Guide to Fountain Pen Nibs: Choosing a Fountain Pen Nib

Guide to Fountain Pen Nibs: Choosing a Fountain Pen Nib

Like a car and its tires, a fountain pen will only write as well as the nib it is paired with. The nib is responsible for determining how a fountain pen will write, making it the first thing that should be considered when choosing a fountain pen. Let's take a look at how a fountain pen nib works and what things you should consider when picking one out.

What is a Nib?
The nib is the most iconic element of a fountain pen. It is a thin, pointed piece of metal that draws ink from inside the pen and channels it through a small slit that uses capillary action to deposit it onto the writing surface. Click here to see a fountain pen nib in action.
Nib Characteristics

The four most important characteristics when choosing a fountain pen nib are tip shape, tip size, flexibility, and nib material.

Tip Shape
Nib tips can be shaped in different ways to create different types of lines. These days, the vast majority of fountain pen nibs have round tips, which create uniform lines regardless of the direction or orientation of the nib to the paper.

The other major tip shape is italic, sometimes referred to as a stub or calligraphy tip. The tips of italic nibs are wide and flat, creating wide vertical strokes and narrow horizontal strokes. Italic nibs are great for calligraphy, but they can also be used to add a bit of style to any writing. They do require a bit more practice and attention to use than round nibs, but many people find the results more than worth the additional effort.

There are many other tip shapes out there as well, including left-handed, oblique, zoom, and Arabic/Hebrew, but these are mainly used for specialized purposes and are much less common than round or italic nibs.

Tip Size

After tip shape, the tip size of a nib will have the biggest impact on how a fountain pen writes. Larger tip sizes create wide lines suitable for bold writing and showcasing the ink used, but many people prefer smaller tip sizes for everyday writing because they create a line width closer to that of a typical ballpoint or gel pen.

Round nibs typically fall into one of four tip sizes: Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium (M), and Broad (B). Italic nibs can be sized using the same conventions, or in terms of the actual width of their tips. The most common italic nib sizes are medium italic and 1.1 mm italic, which are generally equivalent.

Just knowing the size of a nib is not enough, however. Japanese fountain pens typically have much smaller tips than non-Japanese or "Western" brands. This is because Japanese writing is much denser and more complex than Western writing, requiring a finer, more precise tip.

The actual line width created by a particular fountain pen can vary depending on a number of factors such as the ink and paper being used, but the following table shows typical line widths that can be expected from most Japanese and Western nibs under normal conditions.

Typical Line Widths for Western and Japanese Fountain Pens
Extra Fine (EF) Fine (F) Medium (M) Broad (B)
Western Western extra fine fountain pen writing sample
0.5 mm
Western fine fountain pen writing sample
0.6 mm
Western medium fountain pen writing sample
0.75 mm

0.9 mm
Japanese Japanese extra fine fountain pen writing sample
0.3 mm
Japanese fine fountain pen writing sample
0.45 mm
Japanese medium fountain pen writing sample
0.6 mm
*Because Japanese writing requires finer nibs, broad nibs are uncommon among Japanese fountain pens.

Below are listed some of the major Western and Japanese fountain pen brands. Note that some brands like Ohto and TWSBI are considered Western despite being located in Asia because they source their nibs from European manufacturers that use Western sizing.

Western Fountain Pen Brands
Kaweco Kaweco Fountain Pens
Lamy Lamy Fountain Pens
Monteverde Monteverde Fountain Pens
Ohto Ohto Fountain Pens
Parker Parker Fountain Pens
Pelikan Pelikan Fountain Pens
Regal Regal Fountain Pens
Retro 51 Retro 51 Fountain Pens
TWSBI TWSBI Fountain Pens
Japanese Fountain Pen Brands
Pilot Pilot Fountain Pens
Platinum* Platinum Fountain Pens
Sailor Sailor Fountain Pens
*The Platinum Preppy and Plaisir are exceptions. While the Preppy extra fine fountain pen is a Japanese EF, the fine and medium Preppy and Plaisir nibs use Western-sized tips.
Other Effects of Tip Size

Besides the obvious difference of line width, there are other factors to consider when choosing a tip size.

Broader nibs often have higher ink flow than finer nibs, creating both a wider and thicker line of ink. The faster ink flow lubricates the nib to create a smoother, more effortless writing experience. However, it can also make the ink more likely to feather or bleed through lower-quality papers. For more information on selecting fountain pen friendly paper, check out our article here.

Finer nibs, on the other hand, tend to have a more controlled flow, making them more tolerant of varying qualities of paper. Finer nibs are typically not quite as smooth as broader nibs, however, and very fine nibs like Japanese EFs can actually dig into the paper if too much pressure is used.

Pros and Cons of Finer and Broader Nibs

Finer Nibs Broader Nibs
  • More suitable for people with compact writing styles
  • Less likely to require high-quality fountain pen friendly paper
  • Showcases ink better
  • Smoother writing
  • Less smooth writing
  • Can be too wet to use on non fountain pen friendly paper

Flexibility refers to how far a nib's tines will spread open when pressure is put on the nib, creating variations in line width. Back in the days when formal cursive scripts like Spencerian and Copperplate were still in regular use, it was common for nibs to be made with very high flexibility. Nowadays, virtually all fountain pens use firm nibs that have little flexibility, and the few modern flexible or "soft" nibs like those of the Pilot Elabo (also known as the Pilot Falcon) would only be considered semi-flexible when compared to a vintage flexible nib.

Writing sample and demonstration of a "firm" nib.
Writing sample and demonstration of a "soft" nib.

Some firm nibs, like Lamy's steel nibs, offer almost no line variation and are sometimes referred to as "nails." Other steel nibs and most gold nibs can provide a modest amount of line variation when pressed, but it is important to remember that they are not designed for use as flex pens. Over-flexing can cause serious and possibly irreparable damage to a nib.

Like italic nibs, semi-flex nibs can be fun to use and add character to your writing, but they also require practice and concentration to use well. For a go-to daily writer, a firm nib may be preferable.

Nib Material

Nib material is a less important factor when choosing a fountain pen, as it has a smaller impact on the way a nib writes. Nibs are made from many different materials, but most fountain pens will have either a gold or stainless steel nib.

Note that the color of a nib does not necessarily indicate whether it is made from gold or steel. Kaweco steel nibs are available in steel, gold, and black colors, and many gold nibs are plated with a silvery metal like rhodium. Real gold nibs will almost always have an imprint specifying its gold content, usually 14K or 18K.

Nibs featured in the image above are Kaweco Steel Nibs.
Gold content inscriptions on 14K and 18K nibs.

Gold nibs are not necessarily better or smoother than steel nibs. The smoothness of a nib is largely determined by its tipping, and both steel and gold nibs are almost always tipped with an alloy of other, harder metals like iridium, osmium, and tungsten, so the material of the nib itself will not affect its smoothness. Gold is a springier material than steel, however, so a gold nib can cushion any feedback or scratchiness caused by microscopic tipping imperfections better than a steel nib.


We've covered the most important things to consider when choosing a fountain pen nib and listed them alongside some of the most popular lines we carry for easy reference below. Do you have a favorite fountain pen nib type or any nib-related questions? Let us know in the comments section below!

Nib Types for Popular Fountain Pens
Fountain Pen Tip Sizes Sizing Flexibility Nib Material
Kaweco Classic Sport / Ice Sport / Skyline Sport EF, F, M, B, BB*, 1.1 mm italic*, 1.5 mm italic*, 1.9 mm italic*, 2.3 mm italic* Western Firm Steel
Lamy Safari EF, F, M, B, 1.1 mm italic*, 1.5 mm italic*, 1.9 mm italic* Western Firm Steel
Lamy 2000 EF, F, , B Western Firm Gold
Ohto Rook F Western Firm Steel
Parker IM M Western Firm Steel
Pelikan Twist M Western Firm Steel
Pilot Capless Decimo EF*, F, M, B* Japanese Firm Gold
Pilot Elabo EF, F, M, B Japanese Soft Gold
Pilot Metropolitan F, M Japanese Firm Steel
Pilot Penmanship EF Japanese Firm Steel
Pilot Plumix M Italic - Firm Steel
Platinum Preppy EF, F, M Japanese, Western Firm Steel
Retro 51 Tornado F, M Western Firm Steel
Sailor HighAce Neo F Japanese Firm Steel
TWSBI Vac700 EF, F, M, B Western Firm Steel
*Available only on some models or separately

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