How to Clean Calligraphy Nibs


Like a knight who takes care of his sword, and a wizard his wand – so a scribe must take care of her pen… nibs. Here I share some basic how-tos.

When you obtain a nib that’s never been used before, it’s most likely covered in an invisible protective coating. Once we remove this layer, the nib undergoes its natural state of aging. Depending on use, it may well be a very long time before you render a nib completely unusable. Nevertheless, good care may extend the life of a nib.

INK There’s barely a need to mention that we use water-soluble/water-based ink/pigments for doing calligraphy with nibs because they don’t clog the nib.

GENERAL CARE The basic rule is to not let ink build up on your nib. This means cleaning and drying it after use, and also during use (about every 15 minutes in a prolonged session). This might seem a lot of work at first, but it will soon become automatic and it’s easy to get used to it (especially since this helps with ink flow). What I like to do is take a piece of tissue, drop clean water on it and wipe my nib gently with it. I used a rag before, but after a while it just got too inky to clean anything, and I ended up throwing it away.

STORAGE Once your nib is clean and dry (this prevents rust) you can keep it on the pen sideways in a container or nib-point up in a standing holder. If you’re going to store it for a longer period of time, it might be wise to put a protective layer back on, except I don’t know the simple way to do this at home. It’s probably best to keep the nibs in an airtight container, like craft/tool/sewing section boxes.

More on nib care…

What if build-up does happen?

The book that I’m learning from (Calligraphy: Tools and Techniques for the Contemporary Practitioner or Mastering Calligraphy: The Complete Guide to Hand Lettering by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls) suggests soaking the nib in window cleaner for 20 minutes, gently scrub with toothbrush, rinse with water and dry. I’ve never tried this before and am unsure of what its long-term effects are, if any.

Do I need to buy those commercially available nib cleaners?

I’ve never used them but I think it’s definitely not absolutely necessary.

How about gum arabic?

Miss Thorpe in her Modern Calligraphy book recommends gum arabic to help ink flow and extend the nib’s life. I don’t know where to get my hands on this stuff so I wouldn’t know.

Useful links

Nibs and Holders Tips and Tricks on PaperInkArts

The Point and When to Change It by Dr. Joseph Vitolo on IAMPETH

Care and Feeding of the Calligraphy Dip Pen on CalligraphyPen

When it comes to deep cleaning your nibs, the sky is the limit! How do you give your nibs some TLC? Share below!



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