How to Choose the Right Fountain Pen Nib Size

Fountain pen nibs come in a variety of sizes, and it can be a challenge to find the right pen nib size to suit your writing style and preferences. Whether you’re an advanced or beginner fountain pen user, finding the correct pen nib size is easy—it just takes a bit of basic technical knowledge and an understanding of your writing style.

What is a Fountain Pen Nib?

The nib is the tip of the fountain pen, or the part of the pen that makes contact with the paper as you write. It’s typically made out of a thin piece of metal that comes to a point. It features a slit in the middle that separates the nib into two tines. There is a breather hole in the centre of the nib’s body that allows the tines to spread and draw ink into the channel as you write.

Tip Shapes

  • Round: Creates a consistent and uniform line throughout the writing stroke.
  • Italic: Also known as a stub or calligraphy tip. Creates a writing stroke with variances in the thickness of the down strokes and cross strokes.
  • Specialty: Used for specific purposes and less common than standard shapes. Includes oblique, zoom, Arabic/Hebrew, left-handed, and scroll-style.

What is the Difference Between Western and Japanese Nibs?

The delicacy of Japanese character writing requires very fine lines. Although there is no standard sizing for pen nibs across-the-board, Japanese nibs tend to be much smaller than their Western equivalent (approximately one full size smaller at each size level). Japanese-style fountain pen nibs are also more flexible than Western styles, which allows for their use in more calligraphic writing styles. Western-style fountain pen nibs tend to be more rigid, and the points create thicker overall lines. The stiffness of the Western pen nibs makes them an ideal choice for beginners because lines tend to be more consistent.

Why Does Size Matter?

  • Ink flow: Thicker nibs allow for more flexibility, a longer ink channel, and more ink to flow easily as you write. A smaller, narrower nib draws down less ink with each stroke and makes for a thinner, scratchier line.
  • Line width: Fountain pen nib tip width and the amount of pressure you apply as you write determines how wide your final stroke is on paper. For example, a thick, flat tip will create a broad, flowing line with variances in the upwards and downwards strokes. A thinner rounded tip will create a more uniform line width.
  • Paper quality: Different fountain pen nib sizes are suited to different paper types. Smoother paper is ideal for round or fine flat-tip pen nibs because they won’t catch or scratch on the paper. Thicker round nibs and broader flat nibs should be used on dense, high-quality paper since the enhanced ink flow can bleed, pool or feather if the paper quality is poor. Keep in mind that an extra-fine Japanese pen nib requires special paper, such as Tomoe River paper, so it doesn’t tear or scratch the surface.
  • Writing size: If you have a small writing style, it would be difficult to write with a broad flat-tip fountain pen nib because there would be too much ink flow and your lettering would bleed together and look jumbled. For that writing style, a thin, round fountain pen nib would be best. If you have larger writing, you have the freedom to use a thin pen nib or a nib with a broader tip since your lettering and spacing can handle the increased ink flow and clearly show the gradient between up and down strokes.

What is Your Writing Style?

Your handwriting not only says a lot about you, but it’s also the most effective way to choose the type of fountain pen nib you need and the perfect size nib. If you’re a calligrapher or prefer to write with a cursive style, an italic nib is ideal because it shows thickness variations in the up, down, and cross strokes of each letter. If you have small handwriting or tend to write with block letters, a round pen nib is ideal since it creates a consistent, even line through each letter stroke.

Consider Your Writing Needs

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider your writing style:

  • What do you use your fountain pens for? (e.g., daily use, special occasions, calligraphy work)
  • Is your handwriting big or small?
  • Do you write in a tight, neat style, or is it more sweeping and brash?
  • Do you write with cursive or block letters?
  • Do you prefer a smooth feel as you write, or do you like a bit of bite on the page?
  • Do you like to see the gradient of shading or a sheen to the ink on the page?
  • How quickly do you write?
  • Do you prefer the ink to dry quickly?

Fountain Pen Nib Size Guide

This size chart for fountain pen nibs is based on Western pen nib sizing. For Japanese pens, it is recommended to go down one full size to achieve a similar stroke width.

Pen Nib SizeCross Stroke WidthDown Stroke Width
Extra Fine (EF)0.30 mm0.30 mm
Fine (F)0.35 mm0.35 mm
Medium (M)0.50 mm0.50 mm
Broad (B)0.55 mm0.55 mm
1mm Stub (S)0.40 mm0.75 mm
  • Extra Fine (EF): Ideal for writers with small, neat handwriting. Stokes are consistent and may have a bite or scratchy feel on the paper. Minimal ink flow dries quickly and doesn’t show much ink gradation.
  • Fine (F): Most common type of fountain pen nib. Ideal for daily use and simple handwriting. Strokes are even and consistent, well-suited for speedy writing styles.
  • Medium (M): Perfect if you sign many documents because there is just the right amount of ink flow. Minimal bleed or feathering on most types of quality paper.
  • Broad (B): Suited for stationary enthusiasts who love writing with high-quality paper. Thickness of the strokes shows variances and shading of the ink. Extended drying time is not well-suited for everyday writing tasks.
  • 1mm Stub (S): A favourite of calligraphers. Adds style and whimsy to cursive handwriting.Ink shows shimmer, shading, and slight pooling in the downstrokes.

Build Your Custom Nib Collection

Although medium-sized nibs are among the most popular because of their versatility and ease of use, it’s common for fountain pen users to build up a custom collection of different-sized fountain pen nibs. Having a collection of fountain pens with different nib sizes will give you an arsenal of ink at your fingertips, no matter the writing task.