Nib Identification System

Nib Faves Besotted Blog

I am a bit of a Type A personality. I once remarked that I was not a perfectionist because I could never get anything perfect which made the room of girls that heard my sentiment erupt in laughter; I guess I didn’t understand the meaning of the word and they all knew me too well. I always learn the hard way.  One of the things I have been struggling with in my lettering practice is being able to identify a nib once it is in its holder. Even though I feel like I thoroughly clean my nibs after each use there’s always ink that hides the nib identification and the nib holder hides the other part. I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time removing my nibs from the holder. I have even tried the suggested jewelery pliers and only succeeded in breaking my nib in the holder thus rendering it useless and almost losing an eye.  In these novice stages of my lettering adventure it’s important to me to know which nibs I am enjoying so I can reference back to them for the future, if I can’t read what they are (and trust me it is hard enough without ink on them and being hidden in the holder) then I am working blindly. I decided to start from ground zero and replace nibs + holders and use a label ( a sheet of label paper cut to size). I am so happy with this system! Eventually I plan to create a chart so I can reference the different effects I can achieve with each nib. This may seem like a lot of extra work that you aren’t up for and you may wonder why I have so many different nibs. In this nascent stage I want to find the nibs that work best with how I create my letterforms. I am very heavy handed and a flexible, ‘bouncy’ nib creates a completely different look than a stiffer nib for me.  I haven’t been doing this very long, but I feel like I have already outgrown some of my earlier nib favorites in favor of nibs that respond to my heavy-handedness.  My main goal for the identification system is to be able to have a quick reference so I can re-create a look.  I also want to reiterate that what I am doing is not traditional calligraphy (although I admire that very much), although I do reference traditional calligraphy techniques like using guidelines and referencing calligraphy specimens. My goal is create my own hand(s) and thus the need/desire to experiment with multiple tools (nibs).

Since I get this email about 20 times a day I thought I would make sure I included my current favorite nibs, these most likely will change in the coming months but these are the ones I have been gravitating towards and why:

Hiro Leonardt No. 41-I would not suggest this for a beginner, it is very flexible and delicate. This is my favorite nib to create loopy girly letters, it makes loop forms like a champ.

Blue Pumpkin– This seems to be a favorite of  modern lettering artists/calligraphers (for good reason) such as Meredith Bullock of Hazel Wonderland. Both Poppy Pedals and Holly Hollon love it for cotton envelopes which have a lot of pulp. It is similar to the the above nib, a little stiffer. Again, this may not be the best nib to try if you are just starting out. I feel like I can control this nib well when I want to create very thin hairline strokes and a balanced down stroke. Sample lettering.

Gillot 1068A-I honestly don’t remember why I bought this, a mistake? Perhaps. It has turned out to be a happy accident. It’s very stiff and I would recommend for an advanced beginner. It works best on smooth surfaces so if you have any texture it will catch. You can get very nice angular/sharp letter-forms with this nib. Sample lettering.

Zebra G-I can’t recommend this nib enough. If you are starting out buy this nib, please.  It’s a little more flexible than the Nikko G (these two are very similar). It’s a nice stiff + smooth nib. When you are starting out with your lettering/calligraphy practice you have so many new things to worry about (angle, pressure, inking, substrates, etc.) just make it easy on yourself and get a nib that won’t be too wonky in your newbie hands and that won’t get caught on your paper and cause messy disasters. You can create nice fine hairlines (which seems to be what calligraphers around the globe covet). As long as I am lettering this nib will be in my lettering rotation.

Brause Rose-I have mentioned this nib before, I LOVE it! This nib is very flexible and the nib I go to when I want to re-create an almost brush like stroke, the upside is that it can also create very thin hairlines. Again, not a beginner nib (stick with stiff nibs), but it is a nib that you may want to add to your nib arsenal if you love the look of brush lettering but can’t get the hang of using a paint brush to letter. Sample lettering.

Nikko G-This nib is so similar to the Zebra G and the reason I mention them both is in the off chance you can’t find one or the other you have options. Stiffer than the Zebra G, again a great nib for beginners. I really love Japanese nibs they are precision cut, the Nikko G by hand! So smooth–like butter.  This is another nib that is in regular rotation. Advanced letterers will love this nib as well.

What I have learned in this lettering quest is that anyone can learn calligraphy, it’s about practice + practice (and then more practice), dedication and a passion for the art. I absolutely want to learn traditional calligraphy in the near future, but I have been so happy with where this project has taken me both personally and (recently) professionally. Let me know if you have specific questions I am interviewing an amazingly talented calligrapher for an upcoming feature and would be happy to pose some of your questions to her.

P.S. I have linked to the nibs in this feature (companies I trust like Amazon + Dick Blick), but you can always reference The Directory and look under Calligraphy Supplies for vendors I recommend. If you have a reputable Calligraphy supply company overseas that you like please let me know and I will add.  I want everyone to be able to find calligraphy supplies at a great price without worrying about outrageous shipping fees or long delivery times.

Author / Miss Tristan B

Miss Tristan B. is the proprietress of Besotted Brand and the writer of this delightful blog. She recently re-located to the country with her handsome husband and two pups and will be re-locating back to the city in the very near future.


  1. That opening anecdote made me giggle! How cute.
    Thank you so much for that detailed look at pointed pen nibs. I’m more practiced at and familiar with the world of broad-edged nibs, so it’s really nice to have a breakdown like this with your take on the different effects. In terms of other resources, do you know about IAMPETH (The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting)? That’s a mouthful! There’s a great page on their site that links to several articles on getting started with an oblique holder and pointed pen, including a section on Tips on Nibs. http://www.iampeth.com/lessons_getting_started.php
    Also, in terms of suppliers, I see that you list in your directory John Neal Bookseller and Paper and Ink Arts. Yes and yes! Their inventory is so rich for calligraphers, bookbinders, and book artists more generally.
    One other thing about getting nibs out of holders: how do you clean them? If you dip the whole thing in water, nibs can rust into their holders, which makes them impossible to remove. My instructor always told her students to use a damp cloth to avoid that result, and if a nib needed a heavier cleaning, to remove it and take an old toothbrush to it. I’m with you on the difficulty of seeing what you’re working with! The imprint is so tiny, but your labeling system is a brilliant solution.
    Thanks for this great post!

  2. Cate learn! It’s such an amazing + relaxing hobby, and it’s relatively inexpensive to get into. Example: some of the nibs above were .60! and nib holders under $2.00! If you are a visual learner Iampeth.com has a ton of Copperplate videos for free, if you like book learning Eleanor Winters has one I really love and if you want feedback than Melissa Esplin’s class online. I have all the links in The Directory under Calligraphy:)

  3. Hi Laura! Oh, yes I am on Iampeth quite a lot! I actually met the Iampeth webmaster here in the country where I am living, isn’t that nuts? I have links to Dr. Vitolo’s videos because they are a SUPERB reference. I can’t get those nibs out even after one use! I definitely should do a post on nib cleaning as I did so many things wrong in the beginning, like using baby wipes which made it so the ink wouldn’t adhere to the nibs! Oh, brother! John Neal is in the same state I am living in and they are SO helpful for a bumbling newbie such as myself, I have had such a great experience with them. I haven’t tried to call Paper & Ink Arts but their shipping is very fast.

    Thank you for liking my labeling system, I hope it helps another newbie out. Thank you for the links and your thoughts!

  4. I can’t get enough of your posts! I just got my first dinky dips in. LOVE!
    I also wanted to mention this… I’ve been struggling with a lettering job on cotton envelopes. My nibs were sticking like CRAZY and I was going through so many to get it right. A fellow calligrapher, Holly Hollon, sent me in the Blue Pumpkin direction. What a game changer. If you are ever addressing on nice cotton envelopes it’s definitely the way to go!

  5. Thank you SO MUCH for this! I bought a “starter package” of nibs a while back and had such a hard time with them and didn’t understand what the different ones would do. This is so helpful and I’m definitely going to be making some purchases! And labeling is such a good tip. I didn’t keep track of the different nibs at all and if I were to sit down and do some calligraphy today I wouldn’t be able to remember which one I liked most. Thanks!

  6. A week into the class and it’s so much fun! {are you checking my grammar and spelling?}
    I love the simplicity of calligraphy, few supplies are needed. I do believe trying out different nibs is important makes a difference and labeling as you suggest. Thank you for this post……..

  7. I have that same problem removing my nibs from the holder sometimes! I wonder if there is some secret, hmm.
    Thanks so much for sharing your tips and insights! I bought the Nikko and Zebra nibs a while back on your recommendation and I love them

  8. I am really enjoying all this information! I have been doing a bit of practicing. It is relaxing and time passes quickly. Thank you for introducing me to calligraphy.

  9. Thank you Courtnie! I added that bit to the post. I can’t even imagine lettering envelopes, my skills are so new that I can barely link letters together, lol. I loved your work with the gold ink, beautiful results!

  10. Oh, Bethany, I know it’s so frustrating to not know what is what. This is something I usually would have put off forever (I am a great procrastinator), but it took me maybe 10 minutes to do and has helped me so much more than I could have imagined. I am sure there will come a day when I can look at the nib and know what it is but starting out? Not so much.

  11. Kara I KNEW you would like the class! I would check your spelling in grammar if I wasn’t such a dolt, so once I get better I am going to pull out the red pen for everyone (I jest). Now you can try out all those vintage nibs!

  12. Julianna I will ask the calligrapher for the next interview, I know Whitney suggested running under warm water + an old toothbrush but where I live we have well water which is hard water and ruins my nibs doing that. I am so happy you like those nibs, they are also great for illustration, especially the Zebra G.

    P.S. Huge fan! I have your man in the top hat print with the flock of birds, it’s a favorite:)

  13. Lo, right back at you;) Keep those Netflix rec’s coming I am one of the people that can’t ever find anything on there (but I have seen a lot).

  14. Whitney thank you for the tip! How is your practice going? I love your hand, very original. I mentioned to Julianna above that I have hard water so it basically cements the nibs in (and my hair looks like crap too!) When I move I am going to try it though!

  15. Kathy, when are you going to show me? I think this is a perfect hobby for you, I know how crafty you are and once you get comfortable I can make you customs stamps from your lettering! How beautiful will that look on your holiday home-baked goods?

  16. Thanks so much for the great info. Tristan. I love the art of calligraphy and have taken a few lessons but I am not a fan of the traditional style usually taught. I love the free flowing look of many artists today. I am going to check out all your great sources and hopefully be inspired to try again. I was wondering what type of paper you practice with.
    I can’t wait to give calligraphy another try. You’ve inspired me!

  17. Pamela then it should be super easy for you! I start with the basic letter form strokes and build my letters from there to achieve a more organic look. I also use guidelines, I know it doesn’t look like I do but I do:)

    For paper I use the Canson Layout Marker Pro + Rhodia pads (the largest size they have), both are more opaque than a tracing paper but translucent enough that I can see my guidelines underneath. I also like the Bristol paper (extra smooth no texture), it was a little too smooth for me at first but I like it much better now. I have heard that Kodak extra bright printer paper is nice to work with, but I don’t have it at my local office supply (no Staples or Office Depot in these parts). If you want a crash course in modern calligraphy I recommend Melissa Esplin’s, Istilllovecalligraphy.com it’s a great online class and will get you motivated to try your hand at it again!

  18. this was a seriously amazing post, Tristan! such a great resource, we are so lucky that you are so meticulous and dedicated in your own education; we’re all benefiting. I put down my calligraphy pens for awhile as other things (life!) got in my way, but I’m itching to get back to it and really stick with the practice, and I have you to thank for that.

    If you don’t mind sharing, what font did you use for your nib labels? I love the simplicity of it.

  19. Yea Diane! That’s Futura Light, if you don’t have it on your computer Helvetica is a beautiful sans-serif (and classic) with multiple weights. Gills sans is a nice clean one that is on most computers too:)

  20. I used to have a little calligraphy set when I was a kid. It was really fun, but the book that came with it only explained the basics. Sounds like there is allot more to calligraphy than I thought. What I wouldn’t do to have the time to dive into a new learning projects like this! Definite future pass time.

  21. Hi Tristan, new reader of yours and very happy to have found your beautiful blog.
    I’ve accidentally bought a few nibs and ink around Christmas to try something new additional to painting (and hopefully using later), but there is so much to learn! I been reading all of your posts and I’m thinking to give it another go today!

  22. I have to use the pliers to get my nibs out! I usually only take them out when they need to be changed anyway, and I know a lot of calligraphers I’ve talked to just buy several holders rather than changing out the nibs. I’ve tried to be better about washing and cleaning my nibs after I use my pen but ink still makes it’s way into that crevice so pliers are my only hope!

  23. Thanks for your suggestions. I am taking Melissa’s online class per your suggestion. I have always loved calligraphy.

    One question, how do you know which Nibs go with which holder? Are most of them universal? I was ordering a few and without seeing them wasn’t sure if they worked together.


  24. Congrats, Chelsea! I hope you get inspired from it:) Most nibs will work with most holders. There are exceptions, some nibs will be tiny (map), but in the descriptions at say a John Neal Bookseller it will suggest holders. The only nibs I recommend for newbies are the Zebra G or Nikko G. They are very smooth and stiff and for someone just starting out you will gain more success than trying alternate nibs, trust me, I recommend this no one listens to me and then when they do I get grateful emails. They are beautiful nibs even for pros. You can get nice thin + thick strokes.

  25. Hi Miss Tristan, I enjoy our blog. I am a beginner in Calligraphy and been looking for ideas and finding the correct tools/nibs to produce good writing result.

    My son’s name is also Tristan. ;)

    Thank you

    Trigo Neo Starden

  26. oh my goodness tristan, your site is as wonderfully informative as it is beautiful. thank you so much!! i am designing some new logos and landed into your incredible resource of fantastic realistic calligraphy fonts and now have found this helpful nib post. i’ve been daring myself to get ‘real’ and start doing some calligraphy myself. i’ve always been playing with it but i really ought to get myself some nibs. thank you, thank you for sharing your knowledge and your fantastic finds. i’ve stopped reading blogs on the whole.. but yours just made it onto my bookmark bar.

    xo. marta

  27. Thank you Marta so much! I can’t wait to see what you create, let me know if you have any questions, I have made a ton of ‘mistakes’ to figure out what works and what doesn’t and I know I have saved a bunch of people from the frustration (and expense) that I went through in the beginning.

  28. Hi! I stumbled upon your site and I am in LOVE!!! I’m a beginner and looking for lessons in Philadelphia. I can only seem to find the older style calligraphy. Could recommend someone in Philadelphia? Also, what nib holder and nib should I get to learn with?

    Any info would be great!!! Thanks!!!!!

  29. Hi Lindsey thank you! Look under my ‘Lettering Love’ section, I have nibs, holders + ink suggestions and a lot of the interview’s have suggestions as well! For classes, I don’t know one in Philadelphia, but new ones come along all the time, in the interim if you want to learn the basics of modern calligraphy, Melissa Esplin has a very good + affordable on-line course.

  30. Hi there!

    First let me say what a beautiful blog! Forgive me if you’ve covered this already or if I missed something, but where (online) do recommend purchasing nibs and calligraphy supplies. I tried looking around and it doesn’t seem any one site has a great selection.

    Thank you!

  31. Dear Rita:

    I have linked to The Directory, under ‘C’ you will see Calligraphy Supplies and the two suppliers I recommend the most. Although you can find the Zebra G, Sumi Ink and holders on Amazon, those are the supplies I recommend for beginners:)


  32. Thank you so much for this! I’m currently starting Molly Suber Thrope’s book, Modern Calligraphy (I think I may have bought it due to this website as well) and was looking to get a little starting kit, but was completely overwhelmed by the number of possible nibs. But now I have four nibs (Zebra G, Nikko G, Brause Rose and the Brause EF66 Molly recommended during her interview on your site) on the way to me to play about with and see how they work for me. Thanks for taking a lot of the stress out of the decision making and research!


  33. Oh, excellent! Have fun Karen, remember you need to clean your nibs off before using them. I burn mine with a match, some suck on them (yikes! and yuck!) but you can Google ways to clean them before using them.

  34. Hi Tristan,
    I’ve just started out with calligraphy, and I’m not sure if I can use calligraphy nibs that I have for modern calligraphy.
    I’ve got Parker Vector pen with 3 nibs; very fine to broad.
    They are all very stiff. Can I use the fine one?
    Been trying to write some, but it hasn’t turned out as good as I hope. May be it’s my skill but I just want to make sure I’m not using the wrong pens too.

    Thank you (:

  35. Khin! Sorry I missed this. The best is to use a separate nib and nib holder versus a pen, more control. I lie stiff nibs, especially the Nikko G, you’ll see with the dip pen you will get more of the results you are after!

  36. Paper & Ink Arts is a great source for all calligraphy supplies and they charge postage by the weight of what you buy, which is next to nothiing compared to other places. You can call them by phone too and they are always very helpful. I have oredered everything from expensive nib holders to sets of pens. My first order was a bunch of nibs and they charged me by weight which was only a few dollars. Only once did I get an order that was wrong and they made good on it quickly.

  37. hello! i’ve always loved doodling with calligraphy growing up but just decided to learn it “for real” this time when deciding to do my own wedding invitations! i’ve been reading through your blog and it has been so helpful, thank you so much!! i’m not sure if i missed but could you recommend a nib holder?

  38. Hi! As a beginner, I’m so glad I found your blog. But I would like to ask what is the ideal pen holder for the Zebra G? And is it the same holder for the Nikko G? Hope you could answer this little query before I start purchasing materials! Thank you!

  39. I’m having such difficulty starting out calligraphy because I can’t find proper nibs! I live in Cape Town, South Africa, and I thought I would at least find some proper nibs here, but the nibs I’m using, either snags the entire time or is too think or doesn’t hold ink well.

    I don’t know what to do!

  40. i JUST got started with calligraphy about two days ago, and i love it! my cheap nib has been giving me problems already though. I’m so glad i bumped into your post because i’m planning on buying the Zebra nib or Nikko G nib to help me practice! thanks!

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