It’s All In The Tip


Friends who are polite say that I am a rich resource for trivia. Those who are less polite simply call me a purveyor of useless information. And true to form, today, I’d like to share with you some trivia (or useless information, as the case may be).

Like all long, cylindrical instruments, the most important component is usually the tip. Think of spears, screwdrivers, needles, pneumatic drills and you’ll get the picture. How useful (or useless) the instrument is, depends entirely on the properties of the point. Some say that this rule even extends to the functionality of the penis. But since I have never been on the receiving end of a penis, I really don’t know (nor would I like to find out). However, since I do know a thing or two about fountain pen nibs, this is where I’d like to go.


Fountain pen nibs generally come in three sizes, known as nib-stroke. These are ‘fine’ (F), ‘medium’ (M) or ‘broad’ (B). Naturally, the nib that lays down the thinnest line is the F nib while the thickest line is produced by the B nib. Simple. Here, the notion that ‘bigger is better’ simply doesn’t apply. The most suitable nib for you depends really on your handwriting style and personality: All boils down to personal preference.

However, do bear in mind that since fine nibs lays down the thinnest line, it also uses the least ink. Thus, expect your ink to go further with a fine nib. On the other hand, your signature is going to look pretty lame if you use a fine nib. The broad nib, therefore, would be more suitable when you need to sign something. So, most folks just plonk down their money on a medium nib and trust that this is a good compromise.

Regardless, which way you go is truly a question of preference. Chances are, if you have big handwriting, you’d probably be more comfortable with the medium or broad nib. If your handwriting is on the small side, more likely than not, you’d be more comfortable with a fine nib.


Apart from the size of the nib, the shape of the tip is also important. Though it may be difficult to discern with the naked eye, the tip of a fountain pen nib comes in two basic shapes. Nibs can have either a round-tip or stub-tip. With round-tips, imagine a small ball at the end of the nib. With a stub-tip, imagine that the tip of the nib has been cut, leaving a flat end. Naturally, each type of nib will produce different writing characteristics.

As a general rule, round-tipped nibs will produce lines of the same thickness regardless whether they are drawn horizontally or vertically across the page. On the other hand, a stub (flat)-tipped nib, will produce vertical lines that are thicker than horizontal lines.

What all this means is that the round-tipped nib will prove easier to use than stub-tipped ones. However, in the semi-skilled hand, the stub-tipped nib will produce beautiful calligraph-like handwriting. However, in Malaysia, stub-tipped nibs may be hard to come by.


Apart from variations in size and shape, fountain pen nibs can either be stiff of flexible. A flexible nib isn’t necessarily better. In fact, it can prove more difficult to use effectively. Because flexible nibs are softer, the line it produces differs with the pressure used by the writer. The more pressure is exerted by the writer, the thicker the lines that it produces. Conversely, the lighter pressure, the thinner the line. Thus, unless you are particularly skilled, a flexible nib may produce inconsistent lines and result in ugly handwriting. However, in competent hands, the flexible nib is capable of producing the most beautiful handwriting specimens.

Similarly, a stiff nib doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a cheap pen. Quite a part from its inherent durability, it is probably more suitable for people who who have been brought up learning to write with ball-points and roller-balls. This is because writing with ball-points and roller-balls have taught these people to write with heavy pressure. Having acquired the habit of writing with heavy pressure (like most people in Malaysia) the stiff nib would arguably be the best choice.

Now that you have all this trivia about nibs under your belt, I hope that you will be able to make a better informed decision the next time you hit the market for a fountain pen.

Happy writing!

20 thoughts on “It’s All In The Tip

  1. [babe]

    Hi! Yeah, with the advent of computers, we do tend to do a lot of our writing with a keyboard. But if you ever get the chance, try to get some extended writing time with with a good fountain pen. I assure you, the experience is so sensual!

  2. Yo, old-timer!

    There are people THIS interested in pens?!!

    Next time maybe you could do a primer like this on more macho stuff like balisong knives or nunchakus, maybe?

  3. [mister patel]

    You are very kind, Mr Patel. Glad you enjoyed my post.

    [samad torpedo]

    OK, kid. I’ve gone soft with age. Dah tak macho lagi!

    Maybe one of these days, I’ll do a discourse on the importance of the centre-line in Wing Chun Gung-Fu philosophy.

  4. the subheadings for the article are very ..erm.. interesting.

    I like to use mechanical pencil (you know, for drawing my comics), what does that say about me ?

  5. now that i’ve read the entry in whole (i didn’t earlier), I must say it was a lot of fun in school when i used the fancy art pen with the stub-tipped nib in all my writing exercises. teachers used to wonder about my fancy handwriting then.

  6. [jason]

    I dunno… it probably says that pencils are better suited to the purpose i.e. drawing comics. Hey, pencil users are cool, too!


    I hope your dad will enjoy the pen you’re going to buy for him. BTW, ‘Conway Stewart’ is a good British brand (since you’re in the UK… )

  7. [babe]

    Good for you, babe. Bet you’ve got beautiful handwriting.

    [sir cipan]

    Yes, some people do customise their… er… writing tools. Personally, I think the vintage ones (pens) are best

  8. [elviza]

    OK, I’ll call your friend. Even a shrink needs a good fountain pen… er… oh, you meant I should speak to him as a patient??!

    I’m a sick puppy, aren’t I?

  9. You know, it’s witty/subtly cheeky articles like this which truly showcases how good one is at writing, and you sir, are superb. I will never be able to follow nor adopt your style of writing (I am an unfocused ranter, I am) but yours is certainly one of the few blogs I keep checking on a daily basis for a dose of quality writing.

    Back to the topic at hand, I admit that I was a fountain pen devotee until I entered university. I never had the opportunity to use specific-nibbed fountain pens, it was all a matter of preference, as you say.

    From the time I was exposed to these blotching pens in primary school, it was mainly Parker, until I developed a great fondness for Lamy’s Medium and Broad nibs in secondary school. I did away with these ‘squirt-guns’ in university, preferring instead to adopt the fluffy world of multi-coloured ink pens which came in all the colours of the rainbow (making my university notes a joy to look at, if not to read).

    Once I started working, the fountain pen – my final acquisition being a broad-nibbed sexy matt-silver Lamy pen, was reserved for signing my letters and attesting documentation. Otherwise, it was always the ball pen or roller ball, and even that has almost become non-existent, with the ever-increasing reliance on the computer keyboard. So much so, that writing has become a very difficult task for me.

    How sadly unrefined my writing has become. Even buying and writing in Moleskines or snazzy-designed notebooks just doesn’t bring back the romanticism of a fountain pen. No wonder you love them so much. 🙂

    I wonder if it’s also coincidental that ‘pens’ and ‘penis’ are just a vowel apart. *snigger*

    There, I told you I’m a ranter, kan?

  10. [blabarella]

    Thanks. You are too kind, ma’am. You make me so ‘kembang – lah’.

    Yes, ma’am. Writing with a fountain pen is fast becoming a thing of the past. And I agree with you that this is a crying shame. The pleasure of running a good nib across paper is like akin to running one’s fingers through a beautiful woman’s hair: well, at least it is for me and a few of my cronies. Many people are missing out on the simple pleasures of a fountain pen.

    It is no coincidence that the words ‘pens’ and ‘penis’ is only one vowel apart. After all, my friends refer to my pens as my penis-extension (-:

  11. Huwahahahahaha! A cheeky ‘un you certainly are, my good man!! Continue enjoying your fountain pens, at least that’s one indulgence the wife won’t have to worry about!! 😉

  12. [lily]

    The tip of the tongue? My experience in this matter is quite limited, ma’am. Best not to say anything. Apart from tasting food, I use the tip of my tongue to… er… never mind, I think this is a famly show 😉

  13. [sir cipan nougat-tenuk]

    Hear! Hear! Yes, it is important that the nib remains sturdy (not flopping around all the time) and even more important that it doesn’t leak (prematurely)

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