Ink Flow Problems

At some point everyone experiences problems with ink flow and when it happens it can cause extreme frustration!  You dip the nib in the ink, or load it with a brush start to write and nothing happens. Luckily there are a few tips and tricks that will usually fix the problem.  The ink flow problem can be caused by a combination of one or more of the following factors.

New nibs

You are most likely to get problems when the nib is new.  This is because the nib comes from the manufacturer with a protective lacquer coating to stop it from rusty.  Usually, once this coating has been removed the ink will flow easily from the nib.  A good indication of the nib having the protective coat on it is if the ink sits as a blob on the nib.

There are several methods of removing the lacquer and you can read up about these techniques in the How to Prepare nibs post.

Damaged Nibs

If a nib is damaged it can prevent the ink from flowing.  The tines on smaller nibs and especially small pointed nibs can easily overlap or get bent.  Overlapping tines can usually be pushed back in to place.  If the tines are bent they can sometimes be bent back in to shape, but it can be quite awkward getting the tines to line up perfectly. Often it will be necessary to replace nibs which have bent tines.


Most edged nibs use a reservoir to hold more ink and give an even ink flow.

Some nibs are purchased with an attached reservoir whilst other nibs like the William Mitchell and Leonardt nibs have separate reservoirs which have to be attached to the nib before use.

Attaching a reservoir to the nib correctly can be tricky; how tight the reservoir fits the nib and the distance between the edge of the nib and tip of the reservoir will affect the ink flow. Follow the instructions on how to fit a reservoir to be sure this has been done correctly.

The distance of the reservoir to the end of the nib will vary the ink flow.

Mitchell nib with reservoir


If the nib is purchased with a reservoir like the Brause and Speedball nibs then it should already be fitted correctly.  Ink flow problems are more likely to occur with these nibs once they have been used for a while, due to the build up of ink over a period of time. In this case remove the reservoir and clean it and the nib before re-assembling. (Speedball nibs cannot be easily disassembled).

Typically only a few letters can be written before loading the nib with more ink.  This will of course vary depending upon the height of the letters and size of the nib used.

Pressure on the Nib

Normally when using an edged nib, you do not want to put too much pressure on the nib whilst writing.  Only a very light pressure should be applied.  However, a good way to start the ink flowing is to apply a bit more pressure on the nib such that the tines just start to splay.  At that point give the nib a very slight wiggle from left to right.  You want to wiggle on the spot so no ink marks are made on the paper, just the hand and pen holder move slightly.


The choice of paper is always important with calligraphy.  When ever possible use a smooth paper to produce a smooth line.  A smooth paper will give crisper lines.


10 thoughts on “Ink Flow Problems”

  1. Another common cause, especially if using gouache is that they dry quickly, blocking the area between the tines. By just “touching” the surface of the water in your water jar with the nib point, NOT submerging the nib, this will dissolve the blocked paint or ink and away you go. Ink that has partially evaporated and become “thick” can be diluted with clean distilled water, a drop at a time.

    1. This is what happens in a dry place like in Madrid. The ink dries in the way to the paper so, it is essential to watering your nib every time.

  2. And another: always protect your paper below where you’re writing, by placing a sheet of printer paper under your hands. This will stop the paper getting greasy, which can also make you feel as though the ink has stopped flowing or sticking to the papper properly. Easily solved though 🙂

  3. Reggie Ezell recommends boiling a new Mitchell nib for a minute, then distempering it by holding it in a flame for about ten seconds; this equips it for the pressurized Italic and Roman Caps which he teaches.
    Reggie also recommends NOT using a reservoir with Mitchells because it compromises the nib’s flexion properties and, additionally, he advocates giving the nib a good rub down with Gum Arabic with each use to enhance the flow of writing fluid.

  4. Sue: This is easier if you have a sponge in the water and only have to touch the sponge.

    Claire: I wear a cotton glove with all the fingers except the little finger cut off. It protects the paper, and also allows for a little padding on the joint where I get sore when I write a lot of copperplate.

  5. Instead of boiling and frying the nib, try scrubbing it gently with a cotton bud and toothpaste; this should remove the protective coating of oil or grease.

  6. This topic is I believe related to ink flow. I am a calligraphy beginner and using a Pilot Parallel Pen with supplied appropriate ink cartridge. It appears that the ink is flowing too copiously. Before I insert a new cartridge I clean the pen. I do not know whether it is my technique or due to some other cause. What is wrong and what should I be look for? Any guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Aldwyn, most of this thread is on dipping pens, but I also use a pen similar to your pilot. Are you making sure the nib is completely dry fromnthe cleaning before starting a new cartridge of ink? It can take up to 24 hours to get all the water dried out. If you add ink to the party, then you have an excess of liquid in the nib. A way to tell if this is happening is look at something written right aft swapping the cartridge and something from closer to the end of the cartridge life. If you have water in the nib, your early writing will look diluted or faded compared to the end. It’s hard to see as you are writing, buy usually visible after the fact by comparing the samples.

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