When it comes to fountain pens, passions can run high! A fine writing instrument is an extension to your hand and directly helps express your personality. A fountain pen's nib is where the rubber meets the road. It is the business end of the pen and has some of the most direct impact on how you write. Consequently, passions run high when it comes to nibs.
Let us start with the basics. A fountain pen's nib is the little piece of metal that gives the fountain pen its signature look. The Fountain pen nib is the piece of metal where the ink flows from the pen's reservoir to the piece of paper on which you are writing. This little piece of metal is a marvel, flared out, styled beautifully and typically flexible, it is a little piece of scientific wonder.
The nib is the fancy metal work and, more importantly, does the writing. Nibs, like pens, come in many sizes and widths. Nib sizes go from Extra-fine (really, really small print) to Extra-wide (think of the Grand Canyon). There are different classifications of nibs as well. Under close inspection, circular nibs have what looks like a little ball at the end of the nib. A stub nib is the same as a circular nib only elongated horizontally. An italic nib is the widest nib horizontally and is often used in calligraphy.
The shape of each nib has a different effect when writing. The circular nib’s writing is similar to the pattern that a normal ballpoint pen leaves behind when writing, but because of how wide the stub and italic nibs are, you can create special effects. It is these special effects that are so desired among people who write with fountain pens. The ability to make a line thinner, or wider while stroking letters is what gives your handwriting style. Think of John Hancock's iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence and of the variations in his signature. That is the holy grail of writing with a fine nib.
Fortunately, like many things in life, there are many types and grades of fountain pen nibs. This is great news as it allows everyone to enjoy and experiment with fountain pens, without having to take out a loan. Due to modern manufacturing, we have nibs that sell for a few dollars all the way to nibs that sell for thousands of dollars. There is a place for everyone.
If you are just starting with a fountain pen, look for a brand name (Bock, Schmidt or Heritance) manufacturer and purchase an entry-level nib. You need to be comfortable with learning the basic of writing and there is not anything more nerve-racking than taking an expensive new item out for a test ride when you don't know how to drive. There are a number of classes that you can take at a local community college or school that can teach you calligraphy and how to write with a fountain pen, for a small fee.
Once you have mastered the basics, you can then look for higher-quality, more flexible nibs that will give you more freedom to express yourself. In this way, you can walk before you run. Of course, you can always purchase that $200 solid gold nib right from the start, but it does take practice to use one without damaging it!