Monday, January 1, 2018

Steel vs. Gold Nibs

This could be a touchy subject and I will preface this by saying this is solely based off of my opinions through my experiences. The writing experience is purely subjective from one person to another.

I recently had a pen pal mention to me that they are relatively new to the fountain pen world and so far, only have steel nib based pens in their collection. That got me to do some thinking on whether that is truly a negative or not and are gold nibs truly worth it.

I have pens in my collection with steel nibs and I have gold nibs as well but is there a discernible difference? In the community, gold nibs are labeled as being smooth and quite a game changer compared to their steel counterparts. My answer to this is it depends.

I have some steel nibs that are super smooth and I mean butter smooth. I also have some steel nibs that are a bit toothy, even for a broader tipped nib. I even have gold nibs that fit both ends of that spectrum as well. The manufacturer is the defining caveat here, in my opinion. 

Signum 18k Gold Nib
Platinum 3776 14k Gold Nib


Diplomat makes a steel nib whose smooth performance rivals any gold nib I have ever used. Platinum makes a rather toothy gold nib in the 3776 feels very steel like at times. Whether a pen manufacturer makes their own nibs or orders a branded version of nibs made by a third party like Jowo or Bock, the experience varies.

Diplomat Steel Nib

Goulet Steel Two-Toned Nib
Lamy Steel Black Coated Nib
 From my experience, gold nibs are generally more artistic in their presentation through fancy etching, scroll work, insignias and plating materials. Not to say that you will not find some fancy steel nibs but more often than not, the gold nibs are more decorated. Gold nibs seem to have a wetter flow over steel nibs. Sometimes the nibs will be plated with a different colored material to make it look black or even silver and sometimes the gold or steel nib is completely unadorned with the exception of a logo.

Pelikan 18k Two-Toned Gold Nib

Pilot 18k Rhodium Plated Gold Nib 

Edison Two-Toned Steel Nib

 Franklin-Christoph 14k Gold Nib

Is smooth writing the only consideration here? nah. Steel nibs are most generally stiff and rigid whereas gold nibs will usually have some give and this can be referred to a "springy" nib. I greatly enjoy a springy nib but I am not much for flex. 

Type of ink is something to consider as well and mainly on whether you plan on using Iron Gall inks or not. 

So what is my answer to this steel versus gold nib debate? Well, it depends. I tend to look at the entire pen and not just the nib material when purchasing a pen. How does it write? What is the flow like? Does it fit my hand? Is it balanced? What is the filling mechanism? All of these questions fill my mind when looking at a potential pen and not just the nib material. I will say that if a pen is highly priced, I do expect a gold nib to help justify the price tag.

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