A dip pen, or a nib pen, consists of a handle with a metal nib that has to be refilled with ink as you write with it. While they’ve mostly been replaced by fountain pens in day-to-day use, dip pens can be great for more intricate calligraphy and sketching. Learn how to load a dip pen, write with it, and take care of it to know how to use a dip pen properly.
EditChoosing Your Tools
Find a dip pen nib that meets your projects needs. The nib is perhaps the most important part of the dip pen, as it is the part with which you’ll actually be writing or drawing. There are a few factors that can be used to differentiate between nibs, such as the size and overall shape, but any nib that fits your nib holder should work well. Ask at your local art store or look online to find a suitable dip pen nib.
One factor that might make a significant difference in the type of nib you use is the “elastic”. This refers to how easily the tip of the nib will bend, and the amount of pressure needed to shift between thin and thicker lines. If you write quite lightly, you may need a nib with a high elastic. If you have a heavy hand while writing, you should use something with a low elastic.
Standard nib sizes are normally either fine or ultrafine, which would both work well for writing, drawing, and calligraphy. If you are working on a larger project, such as a poster, there are broader nibs that will give you much larger strokes.
Along with the size, the shape of your nib will also change the finished result. A finer, narrower nib will give smaller lines, where a nib with a wide tip will make much larger strokes.
Choose a nib holder that’s compatible with your nib. Nib holders make up the “body” of the pen or the part that you will grip while writing. The most important thing when choosing a nib holder is that the shank of the nib is compatible with the tip of the nib holder where it will be held. Look online, or ask for help at your local art store to make sure that your nib holder and nib are compatible.
Nib holders can be made out of all sorts of materials and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Choose one that you can grip comfortably, and that has a nice weight to it when you hold it.
Many nibs and nib holders are interchangeable but may come in a single set when you first buy them. Nibs and nib holders sold together should be compatible, but it may take a little trial and error if you want to use them with other nibs or nib holders.
Pick a suitable ink, such as India or acrylic ink. In order to use your dip pen, you will need to have some ink that you can dip it into. Almost any type of ink will work with a dip pen, so choose whichever type or color will work best for whatever you want to write or draw. Here are a few different types of ink to consider:
India ink is the easiest ink to find, so it makes for a great black ink for beginners. India ink will be waterproof once it dries, and has a slightly glossy look to it. It should be easily available at your local craft store. However, India ink has a tendency to congeal over time in the bottle.
Sumi ink is very similar to India ink but dries with a slightly more matte appearance. It won’t congeal over time like the India ink, although it may be more difficult to find.
Calligraphy inks will come in lots of different colors, but will also be much thinner in consistency. They may take more practice to use perfectly, and normally require a thicker paper to stop them from running or blotting as much, but will look fantastic once you learn how to use them.
Acrylic inks are multi-purpose, being able to be used for all sorts of other arts and crafts. Acrylic inks are normally water-resistant and should be quite easy to track down.
Use a high-quality, thick paper over 70GSM. When you’re first learning how to use a dip pen, a thinner paper may bleed too easily or tear as you try to apply the right pressure. Use a high-quality paper, with a thickness above 70GSM when you’re first learning how to use a dip pen.
High-quality paper will also give you a much better looking final product for your calligraphy or drawing. Calligraphy paper or drawing paper should be available at your local art store.
EditDipping the Pen
Grip your pen as you would hold a pencil. With the pen nib in the nib holder, place the dip pen so the end sits between your thumb and index finger. Make sure the tip is sitting over your middle finger before wrapping your thumb and index fingers around it to hold the pen in place.
Some nib holders will have bumps and grooves along the surface to help it sit comfortably in your hand. Move the nib holder around until you can grasp it easily.
Dip the nib of the pen into the ink until it covers the reservoir hole. Take the lid off of your ink and slowly dip the nib into the ink. You don’t need to submerge the entire nib, only just enough that it comes up to the level of the hole in the nib. This is where the ink will be stored while writing, with the pressure applied to the nib pushing the ink towards the tip as you write.
Some nibs may have reservoirs that sit on top of the nib rather than being a part of it. Regardless, find the small hole somewhere near the middle of the nib and submerge the nib only to that point.
If you dip the pen too deeply into the ink, you might end up spilling ink or getting it all over your hands and paper.
Some people may prefer to use an eyedropper to drop ink into the pen, rather than dipping the nib into the ink itself.
Shake off any excess ink with sharp, downward strokes. As you lift the nib out of the ink, some of the excess ink will start dripping off. Hold it over the ink container and give it a few, firm shakes to remove any ink not sitting in the reservoir. It’s better for the ink to drop back into the container than dripping all over your paper or drawing!
Use only one or two sharp, downward shakes to remove excess ink. Anything else may splatter ink all over the place.
EditWriting or Drawing with the Dip Pen
Hold the pen at a 45-degree angle to the paper. This will let the ink work towards the tip of the nib at a natural pace, as well as stopping any part of the nib other than the tip from touching the paper. With the very tip on the paper, adjust the angle of your pen until it is roughly 45-degrees from the surface you’re writing on.
Draw a few lines on some scrap paper first. This will use up any drops of ink sitting at the tip of the nib that may result in large blobs on your paper. Draw one or two lines on a scrap piece of paper to get the ink flowing smoothly, and to give you a sense of how the dip pen itself works.
If you’re just starting out using a dip pen, this might help you get a sense for how much pressure to apply and how the pen functions. Spend a while playing around with the pen on some scrap paper before you begin drawing or writing.
Practice using the dip pen with different amounts of pressure. Once the ink is flowing smoothly and you have a handle on how to use the pen, start using it for writing or drawing! Use a light pressure at first to get a very thin line, before adding more pressure to make the line thicker and thicker. Play around with this as you write or draw to get the most use out of your dip pen.
If you’re using the dip pen for calligraphy, try shifting between lighter and heavier pressure as you write different letters.
For drawing, try applying different amounts of pressure as you crosshatch for a darker or deeper look.
Dip the pen in the ink again after each sentence. As the reservoir in the dip pen can only hold a small amount of ink, you’ll need to dip it back into the ink container frequently. When you notice the lines becoming thinner and slightly broken up, or see the reservoir itself running out ink, lift the pen up from the paper and add more ink to the reservoir.
The thickness of your nib will change the frequency with which you’ll need to reapply ink. Finer nibs will need more ink after every sentence or so, whereas thicker nibs may need more ink after every word.
The frequency with which you’ll need to dip your pen when drawing will depend on what it is you’re drawing. Keep an eye on the pen and the lines you make to see when the ink begins to run out.
EditCleaning Your Dip Pen
Rinse the nib in warm water. Once you’ve finished using the pen, dip the nib of the pen into a small glass of warm water to wash away any remaining ink. If you leave any ink to dry into your nibs, the dip pen may not work as well in future or may become much more difficult to clean.
Keep a glass of warm water beside you as you use the dip pen so that you can clean it immediately once you’ve finished with it. This will also be helpful if you want to use multiple colors of ink on one project.
Dry the pen thoroughly. Lift the pen out of the water and give it a firm shake to remove any excess water. Place the nib of the pen onto a dry cloth or a paper towel and wipe it until it is completely dry and all of the ink has been removed.
Make sure that no fibers from the paper towel or cloth get trapped in the nib, as these can get caught in the ink and ruin future projects.
Nibs will rust very easily if they are left damp for too long. You should always dry you the nibs thoroughly before storing them.
Store the pen without putting pressure on the nib. You should never store the pen with the weight resting on the nib, as this will damage it over time. Lie the pen on its side in a drawer, or keep it in a pen holder with the nib facing upwards.
Over time, the tines at the end of the pen nib may start to separate. Hold your nib up to a light. If any light comes through the nib, it’s a good sign that the nib is damaged and needs to be replaced.
EditThings You’ll Need
Dip pen nib
EditSources and Citations
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