Within this article I will be looking at how long does a calligraphy nib last for and exactly how many applications can a calligraphy nib manage.
So, how long does a calligraphy nib last for?
Let’s get straight into it and answer this for you straight away. Based on my personal experience, with Leonardt Principal EF nibs, a nib can sometimes last for 20-30 envelopes when I am addressing envelopes. However it all depends on the quality of that specific nib. Other sturdier nibs such as a Nikko G nib can last for a very, very long time! With the more delicate nibs such as my favourite, Leonardt Principal EF, sometimes you can get a good batch that will last for 40 -60 envelopes (or calligraphy applications). However other times you will need to change into a new one after just 15-20 applications of calligraphy. It all depends on the nibs and a few other factors that I will discuss below.
Miraculously and happily the calligraphy nib has indeed made a comeback and is particularly popular in the wedding industry at the moment. Many brides lust after having their wedding invitations decorated with hand calligraphy or address their envelopes lovingly in calligraphy. Many brides and calligraphy enthusiasts have taken to this craft.
Yet many people don’t know how long certain nibs last, which ones to buy or if they should throw out and change their nib. Therefore, throughout this article I’ll be covering all the areas directly related and indirectly related to the topic of – how long does a calligraphy nib last?
Why do calligraphy nibs wear out?
Calligraphy nibs come in all shapes and sizes. The majority of them out there are quite cheap. They are cheap for a reason because they are disposable and only meant to be used for a short time and not at all for long term used.
Alongside this, nibs are completely opposite to the the concept of a modern fountain pen. Those good old pens that you could change the ink cartridge (if you are from that generation you will know what I mean). You never, ever needed to change the nib of the fountain pen. Yet this fountain pen had a set writing affect that you could not really influence too much with applying pressure.
However, returning back to the calligraphy nib, eventually due to a wide variety of reasons which we will be covering below, nibs will become damaged and unusable. Yet each nib will have a completely different lifespan compared to one another.
How many nibs should you buy for a calligraphy job?
If you have tried a selection of calligraphy nibs and you know which ones you are most comfortable with and used to, then stock up on those ones.
Personally when I have an envelope addressing job this is what it involves:
I need to calligraph onto the RSVP envelope,
The main envelope front address,
The return address on the back.
That means I need to address 3 separate sides.
So if I have a job with 100 envelopes, it essentially means that I will be adding calligraphy about 300 times with all the different applications (surfaces). Alongside this an address can be quite long and includes the bride and groom’s names’ as well.
Therefore, for this type of a job, I will stock up on at least 20 -30 nibs.
Oftentimes I buy them in packs of 50. I find it much more convenient to buy my nibs in bulk. If I only buy something like 10, I can get through them quite quickly and be panicking with how I’m going to meet a deadline if my nibs run out.
I like to have peace of mind and know that I have plenty in stock as I’m working to a deadline. You must also bear in mind that some nibs can be poorly made and don’t function at all for various reason. Hence, it’s always better to be prepared.
What do I mean by how many calligraphy applications a nib will last for?
When I refer to applications, I mean the amount of words you will make in calligraphy. You may only need to add couples names onto an invitation. These names may make up 3 words each and ending in 9 -10 words. This is a shorter calligraphy application.
Or you may be need to address envelopes with 4-5 lines (of an address) per envelope. Or you may need to write a set of vows or a longer document. On most envelopes clients require an address on the front of their invitation envelope and an additional return address on the back of the envelope. This becomes a far longer, intensive calligraphy application.
My guidelines for how long a nib will last are based on addressing the main envelopes with a front and back address.
Without a doubt, one of the nibs that lasts the longest is the Nikko G nib, which you can see pictured below. The Nikko G nib is one of the sturdiest and oftentimes complete beginners start training with this particular nib. Alongside this, the Brause Rose and the Brause 66ef also are easier to use and can last a little longer (if used properly). I will go over all of the main nibs that are used and most popular amongst calligraphers below.
How long different calligraphy nib models can last:
The Nikko G nib, is often the go to nib for new calligraphers or beginners. In addition I have also seen many calligraphy experts use this nib as well. They do last for a very, very long time and some calligraphers say that they are immortal unless it touches water in which case they rust. You would only damage this if an elephant steps on it!
The Leonardt Principal EF nib is also known as a copperplate nib as it is used mostly by advanced calligraphers that specialise in Copperplate and Spencerian writing.
Even though these are my all time most preferred nibs, they do still deteriorate but they do so gracefully and so slowly over the span of a calligraphy session. I only realise that I need to change it when it starts to catch on the paper. Other calligraphers can use this nib up to 50- 100 applications (depending on how much script you need to write).
Yet because my calligraphy style has so many flourishes and additional decorative curves, I do need to change this nib quite often, say after 30 applications it needs to be changed! It seems to rust quite quickly with the finetic gold inks that I like to use as well. Nonetheless it is my penultimate all time favourite!
This calligraphy nib is also one of my firm favourites. It is similar to the LP-EF above, in the it is very easy and flexible to use. It has a beautiful way of making thin and extremely thick lines. However its think lines are not as thin as the above nib. It does last for much, much longer than the Leonadrt Principal EF nib. It can easily go for up to 100+ uses, if you use it correctly and maintain it well.
This nib is a life saver and is referred by some calligraphers as the never ending energizer bunny. I once used one of these for an envelope addressing job for a previous client. I was amazed at how easy this nib was to use. It never even once caught on the upstroke and seemed to glide all over the paper. I may have calligraphed almost 100 envelopes with one nib, yet it was a very rough paper. So that paper may have caused its life to end early. This nib is known for its fine lines and smoothness.
This is a very sturdy, strong, reliable nib and can go on and on for a long time, if used properly.
Although this is not my choice of calligraphy nib, I have seen many other modern calligraphers use it. In the past I have had some good experiences with this nib, so I recently bought a pack of 20 Brause 66ef nibs so that I could have them in reserve incase my other nibs run out.
They’re really easy to use and very beginner friendly. If you treat it gently it can go for a long time and calligraph up to 100+ applications of calligraphy depending on the type of script you with to create. It is quite flexible and can hold a good amount of ink, yet you have to find the right nib holder for this little baby.
However these nibs can get damaged easily and if you apply too much pressure while you write calligraphy it can die on you quite quickly.
These calligraphy nibs are very fine and for the more experienced, seasoned calligrapher to use. Most often highly skilled calligraphers like to use this nib for specialised Copperplate writing scripts. This nib has a very sharp point, yet after you place it carefully into the nib it is very flexible and is it quite easy to create thicker lines with some pressure.
Due to its delicate nature, they don’t actually last that long and once they have written all that they can, they start to behave quite strangely. Often times the tines (I explain what tines are below) after a heavy line can cross. Once the tines do cross this is a sure sign that is it time to change the nib.
Why do you need to change the finer nibs so often?
Leonardt Principal EF verses Hunt Imperial nib
I’m circling back to this particular Leonardt Principal EF nib because it is my absolute, all time favourite calligraphy nib. I often also like to use the Hunt Imperial 101 nib which is a slightly sturdier version of the Leonardt Principal EF nib, but it produces thicker lines.
The Hunt Imperial 101 nib last for a lot longer. It’s tip is not as fine as the Leonardt Principal EF and so it has the potential to last for much longer.
Yet the Leonardt Principal EF, for me is the duchess of nibs. I simply adore the fine lines and thick swells that it can produce.
The picture that you see below is produced entirely with my Leonardt Principal EF nib. I outlined all of the artwork, the gold leaves, with this Leonardt Principal EF nib as well as the calligraphy.
When I create artwork such as these gold leaves, I am making the nib do something that it was not exactly made for. This can damage the nib quite quickly and I can literally go through one nib per artwork piece. Yet the effect is without a doubt so beautiful that for me, it is worth it!
There are so many influencing factors that can count towards the lifespan of a calligraphy nib and that can influence how long your nib will last in the end.
Rough paper: If you use paper that is very rough, such as handmade, watercolour paper or card, which are all very rough. Handmade paper has lots of fibres and this can damaged the nib and get stuck in your nib causing your nib to get damaged right at the tip.
Good quality ink: Make sure you invest in using a good quality ink. Otherwise the ink that you use can be of poor quality and have too much acidity within in. This can cause some damage to your nib and reduce its lifespan.
Lots of thick lines or shadings: If you have a particular calligraphy style were you use lots of heavy lines, or heavy shades (shades is calligraphy terminology) this places an enormous amount of pressure of the tip of the nib. Finer nibs will not last very long at all with heavier, bold writing and will be damaged quite easily this way. Only a skilled calligrapher that has developed and honed their craft over the years know exactly how much pressure to apply or not to apply. It varies from calligrapher to calligrapher and everyone has their own specific calligraphy script that they have developed as their signature style.
Not enough maintenance: When you are careless with your nibs and don’t take enough time to clean and properly maintain them, blobs and specks of ink can easily build up in the front and back area of the nib. A clean nib is essential in helping extend the lifespan of your nib, so don’t overlook this!
Should you change the nib if the ink is not flowing well?
There could be a few factors that can cause ink not to flow well through the nib. Your calligraphy nib may be dirty and need some maintenance. As you use your calligraphy nibs, make sure you look out for when the ink doesn’t flow well.
Sometimes no matter how good your ink is you can experience problems. Your ink may be mixed really well. You may think you have the perfect ink consistency. Not too thick. Not too thin. Yet for some unknown reason the ink just will not flow from your nib smoothly. Your nib may be dirty and have either grease or some dried ink stuck at the tip. This type of dirt or small grease spots can cause the ink to not flow from your nib.
To remedy this you can try either:
Burn your nib with a lighter for about 5-7 seconds.
Stick your nib in a potato and then rinse in water.
Rinse your nib in some clean water and rub it with a non fibrous tissue (such as good old toilet paper).
How do you know if your calligraphy nib needs to be changed?
When you start out using a brand new nib, you will notice how smoothly it glides across the paper. If you are doing calligraphy on rough paper, it can damage the nib, so do beware of that. Yet otherwise when you start out with your new nib, it really should be very smooth and easy to use. Now it is possible to have bad batches of nibs yet on the whole a new nib is a dream to work with.
Normally my favourite, most preferred paper to do all of my calligraphy on is this unconventional Layout pad. This Layout Pad, is not labelled, calligraphy paper but it is all round for me, the best calligraphy paper out there. I always use this Layout Pad when I need to scan calligraphy in and digitalise it for the custom wedding invitations that I design.
Circling back to my point, a good calligraphy nib that is in good condition will write on paper beautifully and without catching. However, the more you use your nib, it will at some stage start to catch on the paper, get extra scratchy and stop being easy to use. It will glide less and less and instead it will start to catch more on the paper.
You may even get some occasions where your nib will actually catch on your paper and then suddenly bounce off, causing splatter marks.
These are the warning signs that you need to change your nib.
What are nib tines?
The nib tines on your calligraphy nib are the two tiny lines that meet in the centre of your nib. This is where the ink flows down as you calligraphy your script. Why do you need to know about tines?
As you continue with your calligraphy, when you press down gently and make a thick flourish (line), or a heavy shade, you can find sometimes that the tines cross or one tine overlaps onto the other, or the tines have a tiny space in between.
In addition, you may find that the lines that you write are too wide.
When you attempt to write or create thin lines in calligraphy- which are called hairlines as well as an upstroke (which is the delicate fine-line that is created when you draw your calligraphy nib upwards), the lines are not narrow and far too wide. You will find that it becomes harder to recognise a marked difference between the thicker and thinner lines.
See an example of the difference in the line of the second picture below, with the black and gold calligraphy.
This means that your nib is clearly damages and needs to be replaced.
I hope that this article of, how long does a calligraphy nib last for, will help you to now be more prepared and enable you to make your calligraphy nibs last longer. With the proper care and the best knowledge you can get the most from your calligraphy nibs.
I hope you enjoy using your chosen nib and please do leave a comment with any other questions that you might like answered. I read and respond to every comment.
A little about the author
My name is Rubana and I am the designer here at Crimson Letters. I take a huge amount of pride in every stationery design I create and take great care to produce only beautiful, high-quality work. Taking inspiration from the world around me I pour my heart and soul into every design, right down to the tiniest detail.
My passion for travel, intricate design and opulence allows me to produce luxury wedding stationery that my couples are excited to send to their guests. If you would like to work together on creating a stunning, handmade stationery suite do get in touch so we can discuss your vision.
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KlipJuly 24, 2020 - 12:03 pm ·
Hey, so is it Brause Rose Nib that’s one of your faves or Leonardt no. 40 shorthand, as this is the one on the photo?
PatriciaVOctober 27, 2020 - 7:29 pm ·
Thanks so much for all the great advice! In your article you talk about using quality inks. What brands of inks would you suggest for calligraphers to use? Thanks again!
Noah EnholmMarch 5, 2022 - 2:04 pm ·
The nib is what distinguishes the best calligraphy nibs from the inferior ones. Try performing calligraphy with a bad nib and you’ll see how difficult it is. Good nibs are vital for smooth and even writing because they retain and disperse the ink. If you use high-quality nibs, you may achieve crisp lines and strokes.