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Basic Guide to Using Dip Pens (WIP)  XML
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Hey guy 'n' gals, I wrote this basic introductory guide to dip pens two years ago. I've decided to post it here in the event it may be of any interest to anybody. This is kind of an ongoing thing, and not completed, so it's far from perfect or comprehensive, but I'll add more to it and fill it out in the future. I hope it'll be of help to somebody! Have questions? Don't hesitate to ask them! Thanks.

------------------------------------INTRO------------------------------------


Using dip pens is fun and easy. Most cartoonist and comic artists have used dip pens, and many still do. Here’s an introduction to the dip pen, including (hopefully) everything you may or may not have wanted to know about them.

Why bother? There are a lot of good reasons to use dip pens. Most nibs allow a certain amount of line width variation, so add a good deal of character to your ink work that may otherwise only be obtainable through the use of brushes. However, decent nibs are relatively cheap compared to decent brushes, and at least in my opinion less of a hassle to use.
Dip pens can also use very strong and thick inks and paints that would clog or destroy other types of pens. So if you haven’t at least tried inking with a nib you owe it to yourself to experiment, it’s relatively cheap to get into.

This article is meant to provide a first time user with some tips and hints that will hopefully make using a dip pen for the first time a painless experience.

Brief history: the “modern” steel pen was invented in England by a button maker during the early 1800s. He figured out how to mass produce reliable and accurate steel pen tips at a low price, quickly ousting the feather quill pen as the writing instrument of choice. According to contemporary rumor its inventor was (ironically) illiterate and never used his invention.
For the next century the dip pen was the writing utensil of choice. Even after the introduction of fountain pens, the dip pen was used in banks, offices, schools, etc. well into the middle of last century.

---------------How Works a Nib-----------------

So how about it? Below is an illustration of a nib labeling some of the important parts of the nib. The tip of the nib is slit to form tines – the harder you press the nib the more the tines flex, bending away from each-other to form a bolder line as the ink bridges the gap between the tines. Aside from allowing the pen to flex, the slit between the tines is what draws ink to the tip of the nib through capillary action. The breathing hole allows the ink to be drawn between the tines smoothly and quickly, and in some cases is shaped to facilitate flexibility of the tines. On some nibs you will notice that the tines are scored or honed; this is done to improve the flexibility of the nib. You may also notice slits cut into the sides of the nib, these are also to improve the flexibility of the nib.



You have probably noticed that flexibility has been mentioned above quite a few times. This is because the flexibility of a pen is important. A stiff nib produces lines of uniform thickness, but a flexible nib can produces lines of varying weight. A stiff pen would be suitable for lettering, hatching, or any other work where a uniform line is desired. A flexible pen can be used for outlines, action lines, or any other application where varying line weight is desired.

Below are three types of common pen nibs.
Number 1 is the traditional pointed tip nib. These come in all sorts of varieties for all sorts of applications. They range from super flexible to moderately stiff.

Number 2 is a crow quill nib. This is the most popular nib for comic work and illustration. It is smaller than traditional nibs, is formed into a tubular shape and uses a smaller holder than other nibs. They are capable of producing lines so fine that they are irreproducible when printed. They can also deliver very bold lines, and hold a lot of ink.

Number 3 is a “spoon” type nib. Sometimes this name is said (erroneously) to refer to the overall shape of the nib. However, if you take a very close look at the tip of one of these nibs, you’ll notice that the tip is stamped into a very shallow bowl shape. This is done to keep the nib from catching on paper. These pens are generally stiffer than the other two types, but also hold a lot of ink and have a very smooth feel over paper (like a ball point or roller ball pen).




-----------------NIB REVIEWS-------------------

Below are samples of lines from different nibs, all of these (except for the stub) are currently produced and most can be bought at places like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. A good art supply store will have even more varieties.




Hunt 102 Crow Quill:
This is the “standard” artist’s pen. It has its good points, but it also has its bad points. This nib is capable of exceptionally fine lines, but is very flexible and can produce very bold lines if pressed hard. It also holds a lot of ink, so you can draw very long continuous lines without having to stop and re-dip. The down side is that it has a scratchy feel, and can catch or dig into your paper (especially on upstrokes) – it is best used with a heavy, smooth paper.

Hunt 99: This is the most flexible pen currently made today. You can make a very fine line, or super thick one, and it needs only a very slight variation in pressure to do this. It is not a pen for the heavy handed. Downsides are it tends to catch on the paper on up and sideways strokes – so preferably it is best used on a heavy, smooth paper. It also does not hold very much ink and must be re-dipped constantly, especially when making bold lines.

Hunt 56: Basically the same as above, only stiffer. It cannot make as thick of a line and it takes more pressure to do so. Good for somebody who has a hand too heavy or clumsy to work the 99. Again, a smooth heavy paper is advisable.

Hunt 101: This is pretty great nib in my opinion. It will produce lines as thick as those the 99 makes, but requires a bit more pressure to do so, so it is a bit easier to control than the 99. The biggest bonus though is that it can be used on rougher, lighter paper than the 99. It will basically only catch on the paper if you intentionally make it catch. However like the 99 it does not hold a lot of ink and must be dipped constantly.

Hunt 22: This nib will make a very fine line, finer than the 99, 56, and 101 are capable of. However it also is not capable of making a line as thick as the 99 or 101. It suffers from most of the problems the above nibs have – scratchy feel, holds little ink, etc. However it is useful for fine details, but you may as well just get the more versatile crow quill mentioned above.

Hunt 513 and 512: This is a spoon nib. It produces a medium line with little variation of thickness. The upside of this nib is that it moves smoothly across all sorts of paper with little to no risk of catching, even if pressed on upstrokes. Ideal for hatching, lettering, etc. Perfectly useable for general drawing as well if you don’t need super expressive lines or very fine lines. The 512 produces a finer line. Both the 513 and 512 hold a good amount of ink, and are perfect nibs for somebody who has never used a dip pen before.

Subway Stub: This nib is no longer manufactured, but I’ll mention it anyway. A stub nib has an elliptical tip – it is intended for writing, not for drawing, but it can still be useful to an artist for things like lettering, hatching, etc. Moderately stiff, smooth action over paper.

Speedball B 5 ½: Nibs like this are meant to produce an unvarying line. They are inflexible and come in a variety of different sizes. A nib like this is perfect for bold lettering, speech bubbles, etc. It has a clip reservoir and so holds a decent amount of ink.


---------------Some other Good Pens for Comics---------------
These following pens aren't widely available at most art supply shops or hobby stores, but you can find them if you look for them online or at some specialist art supply shops.

The "G" Pen. Since this pen has become more popular lately, I'm going to give a little background with this review. The G pen is the "standard" pen for Japanese comic artists, much like the Hunt 102 is the "standard" for American comic artists. As such it has gotten quite a boost in reputation during the past few years.

About the G on the G pen? What does it stand for?

The apocryphal tale in Japan is that originally there were pens A through Z, and eventually the G was the only pen left being made - and that’s where the G comes from…

As fun of a story as that is, it’s not true so far as I can tell. There are a few other “letter” nibs, the J and the X having been popular a century ago. But so far my research hasn’t uncovered a line of alphabetically labeled nibs from any one, or any combination of manufacturers.

Advertisements seem to indicate that the G stands for “general” - ie the G pen was intended for general use. Leonardt, the last western manufacturer of G pens continues to market them as “general handwriting” nibs.

Current Manufacturers

Nikko G A moderately stiff nib. Provides good line width variation. Holds more ink than a typical pointed nib (such as the Hunt 56 or 99) so it doesn't have to be dipped very often. Has a somewhat scratchy feel like typical pointed nibs, but it will only catch on paper if you want it to/have no clue what you are doing.
Zebra G It is smoother than the Nikko and more flexible, as well as provides a finer line.
Tachikawa G Haven't tested yet.
Leonardt G Moderately stiff. I think my sample was defective as it had a very toothy feel over paper and wasn't capable of producing as fine of a line as I expect it should.
Mitchell's No longer made. Very flexible. Capable of very fine lines and bold swells. Too flexible for the heavy handed, but if you find some of these hold onto them like grim death - they're awesome and they're not going to make any more.

G pens can be purchased online from akadot retail and from jetpens.com - if your art supply store carries Deleter products, they can order G nibs for you.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Falcon type nibs

The "Falcon" style of nib, like the G pen was originally intended for writing. Falcons were the most popular style of nib in the early 20th century and dozens of different manufactures produced them under hundreds of different brand names. Also like the G pens, they are all more or less the same, manufacturer to manufacturer with only minor differences in quality and feel between them.

Esterbrook Falcon 048 One of the most common brands and also one of the best. This is a moderately flexible nib with a smooth feel over paper. It can be used on smooth or toothy surfaces with practically no risk of catching unless forced. This nib is very broad, and as such holds much more ink than pretty much any other style of nib, so you don't have to dip frequently.
Esterbrook also made a smaller version of this nib, the "lady falcon" which is also good nib for drawing.

Spencerian and the Eagle Pencil Company are two other common brands.

Nobody currently produces this style of nib, but they appear frequently on ebay, and can be bought online from pendemonium.com


---------------Using them; a guide for the complete noob---------------

You’ll need:

*a holder (handle)
*at least one nib (preferably a spoon type if you have never used a dip pen before)
*a bottle of ink
*paper
*a cup of water (or pen cleaner, or rubbing alcohol, etc.)
*and cloth (or your shirt to dry it) in order to start.

A word about ink – the best ink to use is India Ink. It is made using carbon black and shellac and it is a lot thicker and darker than what a ball point, felt tip, or even most fountain pens can handle. There are a lot of brands, but whichever you get I recommend you get something waterproof. Also – take into the consideration the bottle it comes in. Speedball’s ink comes in a bottle that is also perfectly useable as an inkwell – with a wide lid and an even wider base – you can dip your pen into it no problem. By contrast, Higgins ink comes in a bottle with a narrow opening (making dipping your pen into it basically impossible) and you will probably have to put it into an inkwell to use it. Maxxon and Deleter both come is small jars that work fine for dipping in.
There are acrylic inks too that can be used as well.

important hint: When nibs are made they're given a waxy coating to protect them from rust. In the olden days this was parafin - probably still is. You need to remove this coating so that ink will stick to the nib when you dip it. To do so insert the nib into the holder then hold the nib over the flame of a lighter for a couple seconds. It only takes a couple seconds tops usually to burn away this coating, so don't torch it. If your nib changes colors, you've burned it more than enough.

Anyway, once you have your nib inserted into the holder, dip the pen into the ink so that the ink comes up to the breathing hole on the nib.



As you remove the pen from the ink, slide the tip on the edge of the bottle/well so that excess ink drops back into the bottle/well.

Pretty simple.
Then just draw with the pen like you would a normal pen. The convex side of the nib faces up, away from the paper - that should go without saying, but I've been asked a few times so I'm mentioning it. When the ink runs out, dip the pen again as before and continue drawing - after a little practice you'll be able to sense when the pen needs to be re-dipped.
Try applying the pen to the paper with different pressures to change line weight. It’s easy and you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

When you are done using the pen, dip the nib into your cup of water and wipe it off with a piece of cloth (or your shirt – if your shirt is black, or any other color if you want black marks on it). Remember, these nibs are made of steel – and they will rust if you leave them wet.



More Help:

Speedball/hunt offer sets which include various nibs and holders, and are widely available at many art supply stores. This is a good way for a beginner to try out a few different varieties of pens and see what they like and what they don't like. If you have a feeling you know what you want already from reading the above reviews, then just go after the pen you think will make you happy. However it's good for anybody to try a few different kinds out and see what best suits their style and their technique. There is no one size fits all nib, that's why there are so many different types!

Paper. A good starting point is to go for a smooth bristol paper. This will help eliminate the pen catching the paper when you're a novice. As you advance you may feel more comfortable using other kinds of paper. I draw almost entirely on lightweight sketchbook paper for instance - but I wouldn't recommend a beginner to do this. Some papers will cause the ink to bleed if they aren't sized well enough (sizing meaning how the paper is manufactured, not it's physical dimensions) - sometime lines will bleed because the ink is too thin or runny - or you are using an ink with solvents in it that isn't meant to be used with dip pens. Stick to india inks and and acrylic inks. Sumi ink and most airbrushing inks don't play well with dip pens.

----------------samples-----------------

Here is a picture done with a less flexible nib - still the variety in line from one nib is enough for all uses in this piece:

(ugh two year old art Dx )

A page from earlier this year that was inked with an Esterbrook Falcon:



----------------------------Common problems:----------------------------



Nib will not hold ink/ink drops out of pen while drawing: This is like the most frustrating problem with nibs, and it’s also very common. If you have this problem, it is likely because the nib has an anti rust coating in it that must be removed. There are a couple of ways to do this. One: wash the nib in warm soapy water. Two: burn the nib over a lighter for a couple of seconds (but not too long, you can ruin it). This removes the coating.
Another thing to consider may be the way you are holding the pen. If you have tried washing the nib and you continue having this problem, you may want to try using an inclined drawing table. If this doesn’t work – your nib may just be bunk – throw it out and get a different one.

Nib makes an ugly thick line: Most commonly a tiny bit of paper or lint has gotten caught in your nib. Clean it. If this does not help, then one or both of the tines may be bent, or the tip is damaged. It happens – get a new nib. Eventually all nibs will wear out from use, and generally show it by making thick ugly lines and feeling rough on the paper. When this happens you're past due for a new nib.



coming soon:
----------------------------Common problems: INK----------------------------
----------------------------Common problems: PAPER----------------------------
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Nymphadora7740
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Alright heres my suggestion,
Why get yourself tired and make some mistakes in traditional when you could even do that digitally?
So, I suggest do your art digitally. sketching and doing the thumbs in trad is fine. But inking digitally, You could save a lot of time and edit mistakes quickly! Isn't that a lovely suggestion? ^^ This is my suggestion, no offense to the trad users...peace out! ^^
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Because different materials and techniques produce different effects.

That's why some people still use oil paint even though acrylic is cheaper and easier to use, some photographers use large format cameras even though 35mm or digital is easier to carry and cheaper too. Etc. etc.

If you want the quality of line that dip pens create - you're going to have to use a dip pen to get it, digital can't recreate it.
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Pandapon Studio
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In my case, I used to work with dip pens when I started....but it was REALLY unconvenient and not to mention dirty so I started using line markers, and it worked much better for me.

About the techniques we use...well I don't think it's much about effects (actually computers can recreate almost every texture and effect nowadays), but what works better for each one and what you feel confortable with...

As I say, although I use computers for the final steps of the process (like blacks, tones and some lines), I also use traditional techniques for pencils and inking...I hope that won't keep you from reading Midnight Hunters, Nymphadora
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I would agree that for some, the process may be more important than the effect. Actually for a lot of artists, the process is the important part. It's why people still enjoy calligraphy - yes it would be easier to just type on a keyboard - but that's a completely different experience than using a pen or brush to write.

That and it's always good to expand your skillset and experience as an artist - the more you try, the better informed you are, regardless of what methods and mediums you normally use.

So there's a lot of reasons to try traditional inking, even if you don't plan on making it your primary technique.
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As pointed out in the guide above, different pens have different properties and will make different types of lines. Here is a comparison of some pens commonly used for inking comics (originally posted on my blog):



Somebody wanted a visual comparison on these pens.

1: Spencerian Bronze Falcon

2: Tachikawa School

3: Zebra G

The Spencerian is pretty typical of the Falcon type of nib. Moderately flexible, good line variability, smooth action. It’s capable of a very fine line if you have a very light touch, but in typical use it’s really a medium line pen.

The School pen is moderately stiff, has only a little line variability and is a little scratchy. It seems to not like to make very fine lines, though it is capable, the ink doesn’t flow well enough to make them consistent.

The G pen is very much like the Falcon. Medium flex, etc. Slightly scratchier, but only just so. The difference is hardly noticeable on smooth bristol, but more apparent on anything with texture.

-----------------------------
I'll probably follow up with more individual reviews later.
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Nymphadora7740
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Pandapon wrote:
As I say, although I use computers for the final steps of the process (like blacks, tones and some lines), I also use traditional techniques for pencils and inking...I hope that won't keep you from reading Midnight Hunters, Nymphadora


Heya Pandapon, I also read Midnight Hunters you know. I'm surprised, I thought it was all digital. So far I'm liking your plot/storytelling, but somehow your art style was like, as of the moment "young". I believe in improvements. ^^
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Nymphadora wrote:
Pandapon wrote:
As I say, although I use computers for the final steps of the process (like blacks, tones and some lines), I also use traditional techniques for pencils and inking...I hope that won't keep you from reading Midnight Hunters, Nymphadora


Heya Pandapon, I also read Midnight Hunters you know. I'm surprised, I thought it was all digital. So far I'm liking your plot/storytelling, but somehow your art style was like, as of the moment "young". I believe in improvements. ^^


I feel flattered. So you thought it was all digital...well that means I'm doing my work just fine I've got LOTS to impruve, it's true, you can spend decades drawing, but there's always room for the improvement, right?

What do you mean by young, btw? I got curious now (critiques are welcome!)
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http://www.mangamagazine.net/forum/forums/show/14.page

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Nymphadora7740
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Pandapon wrote:
I feel flattered. So you thought it was all digital...well that means I'm doing my work just fine I've got LOTS to impruve, it's true, you can spend decades drawing, but there's always room for the improvement, right?

What do you mean by young, btw? I got curious now (critiques are welcome!)


Indeed. About your style "Young" I mean, you know that it will someday will improve and grow through practice and dedication... ^^ in other words it has a lot of potential.
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AHAHAHAH dunno what to say, really, (I've been drawing for a long time now and I've never been defined as young ) Thanks for your support, we'll keep working hard ^^
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Studio Kawaii
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I wish I´d have time to practice with dip pens... I only tried them once or twice, but I hope someday I´ll be able to handle them without fear D:

I´m currently inking my comics with Neopiko liners, I´m still not confident enough to try dip pens or even digital inking. But I guess it´s only a matter of practice.

)BTW, Nymphadora, I hope you read our comic The Soul Chaser too )
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Nymphadora7740
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Studio wrote:I wish I´d have time to practice with dip pens... I only tried them once or twice, but I hope someday I´ll be able to handle them without fear D:

I´m currently inking my comics with Neopiko liners, I´m still not confident enough to try dip pens or even digital inking. But I guess it´s only a matter of practice.

)BTW, Nymphadora, I hope you read our comic The Soul Chaser too )


Oh my, I haven't read Soul Chaser yet. But just looking at it, I know it's interesting. ^^
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Hope you do! We´ve put a lot of effort on it (though it hasn´t been inked with a dip pen... ok, enough off-topic for now )
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I know you're gonna address this, but how does smooth paper compare to grainy paper? And do you use a brush?
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