Have you ever noticed that your handwriting looks better with some nibs than with others? I know that I have. Over the years, I’ve realized that my writing style is best suited to a larger nib. Of course, you may be the opposite and prefer a finer nib. What I want to look at today is how different nib sizes affect your handwriting.
Different Sizes and Types Of Nibs
As you probably know, there are quite a variety of nib sizes available. Most fountain pens are available with either a fine (F), medium (M), or broad (B) nib option. Depending on the manufacturer, some pens may be available with an extra-fine (EF) or double-broad (BB) option as well. All of these options affect the size of the line your pen puts down.
Your Writing Style
We all have different writing styles. Some people may write in small, closely-spaced cursive, while others may write in large block print. Each writing style is going to look different depending on which nib size is used. Furthermore, the choice of nib can actually impact how legible any given handwriting sample is.
With that being said, I want to introduce a concept that I’ll refer to in this post. It’s not an “official” word that you’ll see used in the pen community. To be honest, it’s something that I just made up, but I do think it will be helpful in this discussion. That concept is density. You can imagine writing density as a ratio of ink to empty paper in any given amount of space. So if you were to take the space between two lines on a piece of paper and not write anything, it has 0% density. If you were to completely color it in with ink, that would be 100% density. All writing is going to fall somewhere in between 0-100%. I’m not going to worry about coming up with a way to measure it, but let’s just understand that we can have low, medium and high density writing.
In general, the smaller your handwriting, the finer the nib you’ll want to use. A finer nib will usually give smaller handwriting a more attractive density. Using a nib that is too broad will smash all of your lines together, creating a high-density handwriting that will probably be hard to read.
With larger handwriting, you’re likely to have more flexibility in nib choice. Using a broader nib will probably make your writing look more attractive, but it should still be completely legible with a fine nib as well. A finer nib will give your writing a lower density, but it should still be easy to read. Depending on how steady your hand is and how straight your lines are, a fine nib may accentuate any imperfections in your writing.
Cursive handwriting typically has letter lines that are closer together than they would be in print (imagine the letter ‘n’ or ‘m’ for example), but letters that are farther apart. A finer nib is typically going to be better suited to cursive than a broad nib would be. Of course, depending on the size of your writing, it’s possible that a broad nib will work just fine.
Print handwriting typically has a bit more space between lines than cursive handwriting, but letters that are closer together. Because of this, you can usually get away with using a broader nib for print handwriting than you could with the same size of cursive handwriting. One important thing to consider is how much shading your ink has. Sometimes excessive shading can make your writing hard to read, especially with high-density writing.
Is There An Ideal Line Size To Letter Size Ratio?
At some point while I was writing this post I started to wonder if there is an ideal line size to letter size ratio. For example, if you prefer to write on paper that has 5mm line spacing, would a pen that lays down a 1mm line look better than one that lays down a 0.5mm line?
Then I started to think about it and realized that, not only is it entirely subjective, but there are so many variables involved for any given person’s handwriting that coming up with a “good” answer would be nearly impossible. I also realized that I don’t have anything with markings small enough to measure a line size smaller than 1mm, which is going to be the majority of nib sizes.
Still, I wanted some sort of answer, so I measured a variety of standard computer fonts that I found online and discovered that the majority had approximately a 1:10 ratio of line weight to x-height. While this may not exactly translate to handwriting, I think that it’s a decent approximation to use. So that means if you prefer to use a 5mm line spacing, a good nib size for you might lay down a 0.5mm line.
Given your particular writing style, the nib size you choose can have a big effect on how your handwriting looks. In general, for your writing to be more legible you should choose a finer nib. If you have larger handwriting, a broad nib should work just fine and may even make your writing look better than it would with a finer nib. Ultimately, you should use a pen that you enjoy writing with, but be aware of how nib size can affect the look of your handwriting. It doesn’t do much good to write something if it can’t be read.
Excellent thinking for starting more thinking.
Hope your thinking is insightful!
I believe there is another component related to ‘density’, and that his opacity of the ink and receptive paper. Some inks (often lighter in color) are easier to read when the letting is ‘thicker’, and some papers are more likely to feather, and that will be more pronounced with heavier script.
Personally, I prefer finer nibs, as I do write in a smaller cursive hand. I also write mostly with vintage flexible jobs, so my fine line broadens on downstrokes. Just my preference…I do like your thinking about density, as it offers the reader an easier and more comprehensible experience. It is much the same as density on the printed page; just think about the difference between hardcover books and pocket books. Generally, I have a really hard tie with smaller and more tightly printed text in small paperbacks than hardcover books. maybe it’s just me. I do think one should write, always taking the reader into consideration.
I think you have something there with how dark the ink is and how dense the writing is. A very light-colored ink with a fine nib can be much harder to read than the same nib with a dark ink.
Rather than selecting a nib size based on my handwriting, I adjust my handwriting based on the size of the nib. I write small with a fine nib and large with a medium nib (I don’t own a pen with a broad nib). I enjoy writing with both.
Aah, that’s one way to do it Richard! I suppose many of us do something similar. I know that when I use a notebook with bigger line spacing, I’ll grab a pen that looks better with bigger handwriting. Same with smaller line spacing… I’ll grab a fine nib so I can write smaller.
For quick notes, I like using a larger nib like a Western medium on 7 mm ruled paper. The larger nibs are usually smoother and I don’t need to be writing neatly for quick notes. If I’m writing in a journal which I’m going to keep and refer to, I use 5 mm dotted paper and use a finer nib like Japanese medium / fine or Western fine / extra-fine. I only print my handwriting, I don’t use cursive. If I want to show off the ink properties like shading, I use a Western medium or broad.
Sounds like you’ve got a good system, Terri! I am nowhere near as organized or consistent. 🙂
as always, a very interesting post! I have found out that I like larger nibs, B is the perfect size for my print handwriting. I love smaller grids, like 4mm or 3.8mm, but I would then need to use F nibs, but with F nibs ink colors do not show up very well. Therefore I like B nibs to see the color of an ink better and therefore have changed to 4.5mm or 5mm line spacing. This tiny difference of 0.5mm makes a huge difference. And I like writing with B nibs :-), the nibs are more smooth and give me a better feeling. And in addition I like paper with a bit of feedback, F nibs tend to catch on rougher paper, B nibs just glide over it.
Thanks Andrea! I have to agree that paper with a bit of feedback combined with B nibs is a great pairing. Glad to hear you’ve got a spacing/nib combo that works for you!
I do this, also, and enjoy both ways.
(Meant to reply to Richard.)