A beginner’s guide to dip pens

Though now often overshadowed by modern fountain pens, many calligraphers and artists still opt for classic dip pens to create beautiful lettering and intricate drawings.

Discover a newfound respect for this simple yet elegant writing tool, and explore everything you need to know about the wonderful dip pen.

What is a dip pen?

Slightly different from the more popular fountain pen, dip pens don’t store any ink. Instead, the user dips the pen nib into ink between every few lines of writing or drawing.

The solid dip pen handle doesn’t have an internal reservoir or ink storage, so the interchangeable metal nibs hold the ink instead. A dip pen nib functions similarly to fountain pen nibs, using capillary channels to regulate ink flow and provide smooth, gliding strokes.

Types of dip pen nib

There are several dip pen nibs, and users can easily switch styles to suit various project needs. Some dip pens only fit with nibs of the same pen brand, so it’s important always to check which nibs your pen is compatible with before purchasing.

Dip pen nibs generally fall into two categories — broad point and pointed, which refers to the nib tip.

Nibs with broad tips are primarily used for lettering, producing thicker lines to cover large areas. They feature a rigid, flat edge and are the older of the two main nib types.

Pointed tip nibs are used for thinner lines or to vary the stroke thickness. They are more flexible and have a sharper point compared to a broad tip.

Sitting in between the two categories, you also have the stub nib. It usually has a flat point, like a broad tip, but smaller with more rounded corners. Stub nibs are best used for rapid or decorative writing.

Why use a dip pen?

While fountain pens largely replaced the broader use of dip pens, thanks to their refillable nature and cleaner functionality, there are still many reasons why artists and writers choose dip pens.

The interchangeable nibs make dip pens great for intricate calligraphy and sketching. Switching ink colours is also speedy — simply wipe the nib with a piece of tissue, then dip it into a different ink.

Dip pen nibs can use inks that some fountain pens can’t, such as pigmented, waterproof, or shellac inks.

Most of all, writing with a dip pen evokes a beautiful and nostalgic feeling. Taking time to master dip pen usage and experimenting with different inks and nibs can be a relaxing, rewarding process.

How to use a dip pen

Process of calligraphy handwriting with an ink fountain pen feather, calligrapher practicing writing on postcard paper using pen brush and sign pen with inkwell on master-class lesson, hands view

Using a dip pen requires practice and patience. However, you can produce breathtaking results once you’ve got the hang of it.

1.    Select your nib

The nib is essential to a dip pen, so selecting the best one for your project is crucial.

You also must ensure the nib you’ve chosen is compatible with your holder. As mentioned, some dip pens only fit with particular brands. The most important thing is to ensure the nib’s shank works with the tip of the nib holder.

Nibs and nib holders sold together should be compatible, so purchasing a single set may be easiest if you’re a beginner dip pen writer.

2.    Choose your ink

Unlike fountain pens, almost any ink type works with a dip pen. Simply choose the type and colour you prefer or best for your project.

India ink is the most common and easiest to find, drying with a slightly glossy look. On the other hand, Sumi ink has a subtle matte appearance but could be more challenging to track down.

Calligraphy inks come in a range of colours and hues. However, their thin consistency requires more practice to use perfectly. Acrylic inks are popular, multi-purpose inks that are usually waterproof.

3.    Practice your grip

Once you’ve got your dip pen, ink, and high-quality paper, it’s time to practice gripping and using the tool.

Grip a dip pen as you would a pencil, placing it between your thumb and index finger. Ensure the tip sits over your middle finger and wrap your thumb and index finger around the pen to hold it in place.

4.    Dip your pen

Prepare your ink bottle, then dip the pen nib into the ink until it covers the reservoir hole, taking care not to submerge the entire pen nib. The reservoir hole is where the ink is stored while you draw or write. Applying pressure to the nib pushes the ink towards the tip as you use the pen.

Shake off any excess ink using sharp, downward strokes, holding the pen over the ink container to reduce wastage.

5.    Find your angle

Holding the pen at a 45-degree angle to the paper allows the ink to travel towards the nib tip at a controlled and natural pace.

Place the tip on the paper, adjusting your hand, arm and wrist until the dip pen is at 45 degrees.

6.    Start writing

If it’s your first time using a dip pen, we recommend practising on paper.

Draw a few lines on some scrap paper to use up any large ink drops on the nib tip, then begin experimenting with different types of pressure.

Play around with drawing techniques, such as cross-hatching and stippling or, if your focus is calligraphy, forming different letters.

Don’t forget to refill your ink after each sentence, dipping the pen nib back in the container to repeat the process when you notice your lines are thinner.

How to clean a dip pen

Properly cleaning and caring for your dip pen will keep it in the best condition and extend its usage.

For best results, clean a dip pen after each use.

  • Dip the pen nib in warm water to wash away any remaining ink.
  • Dry the nib thoroughly on a paper towel.
  • Store the dip pen upright without putting any pressure on the nib.

Mariah enjoys typing articles for our blog on her laptop but she'd much rather be writing them by hand with a luxury fountain pen!

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