For those who are looking to start learning calligraphy, getting tools always seems like a task which is nearly impossible. Regular bookshops don't stock them and specialized stores often have too little description on products to help beginners get the correct tools.
Getting the pen and ink should be fairly simple. After all, the pen is just a wooden or plastic stick with a hole cut into one end.
Yet that's exactly where most of the problems start. Is the hole supposed to be there? Is the pen defective? Your Pilot G2 pen doesn't have this issue?
Well, you might have read somewhere that a nib goes into that hole. Yet when you go to the store, you see nibs of different varieties. Big nibs, small nibs, gold nibs, silver nibs, cheap nibs, expensive nibs... huh?
So anyway, the point of this post is to give you a little introduction to the world of common nibs, and hopefully after reading this you will know how to get the correct nibs.
A nib is the part of a quill, dip pen or fountain pen which comes into contact with the writing surface in order to deposit ink.
Prior to metal nibs (although there is evidence of ancient Egyptians using metal nibs), quills were the primary tool for writing. Quills were fashioned by taking a flight feather from a large bird, usually a goose, curing it in hot sand, then cutting a nib at the end.
In the 19th century, metal nibs were manufactured to replace quills. Compared to quills, metal nibs were more durable and could remain sharp for a longer time. They were also easy to manufacture, and were manufactured in large numbers.
A pointed nib is characterized by a pointed tip. Although the hole in the body is called a vent (or breather hole), the purpose of allowing air into the feed is only applicable to fountain pens. On a dip pen, this hole acts to prevent the nib from cracking lengthwise and also holds ink. The cuts in the shoulder gives the pen flexibility.
The tines are separated by a slit, which spans from the vent to the point. The long slit, combined with the thin tines and shoulder cuts allow the pen to flex when pressure is applied.
When you should buy a pointed nib
This nib is suitable for classical scripts such as Copperplate (English Roundhand, English Roundtext, Engrossers), as well as the most popular variants of Modern Calligraphy. If you are looking to do modern calligraphy, you will most probably need this nib.
This nib works with a straight holder as well as an oblique holder.
actually buying this nib
There are usually many brands and variants of pointed nibs being sold. Each brand has its own quirks and characteristics, and variants within each brand are usually differentiate how fine (sharp) the point is, or how flexible the nib is.
For example, Gillot (brand) manufactures the 303 and 404, with the latter being less fine. The differences are usually dependent on the preference of each individual.
With names such as Esterbrook 355, Hunt 101, Gillot 303, there is definitely no way to determine how a nib will perform until you actually test it.
Pro-tip: when asked what your favourite nib is, recite the full name of the nib to get street-cred points. "Hunt Imperial 101, of course"
Anyway, if you are just starting out calligraphy, look for G nibs, which tend to be stiffer. Several brands manufacture G (for General) nibs, such as Tachikawa, Zebra, and Nikko. These nibs should have a "G" imprinted on the body section. Although slightly more expensive, they tend to last longer and are more difficult to destroy.
*It is a misconception that professional calligraphers use fine nibs, and beginners use rigid nibs. However, we recommend beginners not to buy finer nibs as they require lighter hands and a lower angle of writing, characteristics lost to the ubiquity of ball-point pens.
Unlike a pointed nib, the broad nib has tines that are flat at the tip.
The broad nib is much more rigid than the pointed nib, and you should not try to open its tines by adding pressure. Historically, this name was the predecessor to the pointed nib, and many more scripts are based on this nib.
when you should buy a broad nib
This nib is suitable for classical scripts, including Gothic (blackletter), Italics, and Roman Capitals. These scripts, although full of history, are not as popular now. There are also fewer classes that teach these scripts nowadays, so you most probably don't need this nib.
This nib works with a straight holder.
actually buying this nib
When you purchase these nibs, you will be given the option of purchasing nibs with different widths of edges, for example 2mm or 5mm. This nib width will determine how big you will write, as most broad-edge scripts define their x-heights by nib widths. For example, Textura Prescisus is defined with x-height of 5 nib widths.
Similar to pointed nibs, there are several brands which manufacture broad nibs. Within each brand, variants usually define how wide the nib is.
At first glance, crowquills look like smaller version of pointed nibs. However, these nibs are used mostly to draw extremely fine lines, such as in architecture or Japanese comics. You can recognize a crowquill by looking at the underside of the nib, or from the rear.
when you should buy a crowquill
I really cannot think of any situation you would want to get a crowquill over a regular nib for beginners who want to learn calligraphy. The reason I have highlighted this nib is so that you avoid it, as they are smaller and may not fit all pens.
If you are a beginner in calligraphy, you most probably need to get a pointed nib with a G insignia stamped on its body.
Ultimately, this is only my opinion... go buy a broad nib, attach it onto an oblique holder, and use it to write Spencerian if that's what makes you happy.
@YakiUjohn the purveyor of fine biscuits