking objectively at the way you write and from that determining what style of nib is best for you.
Actually, the tricky part is probably that there is no global standardization of nib sizes. Your best bet? Become familiar with terminology, find a brand you like and work from that brand as your ‘base.’ Below, you’ll see commonly accepted definitions and descriptions for nib sizes and types (however, there is dispute within the community).
All nibs come in different sizes whether you are purchasing a flex nib, an italic nib, a stub nib or any other kind of nib. The most common width sizes include Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium (M), Broad (B), and Double Broad (BB). You can also find nibs that come in EEF-BBB, but they’re traditionally harder to come by.
Needle & Accountant NibsThese are basically EF (Extra Fine) nibs. The Sailor Desk Pen in the photos would be considered by most to be a needle nib. Most people would agree that the thinnest, finest nibs come from Japan. If you’re looking for a needle nib/accountant nib, go for a Japanese-made pen in either EF or EEF.
A stub nib is like writing on a thin oval. Imagine that the tip of the nib (the part that makes contact with the paper) is an oval shape. The lines that you create from writing will show this slight variation. (A round tipped nib, which is known as a standard nib will not show variation in writing much like a ballpoint pen doesn’t show variation.)
Italic Nibs & Calligraphy Nibs
An italic nib is like a stub nib, but the oval is longer, thereby producing more variation in line width as you write. Many use the terms ‘calligraphy nib’ and ‘italic nib’ interchangeably. The basic gist of what makes an italic and calligraphy nib different from others is that the nib will have sharper corners. The sharper corners create very clean, crisp lines in line strokes. The stub nib does too, but those corners tend to be ground to rounded points so the stub is less likely to ‘catch’ or scratch the paper when you write quickly. Calligraphy nibs also tend to come in wider sizes. With an italic or calligraphy nib you will likely need to write slower than you do normally because they tend to catch or skip more by design.
An oblique nib is exactly the same as an italic or a calligraphy nib, except the nib is cut on a slant (or angle), rather than straight across.
Music nibs (designed for the purpose of writing music) traditionally have two slits in the nib rather than just one, but not always. They are made so the user can produce lines crosswise and longwise easily.
Flex nibs have some amount of ‘flex’ in the nib itself so when the user presses down on it variation in the width of the stroke is produced. Flex nibs can be found in various amounts of ‘flexiness,’ from slight flex to super flex. Vintage flex pens produce some of the greatest flex around. What makes flex nibs unique is that they can be combined with other types of fountain pens. You could find an Italic Flex Nib for example, or a Needle Flex Nib. Flex nibs have a bit of a learning curve but produce lovely, unique results. The flexibility of the nib highlights the natural nuances of each person’s handwriting.
This brief overview of the most common types of nibs should help you on your way in determining what nib might be for you. Personally, my absolute favorite nib type is a standard flex nib. Second choice is a calligraphy nib. To me, being able to highlight the unique way I naturally write is most important, especially when I write letters by hand. If you’ve never even held a fountain pen, I strongly suggest trying out multiple types first. Just pick the pen up in your hand, dip the tip of the nib in some ink (no need to fuss with cartridges or full refills here), and write a little with it. You’ll be able to immediately determine if you like one or not.