How to Prepare Nibs

We are frequently asked why a new nib does not work well or why the ink does not flow very well.

Ink is 'sitting' on the nib

The most common reason is the new nib has not been prepared before using it.  New nibs are usually coated with a thin coat of lacquer to protect them. This should be removed before you start writing.

There are several ways of removing the lacquer.  The most popular method is to use boiling water.

  • You need 2 cups of water; one with boiling water and the other with cold water.
  • Place the nib in a pen holder (to keep your fingers away from the boiling water); gently stir the boiling water with the nib for 3-4 seconds (being careful not to dip the nib too deeply and get the pen holder wet)
  • Now dip the nib in the cold water and gently stir again for 3-4 seconds

Repeat these stages several times, carefully dry the nib and it is ready for use.  Sometimes the nib will look duller after the treatment.

Another method of preparing a nib is to use a naked flame. With this method, the nib is simply passed back and forth through a naked flame.  Be careful not to get the nib too hot.

The boiling water method usually works, but some nibs can be really awkward and you may also need to try the naked flame method.



9 thoughts on “How to Prepare Nibs

  1. This question is regarding the proper use of William Mitchell Round Hand Nibs, Square Cut Nibs: Can these nibs be used without an ink reservoir? And, if you are using a reservoir, can you dip the nib into the ink bottle? Or must you use a brush to ink the nib? Thank you.

    1. I always use the Mitchell roundhand nibs without a reservoir, using a small paint brush to apply the ink (frequently gouache with a splash of gum Arabic, which stops the paint smudging when you rub out guide lines). I find I get enough material on the nib without the reservoir. I have never really liked the reservoirs from the start as using them seems to get too much ink on the paper. When I do use ink, it’s always Chinese stick ink, freshly ground to the thickness I like.

  2. Preparing a nib is important and so is using it properly. Once the nib has been prepared it is important to set it up correctly. I would always use a reservoir, which when fitted must not be too close to the edge of the nib.You can load the nib with ink by just dipping it in to the bottle. However, you will have a lot of surplus ink on the nib which can affect the ‘sharpness’ of the letter strokes. I load the nib with ink by using a brush. I dip the brush in the ink and wipe it along the edge of the reservoir. The ink will then be stored between the nib and reservoir and no where else!

  3. What are the other two methods? Years ago I have read that holding a nib over candle flame for about four seconds would remove the lacquer. I have a “blue pumpkin” nib that doesn’t flow well on a large variety of paper.

  4. I’ve always been concerned that heat will take the temper out of the steel in new nibs. I’ve had good luck with dropping the nib in a jar cap full of isopropyl alcohol and swishing it around. Alcohol dissolves the lacquers or oils on the nib, and dries very quickly.

  5. Another method for removing the protective coating on nibs is to use a small amount of toothpaste between your thumb and forefinger and to gently rub it around on the top and underneath of the nib, then rinse off with cold water. This acts a bit like T-cut for cars – it doesn’t harm the nib, there’s no wondering whether you’re doing it right, no need for a flame or boiling water …. and it works!

  6. When I Was at art school in the 1950s our calligraphy tutor told us to suck new nibs for a few seconds – apparently saliva removed the lacquer.

  7. […] are several methods of removing the lacquer and you can read up about these techniques in the How to Prepare nibs […]

  8. […] Preparing a nib can be done by dipping it in boiling water for a second or two, or holding over a match flame for a second or two. […]

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