The Writing Desk Reference Section: Questions about pens
What do all the different nib sizes mean?
Most pens bought in the High Street will be fitted with a medium (M) nib. Whilst this will suit a lot of people's writing, it won't suit everyone which is why, wherever possible, we offer many choices of nib point size.
Here is a brief description of commonly found nib types (note: most pens have just a few of these options!).
Common nib sizes
- EF (extra-fine). A nib that will give a line width of around 0.4mm. Suitable for those with very small writing.
- F (fine). A nib that will give a line width of around 0.6mm. Suitable for those with small writing.
- M (medium). A nib that will give a line width of around 0.8mm. Suitable for those with average-size handwriting.
- B (broad or bold). A nib that will give a line width of around 1.0mm. Suitable for those with large writing or for signatures.
- A ("Anfänger" = beginner). A rounded point made by Lamy for the abc and nexx fountain pens, although we can fit this nib to any Lamy pen that takes a steel nib. Designed for beginners and young writers. Between fine and medium in line width.
Specialist nib sizes
- Italic (eg IF, IM, IB, 1.1mm, 1.5mm etc). A nib ground so that the tip is flat instead of rounded and often an untipped steel nib. Designed to give extreme line variation between wide down-strokes and narrow side-strokes in the manner of a calligraphy pen. Often specified in terms of width (in mm). Most factory-produced italic nibs are actually stub- or cursive-italics meaning the corners of the nib are rounded so allow continuous writing unlike a proper calligraphy nib that requires much greater care. Common designations are: MI or IM (medium italic), 1.1mm, 1.5i etc.
- Stub or ST. A more rounded, gentle version of an italic nib such that good line variation is produced. Like italic nibs, these are usually specified in terms of width (in mm). Less demanding in terms of angle to the page than an italic or stub-italic nib. Often labelled S or ST.
- NP (needlepoint). A very small point to give an extremely fine line. Sometimes referred to as XXF or EEF (extra-extra-fine). Usually only available on Japanese pens (see below).
- BB or 2B or EB (extra-broad). A nib that will give a line width of around 1.2mm. Suitable for those with very large writing or for signatures. Usually gives good line variation. Often called "double-broad" but this can be confusing as the line width is not twice that of a broad nib (from the same manufacturer).
- BBB or 3B or EEB (extra-extra-broad). A nib that will give a line width of around 1.4mm. Will give large flowing lines and good variation between down-strokes (wide) and side-strokes (less wide). Now very uncommon.
- OM, OB etc (oblique medium, oblique broad etc). A nib ground so that the tip slopes to the left, rather like your left foot. Designed for those writers that either rotate the pen anti-clockwise or hold the pen at an unusual angle. Note that oblique nibs do not normally give more line variation than a standard rounded point unless specifically stated otherwise (in other words, they are not italic style nibs). Sometimes incorrectly labelled as "left-handed", but there is no such thing (see here).
- LH (left-hand, eg Pelikano and Lamy). A medium nib but with the point shaped so that it may be more suited to left-handed writers, particularly those who hold their above the line of writing ("over-writers").
- MK (rounded medium). A special nib made by Lamy with a more rounded point such that the orientation of the pen relative to the paper is less critical than a standard point and therefore easier for beginners. The designation is no longer used but the current Lamy medium nib is made to the same specification as the MK.
- Music. A type of stub or italic nib to give the wide variation of line widths necessary for writing music scores.
- Zoom. A special nib made by Sailor that offers many line widths. When used normally it produces a generous broad line. When the pen is raised to increase the angle to the paper, the line becomes narrower. Conversely, when the pen is held at a shallow angle the line is wider. This nib also offers an extra-fine (EF) line when used upside down.
- ROM (reverse-oblique medium etc). A nib ground so that it slopes to the right, rather like your right foot. Sometimes suitable for left-handed people. Sometimes confusingly called right oblique. Very uncommon.
Finally, there is no standard for nib point sizes. Therefore:
- It is possible for a pen with a medium nib to be similar to another brand labelled B or F.
- Many steel nibs have a finer point than the equivalent gold nib. This is certainly true for Pelikan, Lamy (except the Lamy 2000 fountain pen), Edison and Bexley.
- Generally speaking, Japanese-made pens have finer nibs than American pens which are in turn finer than European pens. However, many nibs are produced in Germany for both European and American pens.
Please see this page for more information.
What if I make the wrong choice?
If your first choice of nib is not quite right we will always change this for you free of charge (subject to availability). There is no need to send the pen off to a distributor or manufacturer you have not dealt with before.