Many people coming to calligraphy will start with a style of lettering (such as Foundational or Italic) that needs a broad edged pen (with the end of the pen shaped like a garden spade – wide from side to side but very narrow from front to back.)
Double pencils, carpenters pencils, marker pens and cartridge pens are excellent starting tools (such as Pilot Parallel pens).
Most calligraphers will also want a range of dip nibs too, because the range of sizes available is greater, and dip nibs offer the opportunity to write with inks, paints and anything else that can be mixed to a liquid.
There are many brands! The following covers the brands most commonly found in the UK.
William Mitchell Round Hand and Leonardt Round Hand nibs are both cut straight across the end of the nib, whereas Brause Bandzug, Leonardt Tape and Speedball C are all cut at an angle (left hand edge of nib is longer than right hand edge).
The reason for the angle is to allow you to hold the holder comfortably, and for the nib to touch the paper with both corners on the page without having to twist your hand at all. In truth the difference is very small – it is unlikely that you will “need” the oblique cut nibs, just that some find them more comfortable to use.
William Mitchell Round Hand and Leonardt Round Hand
Both William Mitchell Round Hand Nibs and Leonardt Round Hand Nibs have a reservoir that slips over the nib holding the ink under the nib. Leonardt reservoirs have a star shaped hole, Mitchell nibs have 2 round holes. Some calligraphers mix and match nibs and reservoirs, others advise against it. For both these brands the width of the nib is very similar, ranging from a 0 (large) to a 6 (small).
Brause Bandzug, Leonardt Tape and Speedball C
Brause Bandzug nibs are sturdy and always well made. Tape are very similar in look – the metal they’re made from is not as tough. If you are heavy handed a Brause nib is a good one to use (although a better solution by far is to stop being heavy handed!)
Brause nibs are also excellent for nib manipulation and expressive strokes (such as Denis Brown’s work).
Speedball C Style nibs (not A or B Style) are delightful to write with: they have very slightly rounded corners to the nibs which reduces the chance of them catching on the page. The thinnest strokes of these nibs are not as thin as those made with a Brause or Mitchell, so are often chosen for their larger sizes only, as in the smaller sizes the contrast between the thick and the thin strokes is starting to be lost.
(Nib of choice for Sheila Waters, and she can do magic with pens!)
Brause, Tape and Speedball nibs all have fixed reservoirs (on top of the nib) which can are generally well behaved, and the fact that they don’t need adjusting can be a bonus for those getting to grips with a dip nib.
Brause Banzug and Leonardt Tape widths are (sensibly!) in millimeters, from 0.5 mm to 5mm.
Speedball C widths are from C0 (large) to C6 (small).
Left handers: some manufacturers make dip nibs that are cut left oblique (left hand edge of nib is shorter than right hand edge). This is done so that the left hander can more easily touch the whole edge of the nib to the paper without having to distort their arm, or have the paper at a very strange angle.
Round Hand (Mitchell and Leonardt) and Speedball C nibs are available in left oblique.
Bewildering? Yes, it can be. It is worth remembering that all these nibs are manufactured to do the job we’re asking of them, so although it’s very likely you’ll have preferences, you should be able to progress your calligraphy successfully with any of these brands, and perhaps familiarity with the brand you have might be your best approach if you’re feeling unsure.
Most calligraphy teachers will have different nibs that you can try, or you could purchase a small selection to compare for yourself.