So welcome to what will be a two part series on that most talked about of questions, flex nibs. These three posts will be the product of a not insignificant amount of research, as well as the experience gained over a number of years of buying and using flex nibs. The plan is to create a reasonably useful reference piece for what flex nibs are and the different kinds that are out there.
So, to open up the discussion let’s start by defining what exactly makes a nib a flex nib. In the simplest terms flex is the opening up of the nib’s tines, resulting in a wider line on the page. Too simple? Well yes, there are a lot of factors that affect this, and there are no real standard definitions for a lot of factors
1. Tine spread: This is perhaps the easiest to explain element of flex nibs, as explained above it’s the amount by which the tines separate, which dictates the maximum line width. This is ultimately what makes a flex nib a flex nib, if the tines won’t open up under a little pressure then it’s not a flex nib.
2. Softness: This is probably the most difficult quality to explain, but here goes. It’s essentially how easily the nib ‘gives’, or how much pressure is required to achieve the tine spread detailed above. Proper flex nibs should not require a significant amount of pressure to achieve line variation, something which is important to remember when it comes to actually writing with one.
3. Snapback: The speed and ease with which a nib returns to it’s unflexed state. A nib with good snapback allows for nice crisp line variation and more control over your flex writing.
4. Flow: Whilst not technically a quality of the nib, flow is a factor that will affect your flex writing just as much as anything else on this list. A good feed is essential for flex writing, if the feed can’t keep up with the quantity of ink that flex writing needs then you’ll just find yourself railroading constantly and spending ages priming the feed in a bid to keep ink flowing.
5. Material: Nibs that are described as flexible come in an increasingly wide variety of materials, and the material is certainly an important part of making a good flex nibs. If a flex nib is made out of gold it should be 14ct, it’s that simple. Higher carat gold may be softer, but it won’t have the snapback of 14ct and it is much more likely to spring. Steel is fundamentally not a very soft material, but with the right design choices it can be made into a passable flex nib, although not a very soft one. Last on the list is titanium, which is definitely the new kid on the block for flex nibs. I haven’t written with a titanium flex nib, but from what I understand they offer a moderate amount of flex, but can be a bit ‘mushy’.
In order for a flex nib to work properly all of the above factors should have been considered and sensibly integrated into the design of the pen. Of course some pen manufacturers sacrifice certain elements, sometimes to keep prices low, sometimes because they’re unfamiliar to flex nibs or because the pen hasn’t been designed to cope with what is being demanded of it.
In part two we’ll be looking at vintage flex pens, their pros and cons as well as how well they manage in the above categories.
The other parts of this series can be found here: