Fountain Pen Nib Size Overview

What are the differences between Japanese and Western nibs? I read a lot online and see various comments about what the difference actually is, or that Japanese nibs write finer, but I figured it needed to be detailed out a bit further.

If you’ve gotten into fountain pens even a little bit, you know that one of the best and most confusing things about them is the ability to select different nib sizes. You can personalize your experience which is amazing, but there is an inherent challenge in that just about every company has a different standard, like shopping for women’s dress sizes. It’s different across every brand, and even across pen models within a brand!

Timestamps:
Where Nibs Come From – (0:35)
Japanese Companies – (0:48)
Japanese Nibs – (0:59)
Western Companies – (1:29)
Non Specific Brand Nibs – (1:42)
Other Countries That Make Their Own Nibs – (2:09)
Comparing FP Nibs – (2:15)
Nib Nook – (2:43)
Shopping For A Fountain Pen? – (2:57)
Outro – 3:30

Historically, pen companies never sought after consistency across the industry, because the market demanded personalization. Pens were made by hand, sold 1-to-1 in brick and mortar stores, and tested/adjusted in-house to fit individuals’ needs much like a tailor would fit a suit. Today the production is more consistent but there’s still a lot of handwork involved in the final tuning/polishing stages of making nibs. Over the years, there’s been no particular incentive for long-established pen companies to try to standardize to their competitor’s grinds, so they remain somewhat inconsistent across the industry. That said, there is a generalization out there about Japanese and Western (European) nib sizes and how they differ, and that’s what I’ll get into today.

Fountain Pen Nib Size Overview - Pilot Lamy

There are really two main countries that produce fountain pen nibs, Germany & Japan. There are other countries that produce nibs (China, India, France, etc) but those are really the big two.

Within Japan, there’s really 3 main Japanese pen companies: Pilot, Platinum, and Sailor. These nibs are made in-house so they differ from pretty much every other brand because of that. The Extra-Fine & Fine nibs from these companies are really where the biggest differences are. They tend to be a full size finer than their Western counterparts. The Medium & Broad nibs tend to fall in line more with other pen brands.

So why are the Japanese nibs finer? That’s because of the characters used in Japanese, the way they need to be written requires the line variation to produce a very fine line.

Fountain Pen Nib Size Overview - Platinum

Now for the Western/European companies that produce nibs, there are several countries that do this, but Germany is the main one. Lamy & Pelikan are both German brands that make their nibs in-house.

Bock and Jowo are actually two major nib producers in Germany that are non-brand specific. Bock nibs can be found on Karas Kustoms, Visconti, Kaweco, Tactile Turn, and others. JoWo supplies nibs for Edison, Goulet, and TWSBI.

Fountain Pen Nib Size Overview - Pelikan

Some key points when it comes to comparing nibs:

  • Standardizing ink & paper is really important. They both impact line width.
  • Having the same writer as everyone writes a bit differently (angle, pressure, writing speed)
  • Pen design can have an impact as well, like the flow & feed design. 

Fountain Pen Nib Size Overview - Nib Nook

Our Nib Nook tool is a great resource for comparing nibs across all the brands that we offer. It shows writing samples I’ve done with every nib on every pen we offer for a consistent comparison. If you still have questions on how a particular nib stacks up, reach out to us! We’re more than happy to answer any questions as we know this can get confusing.

Do you have a favorite brand or nib that you’re partial to? Let us know in the comments below!

Write on,
Brian Goulet

2017-10-11T13:45:46+00:00 June 14th, 2017|Fountain Pen 101, Tips & Tricks|27 Comments
  • Kathy

    Brian, thanks for taking the time to shoot this excellent video. I’ve used your Nib Nook a lot, but since I’m not really into EF and F nibs, I haven’t thought much about these differences. The differences are really quite apparent as you present. Fountain pens, like many other things, are so reflective of the individual cultures/societies…I find this fascinating. Thank you so much for this video and for all you and you team do. You really are the best!!!

    My likes are all over the board, but in the past year or so, I’ve fallen in love with Platinum pens. Love the gold and steel nibs, and the pens are beautiful. Just got the 3776 music nib from you, and love it. It’s so much fun to write with. Maybe not an EDC, but still fun to bring out the characteristics of different inks.

    By the way, who is writing the Japanese characters? So cool!

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      That is Jessica from our Customer Care team doing the writing! She is so talented!

      • Tom Johnson

        Jessica is sure talented, I don’t think I could make those delicate perfect pen strokes. Iit seems like so many of you guys at Goulet are talented. I just love the Monday Matchups, Thursday Things, the videos and everything you post on the blog.

        • Lydia At Goulet Pens

          Thanks, Tom! It’s so great that we work for a company that lets up have an outlet to showcase those talents. Truly a great part of working at Goulet 🙂

  • David L.

    Like Kathy, I use the Nib Nook a lot. When I’m browsing for the next pen, I check the Nib Nook for the nib size that fits me the best. Typically a fines and extra-fines. When I first got into fountain pens a little over a year ago, I was confused by the Japanese and German nib sizing. This would have been great a great resource back then. I will definitely recommend this video to everybody getting into the FP world.

    A favorite brand. Hmm. At the moment, it is Pilot. I love their quality. I love my Metropolitan, and it is an EDC pen for me. My favorite nib brand is JoWo. Bock seems to have line variation in a single nib size. My Kaweco fine is finer than a friend’s Kaweco extra-fine and fine. I found this a tad ridiculous, as did he.

    My favorite brand will probably change when I get a Pearlette (finally nailed one down). From all that I hear about Edisons, they sound like one of the best brands out there. Thank you for the amazing videos!

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      I sincerely hope the Edison doesn’t disappoint when you get one. I know you have heard many of us sing the praises and I hope you have the same magical experience.

      • David L.

        Lydia, I know that they will be above and beyond my expectations!

  • Walter

    Brian,

    Wow! Thank you for this post and video. I have been going CRAZY trying to figure out why some of my Extra-Fine nib pens write the way they do, while others seem to write with thicker strokes. Had I known all this before I wouldn’t be feeling so silly now. I’m a big fan of Extra-Fine nibs. I love the way they scratch paper when they write, and how the ink looks on paper when it dries. For my handwriting (chicken scratch, really) nothing works better.

    My favorite Extra-Fine nibs are the Japanese made. I love the Pilot Elite’s and Metropolitan’s nibs and I compare all other EF nibs to those two pens. They are exactly what I love and crave when I purchase a fountain pen.

    Then there are the German Faber-Castel pens and the reason why I was going crazy with the nibs. I own the pear wood Ambition and E-motion pens because I love the look and style of wood vs metal. I find German pens stylish, modern, and elegant. But I could never find a German pen with a nib as fine as the Japanese. The difference between the Ambition and E-motion EF pens is also so apparent/different, that I decided to stick with the E-motion because out of the two, it had the finer writing nib, even when both pens were made by the same company! Drove me nuts!

    In any case, I finally settled on a personal favorite pen (F-C E-motion EF), but there are times when I longingly reach for the Pilot Elite. If I could have the best of both worlds, I’d slap the Elite’s nib on the F-C pen, and write forever happy.

    Thanks, again, for all this great info!

    Walter
    Miami, FL

  • Aquaria

    As a college student majoring in Japanese (and math–but that’s another matter), I focus on nib size when buying my pens. As one can imagine, I have exceedingly high demands of my fountain pens when it comes to the work I need to do.

    For my typical non-math classes, it doesn’t really matter what nib size I use. For my Japanese class, though, I always use a Japanese pen with an F or EF nib. Nothing else will do for the intricate strokes in small spaces that Japanese syllabaries demand. Most Japanese pens with an F nib will work perfectly well for hiragana and katakana. That changes when it comes to kanji writing, which requires far more precision and control, with no blobs, no skips, no hard starts. For my purposes, the best kanji writer I’ve found is a Platinum 3776 Century with an F nib. Although it has no flex to it at all, it maneuvers through kanji strokes in tight spaces like no other pen I have and never fails to put down ink when and where I need it. I usually keep that one inked with some kind of blue-black ink, like Pilot or Franklin Christoph Noir et Bleu, because they’re not overly wet inks, which can prove troublesome when writing Japanese characters.

    I did purchase a Sailor 1911 with a 24k EF that works just as well, if not better, but I’m exceedingly reluctant to bring such an expensive FP to class every day. That’s why it will be my home kanji writer.

  • Giovanni’s Roomba

    There’s nothing like a Japanese pen if you like fine nibs. I’ve been using a Pilot Prera F for five years and thought that was as fine as I’d ever see, but a few weeks ago on vacation in Europe I tried a Sailor Professional Gear pen with an EF nib and bought it on the spot. It is STAGGERINGLY fine, like a sewing needle, the nib of my dreams. It makes a Lamy EF look like a felt-tip marker. A Monteverde F nib is like writing with lipstick compared to the Sailor.

    The funny thing is that most of the people we talked to in pen shops HATE fine nibs: I think they all learn in school using a medium nib and that’s what they get accustomed to. Consequently, it was really hard to find anything other than a medium nib anywhere but specialty shops (I bought my pen at PW Akkerman in The Hague).

  • Rick Bouchard

    Unlike many of my counterparts in this thread, I like the thicks and thins of an italic, oblique or flexible nib. Many years ago, there was an article in the New York Times about how fountain pens improve your hand writing. I find this is not true for very thin, fine nibs as it records every deviation in the line. The broad nib, however, tends to be more forgiving. Thank the gods we have diversity in nibs to accommodate different styles & preferences. Brian, thank you for this article and video, which I’m going to save.

  • Tom Johnson

    What a great video for everyone. I learned about nib sizes the hard way (buying pens before Goulet info was available) and through Brian’s videos, blogs, and the Nib Nook, any by buying pens armed with the information from Goulet.

    I’m most fortunate, I have needs for pen nibs from Japanese EF to the 1.5 mm stub nibs and everything in between. The finest nib I have is the Platinum EF Preppy. This nib is even finer that the Platinum EF Carbon Desk Pen. My Vanishing Point EF is about like the Desk Pen EF. I also love the Preppy F nibs too.

    I my 1999 Vanishing Point M nib was the finest I’d ever had until later when I bought these other nibs. My first European fine nib was my Waterman Carene, about the same as my VP M nib. The Lamy Al-Star EF was a bit finer than my Waterman F, but not too much. I found some variation in my Japanese nibs. My Platinum 3776 Century M is about like my VP F, but such a wonderful writing nib. My Pilot E95S M is like a true German M nib.

    I have 7 Edison nibs for 5 pens. The F Edison #6 nibs are close to my VP M nibs. The M Edison #6 is wider than all my other M nibs. The EF Edison #6 nib is about like my VP F. However, my F #5 Edison nib is just about the same as my EF Edison #6, and my M #5 Edison is like my F Edison #6 nib.

    I have to say that I love all my Pilot, Platinum, Edison nibs as well as my Waterman F and my vintage Sheaffer F nibs. Platinum F and EF nibs seem to be the most consistent. And the Nib Nook has become an old friend over the past four years.

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      Did you see the new Edison flex nib, Tom? It is only sold direct by Edison and not available to us to sell, but it looks very interesting in the video Brian Gray put out this morning!

      • Tom Johnson

        I did, watched the video earlier this morning. Neat! I was hoping that it would be available for you guys to sell with a pen. But it can be added to any Edison pen that takes the #6 nibs. I only have four such pens!!

        • Lydia At Goulet Pens

          I got to play around with one yesterday. Quite interesting but I would call it more of a soft nib, like that of the Pilot Falcon, rather than a flex.

          • Tom Johnson

            Wow Lydia, you must have the perfect job! Great to know that. It fits with Brian Gray’s description of the nib. Thanks for letting me know. I guess if one likes the soft nibs like the falcon, but want it in a beautiful Edison pen (interchangeable nibs), it would make sense. Thanks so much.

      • MP

        I saw that Lydia. I was wondering if you guys would be carrying them. Glad to have that question answered.

  • April McGowan

    I also find heaviness and grip size important because I deal with illness and fatigue. Are there notations on your pen pages about that?

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      If you check out the product specs on each pen page, April, you will find the weights and grip diameters. You can also filter your search results by weight in the sidebar.

      • April McGowan

        EXCELLENT. Thanks so much for your response! I appreciate it.

        • Lydia At Goulet Pens

          Glad to help 🙂

  • Uniotter

    A great resource video, Brian, thanks for providing it! I’m growing to appreciate finer nibs over time, but tend to like the “glass smooth” experience when writing, so most of my pens are M. I love the nibs on my Pilot pens — they are the most consistent — but the Platinum ones are also good. And Faber Castell and Pelikan for Western pens are pretty consistent as well. Haven’t tried Brian Gray’s pens yet, but looking forward to getting one eventually.

  • Pierre-rt

    One of my favorite nib is a stainless steel fine on a Faber Castel Basic. I am interested in getting an Edison Pearlette but I find it difficult to chose the nib size using the nib Nook . Can you tell me which nib size would give a line width and smoothness similar to my FC M nib for the Pearlette. Thank you for the advice.

    • Lydia At Goulet Pens

      I would say the Extra Fine Edison would be closest to the Fine Faber-Castell and the Fine Edison would be closest to the Medium F-C

    • Pierre-R. Tremblay

      Well thank you, is there a difference between the fine nib on the Edison Pearlette #5 and the fine for the Edison Nouveau Première #6, I had previously bad experience with some EF nib (dry and scratchy ). How is the EF on these Edison pens ?

      • Lydia At Goulet Pens

        I don’t see a difference in the line width or writing experience myself between the Pearlette and Premiere. The Edison nibs are all smooth and wet with a touch of feedback. My medium is my favorite pen, I don’t notice the feeedback at all but I think the ink also makes a huge difference as well. I tend to use very wet inks.

    • Jason Yu

      try Diplomat. Even better than FC nibs and most substandard gold nibs