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.



28 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. Lawrence Collins

      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.

    1. You can use a bit af uncooked potato. Put the nib into it and leave it for a minute. Take them up and dry them carefully

  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.

    1. Not a calligrapher (cartoonist/illustrator) but I was always old to suck the nib or place it in my mouth for a few seconds because saliva has the same effect on the lacquer. Certainly wouldn’t want to use a naked flame on the Hunt 108/102 nibs I use–(they have a reputation as being pretty average in their construction but I love the line quality they offer) I agree with you about the temper being weakened by the heat.

        1. In the 40 plus years that I’ve been doing Calligraphy as a hobbyist, I’ve gone through numerous nibs. Their original coating contains petroleum products which I don’t want to ingest. I’ve used a few methods for removing the coating. A few years ago, I was told by an IAMPETH Master Penman about using a paper match. It works better than any other approach, and it will not hurt the temper if you pass the nib a couple times on each side over the flame, then wipe it with a napkin or paper towel moistened with saliva.

  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. Pingback: Ink Flow Problems | Scribblers Calligraphy Resources

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  9. I tried my saliva and it works perfect, sound gross but is the easiest way, just spit in a paper towel and use it around your nib .

  10. No-one has mentioned using micropore tape instead of a reservoir? Once you get the hang of it, it works much better at holding ink and doesn’t slide down the nib when you’re writing. You just fill it with a brush.

    1. Our tutor taught us this method and it works perfectly Thank you for posting this. – I think I use a 5mm width micropore tape and cut a narrow piece across the tape width, 2 or 3mm works nicely. Position it across the nib ‘shoulders’ and wrap with tension, tidily round the back. i.e. the upper surface of the nib

  11. Thank you very interesting, I hate a new nib and usually write my signature about 20 times until the nib feels right and alls flowing , I will try the other methods suggested.

  12. I’m new to all of this, not having done any since a schoolday taster, many, many moons ago. I have a class booked with a tutor at the end of the month and am very interested in all the tips and comments. All advice appreciated. So far, everything sounds very helpful.
    Many thanks to all.

  13. I put them in a a cheap ultrasonic jewellery cleaner with a drop of washing up liquid for a couple of minutes. No heat required and no risk of damaging the nib as long as it’s dried properly. I don’t know how well it’d work on other brands, but it does the trick on leonardt drawing nibs.

  14. Probably the best way to prepare a nib that has been coated in laquer is to soak it in a small quantity of acetone or at a pinch, nail varnish remover.

    Soak in a glass jar with the lid on and agitate by shaking lightly a few time’s.

    Acetone/nail varnish remover is highly volatile so handle with care. Once soaked and agitated for a few minutes, remove the nib and wash in clean water. Dry thoroughly and it’s ready to use.

  15. I use, and teach my students, the toothpaste method as it works well. The idea of putting it into my mouth makes me wonder exactly what the coating is and if I want to ingest it!

  16. Soak the nibs in a mild solvent like pen cleaner or Windex or vinegar for 30 min-1hr then carefully dry them off. Or stick them in a raw potato up to the vent hole

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