Understanding Fountain Pen Nibs: Sizes and Materials

Understanding Fountain Pen Nibs: Sizes and Materials

If you're a connoisseur of fine writing instruments, you've likely heard the term "nib" when it comes to fountain pens. The nib is the heart and soul of any fountain pen, and understanding its intricacies is key to finding the perfect pen for your writing needs. In this blog post, we'll dive into the world of fountain pen nibs, exploring what a nib is, the common materials used, and the merits of various nib types and sizes.

What Is a Fountain Pen Nib?

Pelikan Duotone fountain pen nib made from 14K gold depicting an intricate engraving of a pelican

The nib is the metal tip of a fountain pen that comes into contact with the paper and dispenses ink as you write. It consists of several key elements:

  • Tipping Material: This is the part of the nib that touches the paper and is often made from materials like iridium, osmium, or other durable metals.

  • Tines: Metal prongs that extend from the main body of the nib and come together at the tip where the ink is dispensed onto the paper. They are separated by a slit that allows ink to flow from the ink reservoir to the paper. The flexibility and distance between the tines can affect the ink flow and the thickness of the line produced, contributing to the writing experience and character of the pen.

  • Nib Slit: This is a narrow channel that runs from the tip to the base of the nib, allowing ink to flow from the pen's reservoir to the paper.

  • Breather Hole: A small hole near the base of the nib that regulates the ink flow by allowing air to replace the space left by the ink as it flows onto the paper.

  • Nib Shoulders: These are the sloped edges of the nib that control the width of the line produced.

Nib Sizes and Their Differences

Fountain pen nibs come in various sizes, which affect the line width and overall writing experience. The most common nib sizes include:

  • Extra Fine (EF): Produces a very thin line and is ideal for detailed, precise writing.

  • Fine (F): Slightly wider than an extra-fine nib, it's suitable for everyday writing and offers a good balance between line width and smoothness.

  • Medium (M): A versatile choice for most writing styles, offering a moderate line width and smooth ink flow.

  • Broad (B): Produces a wider line, great for expressive writing or calligraphy.

  • Italic or Stub: These nibs have a unique shape, creating both thin and thick lines depending on the direction of the stroke, perfect for decorative writing.

  • Oblique: Oblique nibs have a slanted tip, catering to those who hold their pen at a specific angle.

Common Nib Materials 

Fountain pen nibs come in a variety of materials, each with its unique characteristics:

  • Gold Nibs: Gold nibs are known for their flexibility and smoothness. They adapt to the writer's hand and writing style over time. The higher the gold content, the softer and more flexible the nib.

Pelikan fountain pen nib in duotone gold with intricate pelican engraving
Pelikan Duotone 18K Gold Nib
  • Steel Nibs: Steel nibs are durable and offer a reliable writing experience. They are often less flexible than gold nibs but provide consistent ink flow.

lamy fountain pen stell nib with LAMY logo

Lamy Stainless Steel Nib

  • Other Alloys: Some manufacturers use other alloys, such as palladium, to create nibs that offer a balance between gold and steel nibs, combining durability and smoothness.

  • Specialty Materials: Exotic materials like titanium, rhodium, and even ceramic are used for niche applications, offering unique writing experiences.


Understanding fountain pen nibs is essential when choosing the right pen for your needs. The nib material and size can significantly impact your writing experience. Whether you prefer the smooth elegance of a gold nib or the reliability of a steel nib, there's a fountain pen nib out there for every writing style and preference. So, the next time you explore luxury fountain pens, pay attention to the nib's material and size to find the perfect pen that suits your unique writing style and preferences. Happy writing!

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A close-up photograph of a luxury S.T. Dupont fountain pen with a detailed grip section. The pen features a black lacquer barrel and a palladium cap with a clip. The nib is crafted from 14K gold and is intricately designed with an S.T. dupont logo
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