How to Use Humble Manga Pen Nibs?

Nothing beats a nice pointed manga nib when it comes to inking a comic. Sharp yet flexible, the humble manga nib is well loved by artists for its versatility and expressiveness. Are you interested in drawing with nibs but aren’t sure where to start? To take you from nib newbie to manga master, we’ll go through some basic techniques and useful practice drills that will get you up to speed in no time.

SuppliesNib, nib holder, paper, ink

Nib: If you’re stuck on which nib to choose, check out our Guide to Manga Pen Nibs. We use the artist-favorite Zebra G Nib here as its flexibility fully demonstrates what a nib can achieve.
Nib Holder: Make sure the nib fits into the holder. Our Guide to Nibs and Nib Holders has a handy compatibility chart you can reference. One of our favorite nib holders is the Tachikawa 40—it has two slots to fit both regular and mapping nibs.
Ink: Select a dedicated drawing ink to pair with the nib. Some of our favorites include J. Herbin Drawing Ink, Kaimei Sol (shown here), and Deleter Black 4. Our Drawing Inks Guide has everything you need to know on how to choose an ink.
Paper: A smooth, heavy paper is perfect for comic use as nibs tend to catch on some fibrous papers. The paper should have a tight grain—this keeps the ink from spidering, feathering, or bleeding. Deleter Comic Paper is a great choice that comes in a couple of paper sizes.
How to Install a Nib into a Nib Holder
Install nib to holder
Installing a standard nib (left) and mapping nib (right).
Standard Nibs: Take the base of the nib and gently wedge it into the outer ring of the nib holder. The fit may be tight depending on the nib holder and nib combination, but it should never be loose.
Mapping Nib: When using a mapping nib like the Tachikawa Mapping Nib, wedge the base of the nib into the inner circle of the nib holder. The circular base should fit perfectly into the ring.
Priming the Nib
Using a Q-tip to wipe off the coating on a nib.
Nibs often come with a coating from the manufacturer to protect the nibs before they’re used. Clean the nib with acetone, rubbing alcohol, or a nib cleaning solution to get the coating off before using it.The coating must be removed as it prevents ink from clinging to the nib properly.
Inking the Nib
After priming the nib, get ready to start inking. Keep these tips in mind before taking a dip:

Inking the nib
Dipping the nib into ink.
Submerge most of the nib into the ink. Make sure to not dip any part of the nib holder into the ink.
Wipe off the excess ink by scraping the top of the nib against the bottle.
Do some practice strokes on scratch paper before you start drawing to make sure the ink produces even lines without blobs or skipping.
Allow ink to dry before going over it again. Drawing over wet ink may ruin the paper by weakening it with the hard nib while it’s damp.
Nib Orientation and Direction
Here are some techniques to take note of when using a nib:

Nib orientation
The nib should face convex side up (left), instead of on its side (middle) or back (right).
Hold the nib holder as you would a pen. The convex side of the nib should always face up.
Keep your hand relaxed and move your whole arm as you draw.
Always pull the nib towards your dominant hand. Never push—the nib will catch on the paper and splatter ink or even break. You can also pull the nib sideways.
Start drawing from the left (or non-dominant) side of the paper and move downwards to avoid accidental smudging.
Round objects should be created in two or more strokes to prevent pushing the nib upwards.
Be patient. Drag the nib across the paper slowly to prevent skipping.
Creating Texture
Creating textures with nibs
Nibs can create different textures.
Apply various kinds of strokes to indicate texture. For example, short choppy strokes can be used to create density such as in fur, while long strokes can be used for smooth objects such as hair. Refer to the “Practicing Strokes” section below to see all the tones and textures you can use.
Varying Line Widths
Depending on the pressure exerted, thin or thick lines can be created.
Use different line weights to create emphasis in your artwork. Thick lines should be used for outlines while fine lines are good for details. Varying the line widths also conveys movement and depth. This can help the drawing look more realistic.
Shading with nibs
Cross-hatching is a great way to create shading.
There are a variety of techniques you can employ for shading. Hatching and stippling are the most common, but other textures and tones produce different effects. When filling in large areas, choose a brush pen rather than a nib to save time.
We’ve compiled a list of strokes and tones (techniques used to create shades of gray) that are great for practice. Doing these drills will help you get acclimated to using a nib.

Straight lines with nibs
Straight Lines

Draw straight lines to practice maintaining even pressure and equal distance. Do a combination of long and short, thin and thick strokes.

Curves and circles with nibs
Curves and Circles

If one half of the drawing equation is straight lines, the other half is curves. Work on curves to get a feel for how to turn the nib. Combine two curves to get a circle or simply rotate the paper to do it in one smooth curve.

Comet tails with nibs
Comet Tails

Forming comet tails is a great way to practice varying the pressure you exert on a nib. This exercise also demonstrates how much the nib can flex.

Hatching with nibs

Cross-hatching and other types of hatching produce shading and textures that give dimension to any art piece. Keep lines short and close together to convey density.

Other Tones and Patterns
Other nib tones and patterns
There are a variety of other tones and patterns that can give visual interest and texture to your artwork. Here are a few that we like, but feel free to create your own! Click here for a downloadable version of the image!

cleaning and maintaining nibs
Using alcohol to clean ink off the nib.
Taking proper care of your nib and nib holder ensures that you can use these tools for a long time. Remove the nib from the holder and wash and dry both after each use. Dried ink can be removed with acetone, alcohol, or any nib cleaning kit. Before putting the tools away, double check that they are completely dry. Nibs and the metal rings in the holders rust quickly when wet.
The simplest tools can produce the most amazing art—all it takes is a dash of inspiration and a lot of patience and practice. We hope we’ve piqued your interest and inspired you to dip into a manga nib or two. For more on manga nibs, be sure to check out our Guide to Manga Pen Nibs!