Tips and Tricks Part One: Nibs and Holders

We are frequently asked for help with a variety of calligraphy issues, so the idea for a blog article sharing some favorite tips and tricks seems like a good idea. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, hopefully you’ll find something here that will make your life a little easier. By all means, if you have more tips and tricks to share, please comment on this post! If you have more questions, comment as well! We can always update the article with more information based on your questions! For sake of ease, the tips are broken up into sections and will be a series of articles.



*Preparing Nibs for Use-There are so many ways to prepare your nibs for initial use. From boiling them in water to running them through a flame, you’ll find no shortage of suggestions. Regardless of which one you choose, you need to be sure to use one before trying to write with a nib!

  1. Running a nib through a flame: Strike a match or use a lighter or candle to generate a small flame. Quickly pass your nib back and forth once or twice. Don’t burn your nib!
  2. Stab a potato: While the name of this pretty much describes exactly what to do, keep in mind that you don’t want to break the nib. Insert it into a holder (a straight holder would likely be easiest), and then push it into a raw potato. Remove and write!
  3. Eraser: Gently clean your nib by rubbing an eraser over it. A kneaded eraser is particularly easy to use because of its softness.
  4. Toothpaste: Squirt a little toothpaste onto an old toothbrush and gently clean your nib. Rinse well!
  5. Boiling Water: Drop your nibs into boiling water for just a few minutes (we would recommend three or less!).
  6. Saliva: Perhaps the grossest method, many people simply put the nibs into their mouths for a few seconds to clean them. Unless you just particularly like the taste of metal, one of the other methods works just as well.

*Scratchy Nibs: Sometimes nibs are a little too scratchy. This can be because the tines are not aligned correctly, so check that first. They should be even with one another; neither should be higher/lower. Further, they should meet up in the middle when closed with no open space between them. If they are aligned, you can consider softening their edges. Do so by gently sweeping the nib (think about the motion of a grandfather clock) softly over a nail file block. Putting too much pressure or filing for too long can change the shape of your tines, so you don’t want to go overboard with this.

*Nibs Not Holding Ink or Not Flowing Well: First of all, we’ve probably all experienced the horrendous ink blob at the most inconvenient time. While not a failsafe way to prevent this, a good rule of thumb is to give your nib a “snap shake” (a term I learned from Reggie Ezell) each time you dip it. That means have a scratch sheet of paper handy while you are writing, hold your loaded nib in the holder over the paper, and flick your wrist. Then, make one or two practice strokes before you go back to your writing. Another great tip from Reggie is to give your nib a gum arabic rub down prior to use. This is achieved by putting a small amount of gum arabic onto a clean cloth and then rubbing your nib with it. Too much gum arabic can make your ink slide right off, so the trick is to use it sparingly. (In fact, I sometimes rub my nib with gum arabic, and then wipe it gently with a clean cloth to remove any excess.)

*Nib Catching on the Paper: This problem can be related to a scratchy nib. However, it can also be because you are writing on very soft paper. If the latter is the problem, you may want to switch the nib you are using. I’ve personally found the Hiro 41 to be a good choice for soft paper. It’s flexibility helps it to write a bit more smoothly without tearing up the surface quite so much. You’ll find that most calligraphers have at least two nibs they prefer to work with, and that choice is likely dependent on the paper being used.

Much too steep!
Much too steep!

Also, check your angle to be sure it’s not too vertical. If you are working too steeply, that can also cause your nib to catch more often. Think about the bottom tip of the tines hitting your paper when you write.


Better alignment










*Nib Storage: There are so many creative ways to store your nibs. Here at the shop, we use fish tackle boxes. The small, square sections are perfect for holding nibs, and we cut mail labels to fit in each one to identify the nibs found in it. There are also similar types of boxes made for beads, sewing notions, etc. You could also use nib tins, or one of the various ArtBin holders.

When traveling, you want to be sure to enclose your nibs safely. An ArtBin case works well, as do nib tins or tackle type boxes. If you have a large number of smaller compartments (as you would in a tackle box), it can be a good idea to cover the inside of the box with a sheet of paper that you tape down before travel. This will keep them from sliding over the edges of the compartment (although sometimes they can slide under). It’s also a good idea to tape the box shut with packing tape. It might not look pretty, but it will should keep you from having loose nibs once you reach your destination.You can also use a piece of cardboard for storage. Stick your nib carefully into the edge of the cardboard(where it’s slightly perforated), and label your nibs on the front underneath. Then, you can place them in a large Ziploc. Finally, it’s always easiest on your nibs to put them in your carry-on when flying so that you can control how much they are jostled.

*Cleaning your nibs: We are constantly asked for ideas on how to clean nibs. Here are our favorites:

  1. Wipe your nib with a cloth as you work. Every few lines, take a damp paper towel and wipe the ink from your nib. An even better option is to use a nib wipe (available soon on our website).
  2. Use a solution of Dawn and water to clean as you go. Customer Nami Nakamura recommends the following: My studio is upstairs and I am not near a sink to clean my nibs in between projects. I keep a sour cream sized container with water that has one drop of Dawn liquid soap in it and an old toothbrush. After using my dip pen, I dip the nib in the water and brush off the ink and after putting the lid on the container, I set my pen on the lid to dry. If you are concerned about the oblique clamp getting rusted, you may want to remove nib from holder.
  3. Use a mixture of water and ammonia. Add a small amount of ammonia(maybe 1:7 ratio ammonia:water as you really don’t need much ammonia) to a cup of water. Allow your nibs to soak for a minute or so, then scrub with an old toothbrush.
  4. Ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. Though expensive, using an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner will definitely help remove stubborn ink from your nibs!
  5. 11954574_1064009586942605_4383526526821544954_nCreate your own nib cleaner. Trish Meyer shared the following ingenious tip with us:Carrie Designs (Carrie Imai) has a great tip: She breaks the top off a toothbrush and glues it (with Liquid Nails) to the inside of a small container. Fill it with water, and it makes it easy to clean and scrub your nib as you write. My cleaning dish is a sponge, clean water, and this toothbrush container – top right of pic (I use an old microwave dish as it’s heavy and doesn’t move).
  6. Trish Meyer has also found a great product for cleaning nibs. She says, “I use Maas metal polish to remove dried ink and tarnish. You will need to treat the nib like a new nib afterward, but it will look like one, too. Find it at:”

No matter what method you choose for cleaning, take time to dry your nibs after you clean them.



Nib inserted correctly into a straight holder.

Loading Your Nib Into the Holder: The first thing to consider when using a nib and holder is how to correctly load your nib. It’s not always obvious the first time you try! For a straight holder, the nib fits on the outside of the metal pieces, not in the center. Many people assume it goes into the middle of the tines, but placing it there just means your nib will move when you write and will almost certainly mess up your writing. Placing it on the outside holds the nib in place.





The holder should actually be hair to the left for perfect alignment with the drawn line.

For an oblique holder, you want the tip of your nib tines to line up with the center of the holder. Thus, you need to push it back far enough in the flange to allow this to happen. The Speedball Oblique holder will prevent you from inserting several nibs far enough because it has a closed end. Otherwise, you should be able to move your nibs for proper placement. An easy way to do this is to lay your holder on a piece of paper. Draw a straight line out from the middle of the holder, and then load your nib. Keep pushing it back until the tip of your nib is hitting the line you’ve drawn.

Adjusting your holder:  If you are not using an adjustable holder, you may need pliers to adjust your flange when necessary. There are several small-sized versions available, but our favorites are these designed by Christopher Yoke. We will soon be carrying them! You can use these to bend the flange ever so gently to accommodate various nibs.

20150909_114551If you are using an adjustable holder, all you need is a small screwdriver (or, in desperate times, insert your Exacto blade upside down into the knife and use the flat side). You can loosen or tighten the holder to accommodate a wide variety of nibs. Notice that the flange has three openings. The outer opening is for larger nibs such as the Nikko G or Zebra G. The middle opening works well for the Brause EF66, and the dead center is for holding crowquill nibs. While these holders are more expensive, they do give much better options.

Brause EF66 in the middle opening of the flange. This is around the perfect circle in the middle.



Larger nib in the outer most opening of the flange.
Crowquill nib inserted into the perfect circular opening in the middle of the holder.









yhst-141105795965626_2383_341561999-1Storing your holder: Holders are incredibly easy to store. A pencil cup works just fine, as do pen trays. For travel, you can use an ArtBin travel box, a roll-up pouch, or even a pencil pouch depending on whether your holders are straight or oblique.


Again, in order for this series of articles to be most successful, we want your feedback! Share your own favorite tips or ask questions you have regarding the topic at hand. We want you to find this series useful!




  1. Thank you for this article, it’s has so much useful information–I will have to give that cleaning setup by Trish Meyer a try! I agree that Christopher Yoke’s guides for flange adjustment is very useful, as is he when it comes to using oblique holders 🙂 I’ll definitely be bookmarking this article for quick referencing. Can’t wait for part 2!

  2. For cleaning sumi inks off nibs, I find a diluted solution of Simple Green cleanser (in most grocery stores) works great. If the ink is fresh, just dip a toothbrush in it & clean off the nib. If the ink is dried on, let the nib soak in it for a while. Nibs will not corrode while sitting for a day.

  3. Hi,

    Thank you so much for the info but I do have a question, when I store my holders is it advisable to keep the nibs on the holders specially if im using a roller pen case?

    • Be sure that you take them out and clean them, and if you are traveling at all, I would definitely suggest removing them from the holders. I always take mine out just to be sure they are thoroughly cleaned and dried.

  4. Love, love, love your new tip blog! Since I can no longer attend guild meetings, I have to find answers where I can. Nib instruction tips will help me a lot as I constantly have problems with flow. Please keep them coming. It is wonderful of you to give us heads up about new tools. Thank you. 💖

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