Friday, October 15, 2021

My favorite Dip Pens and Nibs


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In my previous post I think I inadvertently and unfairly blamed the Inktober 2021 prompts for my lackluster performance. That’s pretty lame because the inspiration and resulting artwork must come from my own creativity, regardless of how much a prompt resonates with me. After spending my spring and summer doing interior design and home improvement projects, I have jumped into Inktober cold, not having so much as sketched over the last several months. Additionally, while I love pen and ink, my experience with it is inconsistent. I have had ink go bad before I even use half the bottle (it stinks when it goes bad, FYI). So for this week’s post I will go over some basics that I am revisiting, and my reviews will center on the components of dip pens: holders and nibs.

A Tip from a Serial Offender:

One thing about dip pens that I always underestimate is their sharpness. Unlike most calligraphy nibs with square tips, the steel tips on drawing nibs are almost needle sharp. For this reason, you don’t want to use wimpy paper as these nibs will scratch right through the surface sizing. The result is annoying paper fiber dingleberries over which the Ink tends to feather and bleed. This can also happen if you use too much pressure while drawing on heavier paper, so don’t be too heavy handed with your dip pens. It’s a tragic event that could put one off pen and ink completely, and we can’t have that, can we? 

Pen (Nib) Holders 

Currently I am using Japanese comic nib holders by Tachikawa, but choosing a holder is personal. Most artists have their favorite pens and pencils that they reach for more than others. Often the weight and shape of a utensil is what makes it most comfortable in the hand, and a nib holder is no different. I own classic Speedball nib holders that are probably at least 10 years old. These are the easiest to find in the U.S, and they cost very little. I switched to the Tachikawa T40  and TP-40 holders because the larger barrel is more comfortable for me. The Tachikawa T-40 has a wood handle, while the TP-40 is plastic, but they are otherwise the same model, and they come with caps to protect your nibs. They have soft rubber grips and fit a wide variety of nibs including the small crow quill nib which has a cylindrical base and is known as a mapping nib among manga artists. There are also holders that only accommodate these nibs, such as the Speedball Hunt Crow Quill Point Holder. Again, this is a cheap alternative but it’s tiny, and I find it messy to remove dirty nibs from the little guy.


Image of Speedball/Hunt pen holder from
 Speedball/Hunt crow quill pen
holder(image from

Image of Tachikawa T40 pen holder with G and mapping nibs from
Tachikawa T40 pen holder shown
with the Zebra G and Maru nibs 
(image from

Nibs, Glorious Nibs! 

There are so many nibs available for drawing and calligraphy that I cannot begin to review a fraction of them. My knowledge is also limited, so I recommend the JetPens blog for learning about every type of pen point. I am not affiliated with the store, but I have had positive experiences when I bought inking supplies from them, and I have learned a lot from the blog.

 I am not a manga artist, but the comic nibs made for manga are some of my favorites. They are popular among artists because they have firm, pointed tips and low to medium flexibility. This limited flexibility allows for clean, consistent lines, which is a bonus if you have shaky hands. Manga nibs are also elastic, meaning that they spring back into shape immediately after each stroke, which is also beneficial for steady lines. Like flexibility, elasticity also varies by nib. You need to play with different types to find which ones are best suited to your drawing style, but as a rule, beginners tend to do better with nibs that are low in flexibility and elasticity as they are easier to control. Manga nibs are also known for their stable line width. Width changes as you apply more pressure to the nib (remember, though, the dingleberries!), but you can get reliable widths if you use consistent pressure.

The most common nibs used by comic artists are the G, Spoon (Naji/Tama), School, and Mapping (Maru) nibs, but these types can vary between brands. Some are harder (less flexible) than others. I bought Zebra G and Spoon (Tama), and Deleter Maru nibs. Of all these, the G pen is the most flexible and produces a wide variety of line widths, but it may be hard to control if you are new to pen and ink drawing. Spoon nibs produce the most consistent lines and are beginner-friendly, but they are not suited for varied line expression. They are best for scenery and inanimate objects. School pens are smaller than G or Spoon types and fall between the two in flexibility. They are recommended for beginners who are not quite ready for G pens. The mapping (Maru) nib makes the finest lines of all three, perfect for details such as eyebrows or lashes. It resembles the Hunt crow quill tips mentioned above, so be sure to check your holder to make sure it will accommodate the tiny nib.

Image of box of maru nibs from
Zebra Maru (mapping) nib
(image from

There are western brands such as Speedball, Hunt and Brause that make similar shaped nibs, but these do not necessarily create the same types of lines and they may not fit a Japanese pen holder. For example, the Speedball/Hunt 512 Bowl pen was the first nib I used (decades ago) in high school art class. It has the same basic shape as the Japanese (Nihonji) and Spoon nibs, but the tips are different on all three pens. The 512 is also smaller than the Japanese nibs, but you can’t tell if you are looking at closeup photos on product listings. The size difference is noticeable when you see the nibs side by side (I am including a photo of my 512 and spoon nibs). One is not necessarily better than the other, but I notice a distinct difference in flexibility when I use them.

Image of two different nibs with the Speedball 512 on the left and the Zebra spoon nib on lef
Hunt/Speedball 512 nib (left), Zebra spoon nib (right)

Next Friday I will talk about inks and papers that I have tried over the years. What is your favorite pen and nib combo? Do you think there is a difference between Japanese and western brands, and which do you prefer? I would love to hear your feedback!

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