Dip Pen Nibs and Holders—A Great Overview from Jet Pens

June 10, 2015

74402Left: Opening image in Jet Pens' Guide to Nibs and Nib Holders. Click on the link below and go have a look now!

Students are always asking me about dip pens (I only have a brief opportunity to introduce them in my sketching-with-ink class as I have so many types of pens to cover). Since there are so many types of nibs, and even so many different types of holders, it's difficult to even have a one-on-one conversation without seeing the other person's eyes begin to glaze over from too much information.

Jet Pens has just posted a wonderful guide to nibs and nib holders.

It covers characteristics, materials, applications…There are even short videos on use.

There is one thing they mention I'd disagree with. To remove the oil coating that some nibs have when new they recommend holding it over a flame briefly, or using rubbing alcohol or toothpaste. 

Don't hold it over a flame even briefly. You'll change the metal. An engineer explained it too me once.

Also I never dip into my open bottle. In part this is because I often use acrylic inks and I don't want the whole bottle to develop a skin on the top. But mainly I never dip into a bottle because I don't want to contaminate my main source of ink. (With stuff from the air, paper, my hands, whatever.)

I pour a little bit of ink out into a tiny plastic container. I did use the thimble-sized covers off the sip-top waterbottles (placed there to keep the sip-top clean in transit). But these seem less available and designers have started making them domed-shaped, so they don't sit well as containers.  

Instead I now use "Sealed Artist Cups" from Art Alternatives. You get 12 in a bag for about $4. They are a little larger: about 1 inch in diameter at the base and 1 inch tall. However, they have the advantage of having a snap on lid. This allows me to stop for lunch and come back without wasting any ink. I just give it a little shake and we're good to go. Also I can use water to dilute my inks in this small container if I want that effect.

There are two other great things about decanting your ink in this way. First you can't over dip your nib, so you can work faster. And second, if I knock it over, I only spill a small amount.

My favorite holder is the Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder. It feels totally right in my small to medium sized hand. It's much more fun to hold than the long, black, plastic holders I've been using since childhood.

Go check out this great "Guide to Nibs and Nib Holders" at Jet Pens now. If you haven't used a dip pen before it's a great introduction to get you thinking and to get you started.

(I'm just a happy customer of Jet Pens, not connected in any other way. They do a great job of informing their customers, and of carrying a great selection of pens and other writing implements.)


  1. Reply

    I use a contact lens case to put my ink in when using a dip pen. When I am done I wipe it out with a damp paper towel. It works well and I don’t waste a lot of ink. When doing ink wash I have used an ice cube tray to mix different dilutions of ink and I arrange it from light to dark.

  2. Reply

    Thanks for the very useful information, as always. I have been using a candlestick holder for my ink. It’s small and flat and made of glass with just the right size opening to dip. It’s heavy and flat so I couldn’t tip it over if I tried. And it’s easy to washout. I just put a little piece of cardboard over it when I need to take a break. It sort of looks like a little donut but with glass covering the bottom of the whole. Kind of like this one
    I’m going to check out that holder.

  3. Reply

    Carolyn, that’s a great suggestion for the contact lens case, and I like the ice cube tray idea too.

    • ana
    • June 12, 2015

    I was the one who suggested the flame technique. It is utilized by many calligraphers I know but they like that it changes the metal qualities a little bit. They also only use black inks, often sumi ink which is hard on nibs so they don’t expect the nibs to last more than a week or two. I have moved to the alcohol technique.

    In a pinch, dish soap will also help remove the oil, if you don’t have alcohol or toothpaste handy.

  4. Reply

    ana, you don’t have to take the heat (no pun intended, really) for the flame technique.

    When I was 10 years old, half a world away in the Southern Hemisphere, given my first dip pen, I was trained to use a flame.

    It was decades later, in college, when I hung out with engineers and chemical engineers that they watched in horror and put a stop to that.

    I understand “ruining” something just because you like the way it works. I deliberately splay and catch my nibs so that they splatter.

    But I believe that people first using a tool should use the tool with it functioning “perfectly” and get a feel for that, instead of working the other way around. I think it saves time on the learning, and fun, curve.

    • Kristin
    • July 20, 2015

    Hi Roz, thanks for the link and tips.

    Would you consider doing a post on actual inks, for re usable pens, and fountain pens?

    You gave out info once in a class, but I cannot find my notes!

  5. Reply

    Kristin, I’ve got almost 2000 posts and I thought sure I’d done something on inks but it’s pretty sparse, something on Herbin, something on Noodlers, just new stuff as I test them.

    I will add that to the list. The list is long though, so if you have an immediate question email me directly in the interim.

    • Kristin
    • July 21, 2015

    Thanks Roz!
    I’m glad the list is long because I learn a lot from your posts.

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