New Calligraphy Kit? Dipping your nibs

This is a series of blog posts aimed to help the newly starting calligrapher. I won’t cover every detail as beginners tend to get overwhelmed by all the details. This is about how to get started and then improve from there.

Previous posts are:

  1. Cleaning you nib to get the packing oil off of it.
  2. Putting your nib into the nib holder

As promised in the last post, we will be talking about how to dip your nib.

There are many different kinds of ink containers and ink bottles out there. Just a few examples.

01 - Ink Bottles

Left to right: Ink Horn, Green Bottle Sumi, Gold, and a red ink with dropper.

No matter what kind of ink bottle you will be dipping into most present the same set of problems. First things first. When you are taking the cap off the bottle of ink, do not pick the bottle up and unscrew the cap. Unless you like the idea of new stains on, well, everything. The wisest way to open an ink bottle is keeping the bottle on the table or support surface. Hold the bottle steady with one hand and unscrew the cap with another hand.

If you have one hand I recommend getting a non-slip pad and put it under the ink bottle. then push down gently on the lid and unscrew the cap. If you don’t have the non-slip pad (or surface) underneath the ink bottle can go skittering any direction spreading ink everywhere.

Once you have the lid off you will be presented with something like this:

20200115_100402 (1)

Yes, this green bottle sumi ink bottle has seen some use. Notice how the inside is dark and black? Most bottles of ink will present very similarly to this. Why is this important to point out?

When you dip your ink pen into any ink, you want to dip your pen no more than half way up the nib. In practice this typically means to just over the shoulder of the nib and very slightly onto the shank/shaft of the nib. If these terms are unfamiliar to you can refresh you memory here.

As your pen approaches the ink bottle the issue becomes obvious.

Inside ink bottle

Too Dark to see ink

Looking just doesn't work

You really can’t see into the bottle and the pen disappears into the bottle. How can you tell when you get into the ink and how do you tell it is half way into the ink? Practice. You aren’t going to feel the nib going into your ink. With a new bottle of ink this is easier as there are some visual clues when the ink is near the top of the ink bottle. As you write the ink levels will go down. Pay attention to your dipping and will eventually learn to feel of getting it correct.

Half Way

Half Way 002

This nib was dipped half way and then brought back out. Notice how the ink is not clinging to everything it touched when you dipped it. It won’t. But you can see to where the nib was dipped. There is ink just past the shoulder, and ink covers the vent/breather hole. This is properly dipped.

But there is more you need to do before you write. Beware the blob.

Ink Blob

Ink blob on the nib tines and tip. This will cause all sorts of issues if not dealt with.

If you leave that on, you will get a blob of ink starting off your writing. And this one little drop of ink not even 1ml of fluid, has been the cause of much cursing and frustration for calligraphers the world over and for thousands of years. Ink blobs cause this:


The dreaded ink blob on paper.

So what to do? What to do? Drain your nib. “But I just put ink on it!” Yes and you want it to flow nicely from your pen and play nicely with the paper (or whatever you’re writing on). Too much of a good thing is bad. Drain your nib. “Okay, fine. How?” Like this:


Draining your nib is important to do.

Just place the underside of your nib onto the edge of the top of the bottle. Some ink bottles will let you see the ink drain off. I recommend holding the nib there for 1 – 3 seconds. It will depend on the ink and the nib. You will eventually develop a feel for how long to do it and not even think about it. Be warned though, if you hold it there too long you will lose much of you ink and have to re-dip more often.

When your done the blob should be gone.


Blob is gone and some ink is left to write with.

And now you can write without getting the blob on your writing surface.


Blob vs no blob.

It is important to properly dip you pen. If you dip too far, you can get ink up into the spring that holds you nib in place. And that can cause the spring to rust. If you don’t dip far enough, you will get poor ink flow and have to dip far more often. Typically dipping your pen half way and then draining it a bit is the best way forward.

As you can see from the picture above it makes a huge difference. I used the exact same stroke for both and well, a lot less cursing and frustration happens when you get the second result.

And there you have it. How to dip you nib properly and how to get the proper amount of ink to write with.

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