I’m in the lucky position of having owned, borrowed or reviewed something like 135 different fountain pens in the last few years.
For me, when I use a pen the experience all comes down to the nib. And wow, what variety is out there! From hairline to paintbrush, nail to wet noodle, silky smooth to pencil scratchy.
The more pens I use, the more I’m struck by how different one pen can feel from another. This, I think, is absolutely key to discovering what you personally really enjoy: you need to know the full extent of what’s possible before you can figure out what’s perfect for you.
If you’re looking to expand your horizons beyond the Bock/JoWo/Schmidt generic steel and gold, you could certainly do worse than trying out the nibs in the following list. From that huge roster of pens that have crossed my desk, they stand out in my memory as special, with a unique character.
(And note, I’m limiting myself to untuned nibs available from the factory, rather than custom grinds — that’s a whole different ballgame).
Montblanc 1912 medium
Anyone who calls Montblanc nibs boring clearly hasn’t tried the 1912. Mine is a medium, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s tiny, practically unadorned apart from the triangular breather hole, and yet it’s great fun on the page: wet without being crazy; springy without being uncontrolled. Combined with the compact, dense body of the 1912, it results in a fast and fun writing experience.
Namiki #20 medium
If you put a gun to my head (or even if you just asked me politely over a beer) I would say that the Namiki #20 nib on the Custom Urushi / Yukari Royale is the best-writing nib I own. It’s like a racehorse: it’s ready and willing to leap forward on the page, with a wet, smooth and bouncy flow. This willingness is the quality I love most about a good nib. It also helps that the Namiki #20 is really beautiful, with the outline of Mount Fuji and the pill-shaped breather hole.
I’m perpetually drafting a post called ‘my top pen regrets’, and selling my 912 FA is at the top of it. Pilot for me has a lot of sub-par nibs, which are just that bit too dry, overpolished, and any number of other sins (unpopular opinion, I know). The FA nib, in both #10 and #15 size, is none of those things. It’s juicy, and of the modern flex nibs gives the most line variation for the least pressure. Use it without flexing, and you get a really cushioned ride. I also like the purposeful shape and decoration-free design. This is a fighter jet of a nib.
As I get more and more experienced, I’ve gone from buying fine nibs to broad, and back to appreciating a nice “goldilocks” medium for day-to-day writing. But I still enjoy experimenting with nibs at the outer limits of practicality, like this Italic Broad from Pelikan. It lays a really fat line, but it’s not overly wet. It’s properly square, with good line variation, but not to the point of cutting into the page. And as a dual-tone nib, it looks really pretty too. If you want to figure out what italic can do for your handwriting, or whether you like the idea of a fountain pen that writes like a Sharpie, this is a pen to experience.
Scribo 18k medium
I like to mentally plot nibs on a 2×2 matrix, with two dimensions: from dry to wet and from ‘feedbacky’ to smooth. Pelikan would be in the top right, wet/smooth, as would Visconti 23k and Lamy 14k, and the “hot butter” Onoto #7 I love so much. Sailor would be somewhere in the middle, along with Aurora. Most #5 and #10 Pilots would be dry/smooth, and so on.
Well, I’m generally not a fan of the “feedbacky” side of my mental matrix. I like my nibs to be generally smooth. The Scribo is an exception. Some people describe Aurora or Sailor nibs as having pleasant feedback, but the Scribo is in a class of its own. It literally feels and sounds like writing with a pencil. Once you get past the shock of it, it’s great. And it’s one of the wettest, bounciest nibs I own, too.
Visconti Dreamtouch Palladium
Lots of people complain about Visconti’s quality control. I can say that I’ve only had one less-than-perfect Visconti nib from seven that I’ve owned. The rest have all been smooth and wet, with the 23k Palladium nibs all bringing a joyful torrent of words on to the page. By all accounts they’re made by Bock, but nobody else uses the soft palladium and the experience is unique.
I did not particularly enjoy writing with the Myu. It took a lot of work to get it writing well, and even then it was a rigid, fine, fairly characterless line. But I still think it’s one that every pen geek should experience, just to see the beautiful integral nib in action.
Platinum 3776 UEF
There’s an obvious pleasure in seeing a nib like the Pelikan IB, a Montblanc BB or a wet Visconti Dreamtouch lay down a glistening line of vibrant pigment on the page. The appeal of an ultra-fine nib is somewhat more subtle: what’s it giving you that you couldn’t get from a Hi-Tec C fineliner, especially when fine fountain pen nibs are often scratchy, too?
For me, I’ve had more gasps of amazement at the line I wrote with my Ultra Extra Fine (UEF) Platinum 3776 than with any other pen. I only really used it with black ink, but seeing the needlepoint in action, and feeling the surprising smoothness and control, was always a joy. That such a refined piece of engineering is available for around £70 is incredible.
I’ve used several Bock Titanium nibs over the years, most recently a #8 fine in my Conid Kingsize, and a #6 EF in my Karas Ink. The Ti nibs have patchy quality control, with slits often off-centre, in my experience. But I find the writing experience of Ti very different from gold and steel, so I keep coming back for more.
Ti has a definite spring, so line variation is easy. The mottled dark grey colour makes for a very distinctive look. The flow of all the Ti nibs I’ve used has been on the very wet side, which is always enjoyable with very fine nibs in particular. And there’s often a “singing” feedback through the nib. All these make Ti an experience you should try at least once.
But the most distinctive characteristic for me is a kind of “drag”, which I always think of as “waxy”. I’m not sure why, but that’s the word that springs to mind. The nib doesn’t float over the page, there’s a slight resistance. It shouldn’t happen — the tipping will be the same as on any other nib — but that’s the feeling I consistently get.
I’ve missed off some iconic nibs with distinctive characteristics: the squidgy Pelikan M1000, the stubby Montblanc broads, the zoom effect on non-Zoom Sailor nibs, the triple-tine Music nib from Platinum, the beautiful inlaid Sheaffers… I could go on. What nibs made the biggest impression on you?