The Calligrapher's Life

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5 Best Pointed Pen Nibs for Beginners

Novice calligraphers start with excitement and intrigue when they discover all the styles they can create with their own hands.  From italics to Copperplate, the artistic possibilities seem endless. But, every calligrapher must start somewhere.

In the beginning, italics are easily learned through basic strokes with accessible markers and refillable ink pens. A beginner finds the attached nibs for those pens are a snap to work with until they’re comfortable enough to start writing with the pointed pen.

Unless a calligrapher writes with a pointed pen, it’s nearly impossible to achieve the elegant lines and flourishes admired in Copperplate and Spencerian letters. This wonderful writing instrument is designed to allow a wide variety of lettering styles with only a change of the nib.

The pointed pen simply combines a pen holder with a removable nib, and it’s available in vertical and oblique designs.  Most right-handers prefer oblique pen holders because they’re easier to write letters with a slant. Although there are two pen holders to choose from, most nibs are designed specifically for the oblique holder.

In contrast to the pen holders, hundreds of different nibs are available depending on the lettering style you want to create. Within a few months, I’ve tried several nibs and found the best for Copperplate and Spencerian lettering.

Keep in mind that it’s possible some nibs work better than others based on an individual’s writing style, but the nibs below provide a good starting point to get acquainted with pointed pen writing:

  1. Mitchell Elbow – One of my favorite nibs for writing in Copperplate or Spencerian. It works great with Sumi and Higgins Eternal inks, plus it’s very easy to write in gouache. If this nib interests you, it requires a vertical pen holder; the oblique holder will only cause discomfort while writing.
  2. Hunt 22 – After writing in either Copperplate or Spencerian, this nib refuses to release enough ink to finish a letter. It responds well to gouache and flows smoothly on most papers.
  3. Hunt 56 – This nib achieves a similar writing effect as #22 while writing with paint; it also refuses to write smoothly with ink such as, Higgins Eternal or Sumi.
  4. Gillott 170 – In my first Copperplate class, this nib received fine remarks for its flexibility and ease of use for beginners, so I tried it. Actually, when I used this nib for Copperplate lettering it spread ink too easily on paper. But, when I tried it again in the Spencerian hand, the ink flowed like butter. It’s almost as though this nib was made especially for Spencerian lettering.
  5. Esterbrook 357 – This classic nib also requires a lighter touch while writing. The nib releases too much ink during Copperplate lettering; try the Spencerian style instead.

All five nibs listed above take some time to get acquainted with. Try as many as you like, but don’t be tempted to give up on them easily. Practice with your preferred nib for several minutes before changing to another. Then, write with the same nib again on several occasions using your favorite ink or paint before deciding the nib is not right for you.

Be aware, it might take a bit of trial-and-error before you find the nib that you feel comfortable with. If you’re having trouble with any nibs on the list, there are plenty of other nibs to choose from. Remember,  if you’re practicing with the pointed pen for the first time, try some of the nibs above and then gradually work your way to more advanced nibs as your lettering improves.


2 thoughts on “5 Best Pointed Pen Nibs for Beginners

  1. Maxine Moates on said:

    Is there an inexpensive pen (like from Walmart or Office Depot) that is like a felt tip marker or “roll point” pen that I can use to begin with. I don’t do real calligraphy – jus t a fancy “Southern Script”, and I just need an “unfancy” inexpensive pen to work with. Thanks. Maxine Moates

    • Chamois Lopez on said:

      Hi Maxine, thanks for your response. I’m not sure what you mean by “Southern Script”. However, if you want to start “fancy” writing for practice only, try any Pilot felt tip pen. If you plan to use the writing for a formal reason or a special occasion, you’ll want a higher quality pen and ink. I would recommend a Parallel Pen by Pilot (practice with it first, the ink works better with certain papers) or a Micron Pen (it has a finer point). You may need to locate a store dedicated to art supplies or you can visit an online vendor like DickBlick Art Supplies. Those pens are worth the investment in time and money.

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