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What is a Dip Pen?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

A dip pen is a pen that must be dipped in a separate ink supply, in contrast to a fountain pen, ballpoint pen, or other pen that has an internal ink supply. Dip pens are also known as nib pens, because when a dip pen is dipped into an ink supply, a small amount of ink is typically stored in the pen's metal nib, or tip. Often, the nib of a dip pen can be removed from the pen's body and switched with a different nib that is better for whatever task the pen is being used for. Nibs range from wide and flat, for calligraphy purposes, to small and very pointy, for precise writing or artistic work.

A variety of different materials can be used to make dip pens. The nib of the pen is usually made of metal, as it needs to be both durable and flexible. The body or handle of the pen can be made from just about anything. Common materials include plastic, bone, and wood. Some dip pens are made entirely of glass; though they are usable, they tend to serve more ornamental purposes than anything.

Quill pens, which must be dipped in ink, were replaced by metal dip pens.
Quill pens, which must be dipped in ink, were replaced by metal dip pens.

Despite the fact that it is somewhat inconvenient to use, the dip pen still sees wide use in some fields, though it is seldom used for standard writing. Dip pens tend to be very inexpensive as they are usually made from inexpensive materials. Their nibs can be switched out, making them very useful to artists. Dip pens can handle a variety of different kinds of ink, such as India ink, that tend to clog and damage fountain pens. Artists use a variety of different kinds of ink, so they find it very beneficial to have a pen that can handle them.

Dip pens may use India ink.
Dip pens may use India ink.

Before the invention of the dip pen, the quill was used as the main writing implement. Quill pens were made from the feathers of large birds. Quill pens operate on essentially the same concept as dip pens; they need to be frequently dipped into a separate ink supply. Dip pens improved on the concept of quill pens as they are more durable and longer-lasting than their feathered counterparts.

Some artists, illustrators, and calligraphers still regularly use dip pens because of their flexibility and low price. They are very commonly used by comic artists and inkers because of their ability to produce a wide variety of line thicknesses. They also favor the dip pen because the low price and ability to switch nibs allows for frequent changes in the color of ink.

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Discussion Comments


@jennythelib - I remember spending hours in elementary school being taught to use the card catalog, and then so soon after I mastered it, they were gone! Ah, well. It sure is convenient being able to search for books from home.

I actually just bought a dip pen set for my son, who is ten. He's quite an artist and is getting really into drawing comics, so we wanted him to have the right materials. He asked for it for his birthday! I was like you - I didn't know they were still around. He wears glasses, too, so somehow he reminds me of Harry Potter at Hogwarts when I see him writing with it! (Although I guess they actually use quill at Hogwarts. Not that I have read the books that many times or anything.)


I had no idea these still existed, but I guess it makes sense - for every new invention that is a huge improvement over what came before, it seems like something is still lost. In my field, online catalogs clearly have a lot of advantages over card catalogs, but some people still the browsability and other features of the card catalog.

If you think about it, one major disadvantage of having to use a dip pen and ink is that you would not be able to write anything "on the go." It's not like you could tuck a bottle of ink in your purse! I take for granted being able to jot stuff down while I'm out and about - I always have a cheap ballpoint pen and a little notepad with me just in case.

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    • Quill pens, which must be dipped in ink, were replaced by metal dip pens.
      By: Nejron Photo
      Quill pens, which must be dipped in ink, were replaced by metal dip pens.
    • Dip pens may use India ink.
      By: Eleonora.Rossi
      Dip pens may use India ink.