How to Use a Dip Pen

When you adventure into using a dip pen you will find its use noticeably different from cartridge pens. Even the supplies needed are different.

Besides the obvious pen nib holder, nib, ink and paper I have a few other things I use along with my dip pen set up. Most of my nibs also have a reservoir that holds a little more ink than a plain nib. I also have a piece of scrap Bristol paper, paper towels and a small round brush.

For clean up I use an old tooth brush, window cleaner or mild soap and water. If I’ve been lazy cleaning my nibs I may want a commercial pen cleaner.

With new nibs I first remove the factory rust preventive coating with hot water, dish washing liquid and I scrub them with an old, soft toothbrush. Some scribes briefly hold the nib over a flame to burn it off, but I haven’t tried that yet. I dry them carefully to prevent rust.

I check the nib reservoir to see if it is firmly attached. The reservoir is attached by tabs to the nib at the factory or sold separately for you to attach. If it is so loose it slides off the nib I press the tabs in to tighten them. A little movement is okay. 

I also check if the reservoir is centered and flat against the nib, whether I or the manufacturer added it. I see if it is about 1/16th” from the tip. The reservoir’s position effects the ink flow. Too far up and the ink might not reach the tip; too low and the ink blots. I don’t measure it actually. Eyeball is close enough.

When I first got my dip pen I loaded the ink by dipping the pen into the bottle. It is a dip pen, after all. Quickly I learned that isn’t a good way. I made a big mess. Too much ink got into the reservoir and then all over my fingers.

My Dip Pen Ink Supplier
There are several ways to load the ink so it’s more controlled. Many scribes use an small eye dropper or brush to apply an ink amount to the nib. I made a small container for the ink I plan to use that sitting. It is about plastic pop-bottle cap size, so the ink doesn’t cover the whole nib even if I touch it to the bottom. 

After loading the pen I test it by stroking a Bristol paper scrap. With the first stroke for the project, I check to see if the strokes have sharp edges and the ink is deposited evenly. If the ink blots or skips I adjust the reservoir slightly and assure it touches the nib.

If I’m using an old nib I also check the tines for too much spread because I was being heavy handed. If they are too far apart the lettering will be broader and sloppier. 

Dip pen edges are sharper than cartridge pens so the stroke should be crisper. To assure that, after loading the nib I stroke it across the scrap paper before I letter. I would rather check it than spend time redoing my lettering.

When I take a break from lettering my scroll I rinse my nib in water. If I plan to leave it over night or longer I try to clean the nib and reservoir, especially if I’ve used waterproof ink. Dried ink between the tines or in the reservoir impedes ink flow.

If I’ve used non-waterproof ink I clean with dish soap and water scrubbing with a tooth brush. When I’m feeling industrious I even separate the reservoir from the nib and clean. If I use waterproof ink I use window cleaner to clean the nib. For dried ink I use Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay pen cleaner, although others may work well too. Once waterproof ink has dried and difficult to remove it might be easier to replace the nib. I don’t use commercial pen cleaner on pen holders because it damages the plastic. Finally, I never put nibs and reservoirs away in a box while they are wet or they rust.

I hope my dip pen adventures and misadventures help you along your scribal journey. I’ve included some YouTube videos below for visual help.

Related Prior Post:
Dip Pen v Cartridge Pen

Related YouTube Videos:
Beginner Guide to Dip Pens part 1–don’t know what happened to part 2
Detailed Introduction to Using a Dip Pen –very detailed, although modernly based
Dip Pens 101 (Why do artists still use them)--another helpful modern approach

Categories: How-to

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