Nib Widths and X Heights


You want to callig something getting the right letter height is important.  Typically calligraphy letter height is done by ratios of the pen width.  The smaller the pen the smaller the letter height.  The larger the pen the larger the letter height.

But how wide is you pen nib?  Do you want to measure them out?  Do you have something that goes smaller than mm?  Or 1/16″?  You know the simple way is to use the manufacturer’s measurements.  You can go look them up.  Every single time.  That’s fun.  Or not.  I created an excel spread sheet for nib widths by brand for William Mitchel, Speedball C, and Brause nibs as these are the ones I use most often.  I wanted to share it with you in hopes it would make life easier on you.

Brand Size nib width 2 3 4 5 6
Mitchell in mm
0 3.70 7.40 11.10 14.80 18.50 22.20
1 3.00 6.00 9.00 12.00 15.00 18.00
1.5 2.40 4.80 7.20 9.60 12.00 14.40
2 1.90 3.80 5.70 7.60 9.50 11.40
2.5 1.50 3.00 4.50 6.00 7.50 9.00
3 1.20 2.40 3.60 4.80 6.00 7.20
3.5 1.00 2.00 3.00 4.00 5.00 6.00
4 0.80 1.60 2.40 3.20 4.00 4.80
5 0.60 1.20 1.80 2.40 3.00 3.60
6 0.50 1.00 1.50 2.00 2.50 3.00
Speedball in mm 2 3 4 5 6
C-0 5.00 10.00 15.00 20.00 25.00 30.00
C-1 4.00 8.00 12.00 16.00 20.00 24.00
C-2 3.00 6.00 9.00 12.00 15.00 18.00
C-3 2.00 4.00 6.00 8.00 10.00 12.00
C-4 1.50 3.00 4.50 6.00 7.50 9.00
C-5 1.00 2.00 3.00 4.00 5.00 6.00
C-6 0.50 1.00 1.50 2.00 2.50 3.00
Brause in mm 2 3 4 5 6
5.00 5.00 10.00 15.00 20.00 25.00 30.00
4.00 4.00 8.00 12.00 16.00 20.00 24.00
3.00 3.00 6.00 9.00 12.00 15.00 18.00
2.50 2.50 5.00 7.50 10.00 12.50 15.00
2.00 2.00 4.00 6.00 8.00 10.00 12.00
1.50 1.50 3.00 4.50 6.00 7.50 9.00
1.00 1.00 2.00 3.00 4.00 5.00 6.00
0.75 0.75 1.50 2.25 3.00 3.75 4.50
0.50 0.50 1.00 1.50 2.00 2.50 3.00

If you want to download the chart for yourself please feel free in the link below.

NibWidthsbyBrand

I hope this will be helpful for you.  I have the chart printed out and taped to the wall near my calligraphy desk.

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2 responses to “Nib Widths and X Heights

  1. Thank you for letting me know. I greatly appreciate it. I now hold an MS and completely understand. If you see things turn up let me know.

    As for x height.

    The ratio of letter height to pen width (x height) has, it seems, been around almost as long as pens have been. One can look at a medieval manuscript and determine the pen width. From that you can determine if they used a ratio of pen width to letter height. I have handled manuscripts written by Alcuin of York as well as written by King Henry VIII (see the picture on the edges of this blog). And several others.

    When I sit down to analyze the script in the pictures I’ve taken I tend to check the x height. I have found that many of the manuscripts I handled had scripts written medieval scribes had an x height of around 3.75 nib widths. This is not universal, but yes, it is a fairly easy thing to “reverse engineer” even with modern broad tip calligraphy.

  2. Hi Ian, I’m wondering about whether the ratio of nib-width to letter heights applies to medieval documents (European or not), and whether we can tell ‘in reverse’ whether or not a script is likely to have been produced in a given milieu by that means. Any thoughts on this or is the question too obscure or too complex to fit into a comment-reply? If so, do email if you wish. Regards

    I have recently referred a group of hobbyists, enthusiasts and scholars to your blogpost on medieval inks, reminding them to acknowledge their source if re-using your work. I hope they will do so, although standards of honesty in such things are not always what one would wish.

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