How to Use a Glass Dip Pen – Write With Glass: Introducing Glass Dip Pens

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A dip pen or nib pen usually consists of a metal nib with capillary channels like those of fountain pen nibs, mounted in a handle or holder, often made of wood. Other materials can be used for the holder, including bone, metal, and plastic; some pens are made entirely of glass. Generally, dip pens have no ink reservoir, so the user must recharge the ink from an ink bowl or bottle to continue drawing or writing. There are simple, tiny tubular reservoirs that illustrators sometimes clip onto dip pens, which allow drawing for several minutes without recharging the nib. Recharging can be done by dipping into an inkwell, but it is also possible to charge the pen with an eyedropper, a syringe, or a brush, which gives more control over the amount of ink applied. Thus, “dip pens” are not necessarily dipped; many illustrators call them “nib pens”.

Dip pens emerged in the early 19th century, when they replaced quill pens and, in some parts of the world, reed pens. Dip pens were generally used before the development of fountain pens in the later 19th century, and are now mainly used in illustration, calligraphy, and comics.

The dip pen has certain advantages over a fountain pen. It can use waterproof, pigmented, particle-and-binder-based inks, such as India ink, drawing ink, and acrylic inks—each of which would destroy a fountain pen by clogging it—and the traditional iron gall ink, which can corrode fountain pens. Dip pens are also more sensitive to variations of pressure and speed, producing a line that naturally varies in thickness; and they can also produce a finer line than any fountain pen.

There is a wide range of exchangeable nibs for dip pens, so different types of lines and effects can be created. The nibs and handles are far cheaper than most fountain pens, and allow color changes much more easily.

Glass pens are not just tools of writing, but pieces of art. I’ve always marveled at the miracle that sand and fire can create- sort of like a twin flame relationship. Not only are they beautiful to look at and admire, but writing with them is relatively simple too. 

HISTORY OF THE GLASS PEN

If you do a quick Google search, you’ll notice discrepancies in their history.

Some sources state that they originated in Murano, Venice in the 1700s. This claim might have some truth to it since you are likely to come across a lot of references for Venetian Glass Pens. In fact, I found a few online shops that claimed to sell Venetian pens. Now, whether they were actually handcrafted in Venice or made in some factory in Vietnam is a mystery that I might not be capable of solving. Irrespective of where they are made, the fact remains that these are some of the most gorgeous pieces of writing instruments out there.

During my research into the history of glass pens, another source claimed England as their birthplace with 1803 being the year of origin. There wasn’t a lot of detail in this article, which leads me to believe this claim might be spurious.

HOW TO WRITE WITH A GLASS DIP PEN

If you look at a glass pen, you might be puzzled at how a piece of glass can help you pen words on paper. I’ll admit, I was curious when I first saw mine. Its a different story that curiosity got the better of me and I decided to purchase it on the spot, hoping to experiment when I got back to the hotel (I was traveling in Guangzhou, China at that time).

  • What allows the pen to write?

Firstly ,look closely at the tip of the pen. You’ll notice small yet deep grooves (or veins) in the tip. These tips play a similar role to that of a nib in a pointed pen. These capillaries hold the ink as you write.

  • What inks should I use?

In my experience of using glass pens, I’ve noticed that thinner inks like Old World Iron Gall, Walnut ink (I used David Smith’s) and other similar inks work best. Sumi ink, as I unfortunately found out, does not work the best. This might be attributed to the fact that the thickness of the grooves doesn’t allow a more viscous ink to flow well.

Moreover, sumi ink is one of the most corrosive inks in the market. This means that to maintain the longevity of your glass pen or a steel nib, you need to clean them every few minutes. Otherwise the sumi ink tends to hug the nib and become difficult to clean completely.

On the other, cleaning the thinner inks is a breeze! Simply dip in water when you’re done and you’re good to go.

  • How should I write?

Simply dip the pen in ink. Pretty simple right? But hold on, there’s more.

I dip it only about halfway through the tip of the pen. After you dip the pen, rub it gently along the rib of your ink well to remove any excess ink. If you have excess ink on your pen, it’ll leave blobs as you write. I’m pretty sure you don’t want that.

Check to ensure that there’s just the right amount of ink on the tip. Too much, and it’ll leave messy globs.  Too little and you won’t be able to write.

Then, using a light amount of pressure (as compared to the steel nib pens), make a few practice strokes on the paper. Vary the pressure to see what works best for you, but don’t over-stress it. This will lead to not only a broken pen, but a broken heart as well. I also tend to write at an angle, not vertically. However, try a few different variations and see what suits you best. Everyone has a different style of holding the pen as they write. Find yours.

HOW MUCH DO THESE COST?

Ok, this is a fun one. Glass pens vary anywhere between a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. I’ve seen them priced at $7, but I’ve also seen them at $300!

The price of the pen depends on the design. A relatively simple design is easier to make ,but a more complex design takes more time and effort. Hence, it is more expensive. It also depends on the clarity and perfection of the pen. Cheaper pens might have bubbles in the glass.

WHERE CAN I BUY THEM FROM?

You may buy them on Amazon as well as Etsy. Do a quick search for ‘glass pen’ and you will come across a wide variety of those. In today’s day and age, luckily, we don’t have to travel to Venice to find our favorite glass pen.

HOW SHOULD I CARE FOR THEM?

Like I mentioned earlier, clean your pen regularly as you write. I tend to dip it in water every 2-3 minutes and wipe it off with a cotton cloth.

Secondly, don’t apply excessive pressure as you write. You will break it. Start with a light pressure and slowly build up as you find your rhythm.

Don’t apply excessive pressure on the pen as you write. You run the risk of cracking the tip.

Lastly, store it safely. I keep mine in the box I bought it in. Although the box itself is flimsy (it is made of cardboard), but the padding inside keeps it safe from dust, scratches and inadvertent accidents.

I hope this tutorial helped you! If you found value in it (and the burning desire to go buy a glass pen for yourself), I’d appreciate if you could leave a short comment below. I’m always grateful for your support, and this small gesture would mean the world to me.

What kinds of paper do you recommend?
While they’ll work on nearly any kind of paper, the ink spreads more on certain types. I’ve found I get the best results with calligraphy paper or this copy paper for just practicing.

Where can I get a glass dip pen?

In Germany, I ordered from Feder & Buch. As I understand it, they’ll ship internationally upon request.
I have several that from Amazon. My mother in law got me this lovely blue one last Christmas, and I just ordered this gorgeous galaxy pen.
Etsy has a good selection.
Check local “mom and pop” type art and writing stores in your area. If they don’t stock any, ask if they can order one for you.
Anything else I should know?
Look for pens with a lifetime guarantee. The spring (nib) will probably break down at some point but many companies, like Fever & Buch, will repair them for free.

Quality glass pens will not scratch on the paper, and the springs hold and release ink evenly. You get what you pay for!

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