Speedball dip pens are legendary. Whether it’s a Speedball Calligraphy dip pen set or an old straight holder with a Hunt 512 pointed nib, these are instruments professionals in the lettering, illustration and comic fields swear by as a step up from your regular tools. The Speedball Textbook is as ubiquitous in the realm of instruction for beginner and adept letterers. Now in it’s 25th edition, we have a quick look at the previous 24th edition of the Speedball book.
Reviewing the Speedball & Hunt Dip Pens
Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive where every week we take handsome stationery tools out for a test. I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal and in today’s episode we’re exploring Dip Pens.
Vishal: These are very handsome tools, sexy tools if you want to call them that, which I do. We don’t have a lot of experience with these, at least I don’t as an illustrator. But whatever little I’ve used I really do enjoy them. And, yeah this is the classic Hunt 512 nib, it’s written in very small engraving.
Samir: The reason we don’t know this for sure is because this pen holder and this nib are about 30 years old.
Vishal: So Samir, tell us that story. Where did you get this Hunt Dip Pen?
Samir: When I was in school, growing up in the Gulf during that time you would get American magazines and they would often have ads for correspondence courses and one of them was for cartooning.
So I signed up for one of these courses and the course was fun, but the best thing I got out of that course was an entire pack of stationery to begin with and this Hunt Dip Pen and nib were part of it.
Vishal: Minjal what about you where did you find this Speedball version?
Minjal: As a lettering artist I’ve been experimenting with different writing tools for calligraphy. While I do use Pilot Parallel Pen and the flat-edged markers for the sheer convenience, a lot of professional calligraphers will swear by dip pens.
I got this Speedball Dip Pen as a set, so what you get is the holder and different nibs. The thing I’ve noticed with the Speedball or any dip pen is that there is a definite learning curve.
Vishal: I would say it’s a big learning curve but it’s fun!
Minjal: Yeah, it’s fun but it’s not as easy as just picking up a pen and lettering.
Vishal: I’ll tell you one thing already that’s not that great is that I used the shallow dish for dipping ink and you really need something deep that you can put into like a bottle.
Samir: That’s why it’s called an inkwell!
Vishal: Speaking of which I have a couple of inkwells here. I have this Winsor and Newton Black India Ink which comes in a very nice bottle, which is so nice that I’ve never opened it and that’s a problem.
What I did use and I have used a lot is this thing which is a Sumi Drawing Ink from Daiso. I’ve literally used the same bottle for five years and I think it’s maybe halfway down. And it is from a dollar store, so yeah, somewhere in the world you might get it for a dollar or two.
Speaking of 30 year old things, here is Hunt Speedball Super Black India Ink, free flowing, non clogging, waterproof. The problem is it’s 30 years old and we have not used it since then.
Samir: It is so waterproof that it’s lost all its water at this point.
Types of Speedball Dip Pen Nibs
Minjal: I wanted to talk about the different nib types in the Speedball range of dip pens. They have broad edge nibs and pointed nibs. Among the broad edge nibs, Speedball A, is a broad edged, square tipped nib, there’s Speedball B which has a rounded tip, Speedball C nibs which are very popular with calligraphers who practice scripts like Roman, Carolingian, Uncial, Italic, Gothicized Italic, Blackletter or Neuland, then there is Speedball D which has an oval shaped tine, and Speedball E which is actually a steel brush. For lettering artists across the world Speedball continues to be a favourite as far as calligraphy tools are concerned. one of the favorite dip pen makers for sure.
Samir: I think they were the kind of premier American brand for sure but I think the thing that really set them apart and made them a staple was I believe the book that they introduced?
Minjal: Ross F. George, who was also a graphic designer, sign painter and lettering artist, developed and introduced the first ever dip pen for calligraphy with a built-in ink reservoir and replaceable square-tipped nibs in collaboration with William H Gordon. They partnered with the Hunt Pen Company in 1916 and launched a series of nibs for dip pens.
But George’s true legacy was ‘The Speedball Textbook’ a series of periodicals showcasing not just the different tools developed by him but also different lettering scripts by upcoming lettering and calligraphy artists. I believe Speedball launched its 25th edition last year, what I have with me is the 24th edition.
Samir: And even as someone who’s not been a calligrapher but was interested in illustration and the comic world, this is considered to be like the Bible if you are into dip pens.
I mean this is an aside, but it’s an interesting parallel that I think in the 1800s and 1900s this was a very common thing amongst instrument and writing instrument makers where they would manufacture the instrument but also then make the the books and the pamphlets and the instruction to go along with it. And in many cases it was the instruction that sold more and made them more popular.
The reason I bring that up is that we wrote a story about this in one of our newsletters which you can sign up for at our website inkymemo.com. There was a German manufacturer who did the same thing, he invented his own script based on an older medieval script called Rundschrift (German) and also invented the nibs that go with it. The books and the nibs were almost as popular as each other, so this is an interesting way that stationery people have kind of marketed their work.
Minjal: Should we now get down to what we made with the dip pens?
Samir: Since we’ve been playing around with the broad nib I think Minjal you go first and show us what what pens like these are traditionally designed to do.
Dip Pen Calligraphy
Minjal: This is the Fraktur script, it’s written at an angle of 40 degrees. And like I mentioned earlier, for somebody who uses mostly the very convenient Pilot Parallel Pen, it takes a little while to get used to the dip pen, because you have to constantly keep dipping it in your ink source.
Vishal: And which ink did you use?
Minjal: I used the Ecoline Inks which I use for most of my calligraphy work. We’ve done 25 episodes and I’ve spoken about the Ecoline almost in every episode!
Vishal: So the Ecolines are closer to a fountain pen ink? Are they are water-based?
Samir: They are somewhere between a fountain pen ink and Sumi ink.
Vishal: Because Sumi Ink is kind of tacky and that’s one of the things I wanted to bring up in that once you lay down enough here and especially in the thicker strokes you can actually feel it on paper.
Samir: Yeah, because Sumi inks have have carbon black in them which are actual particles of pigment and so they’re not something that just kind of the paper absorbs but it actually sits on top of the paper.
Minjal: One of the things I love about the pointed nib dip pens is the hairline strokes once can produce with them. It is impossible to get really fine hairline strokes with any other calligraphy pen or marker.
Dip Pen Drawing – Product Illustration
Vishal: The pointed nibs are basically like a needle point, and I have stabbed myself with this several times! In my test again I used the Hunt 512 pointed nib, I used the Sumi Ink, another drawing ink by Camlin, and I also used Sheaffer’s Sepia and Teal inks which are the blue and the browns.
The Hunt Dip Pen with the pointed nib is very good at putting down these small hair like lines and also putting down some very nice calligraphic lines. To talk about the actual life that you can breathe into something by using it very precisely and leaning into that hairline, Samir why don’t you show us yours?
Samir: I tried to do something that’s as lively as I could get and that’s what I came up with.
Vishal: That is fantastic and I think that is a true use of, these two especially, the true uses of these two nibs.
Dip Pen Drawing – Bird Sketch
Samir: So, Minjal’s used the the broad edge and I have used only the sharp nibs, the pointed pen. So what I did was a lot of these like the background and the colored bits are using Minjal’s favorite Ecoline Inks and this worked out really well with that. And the grays are actually a diluted Sumi ink which Vishal likes to keep around.
Vishal: You basically take literally a drop of Sumi Ink, you put in some water in there and you’re fine with washes.
Samir: So the the interesting contrast I am seeing with Vishal’s is because Vishal used a pure Sumi ink you can feel the ink on the surface.
Vishal: Yeah, I went down heavy and for a reason because I kind of wanted it to have this stamp and printmaking quality but I don’t think it’s as successful as the subtleties that you can get.
Samir: But the thing I think is common about the dip pen no matter how you use it is that it does have a texture to it no matter what you use. So Vishal’s got kind of a raised relief and because I used much thinner inks, mine’s almost kind of ingrained into the paper, so you can still feel.
It’s not just the process of writing with the dip pen that’s very tactile because you have to keep doing the dipping action but what you end up with is also quite tactile.
This is not an instrument that you can take to and get in all its complexity immediately. It’s going to take a few tries to kind of really lean into what it’s good at.
Vishal: We found our Hunt 512 nib and pen holder a few months ago, and I think I did a portrait with it that I was quite happy with it. In that one I think I had gotten into the rhythms of it well enough, there’s obviously a huge range and a huge ceiling for what it’s able to do in illustration especially.
I’m sure there are countless artists who have used and continue to use quill pens like this every day to produce artwork of varying degrees in cartooning, in comics, in illustration. But I think we have given this enough of a range. Are there any things that you would like to warn people against other than the fact that you could be stabbed by this thing?
Samir: No, I think it’s just, as an instrument it’s a very, very versatile instrument. I think pretty much any dip pen you get even like at a beginner level is already kind of much more professional than anything else you’ll use.
Minjal: All lettering artists will tell you that you cannot start with a dip pen, you start with something that is much easier.
Vishal: And to start with something much easier check out our episode on the Staedtler Markers.
Samir: And the Uni Pins if you want something that’s fine.
Vishal: Or the Doms Sketch Pens which were great for something like this.
How should Dip Pens be stored?
Samir: The thing that we try to cover through this is the use of sort of humble tools and the fact is that there are a lot of humble tools these days that give you a range of effects. A dip pen is not a humble tool, even if you get one for cheap it is a tool that requires a lot of investment on your part. It’s not something that you can just kind of pull out of your bag and get to work with immediately and get great results.
You really need to kind of struggle with it a little before you understand how to use it. It requires a lot of maintenance, you need to make sure your nibs are clean, you need to make sure they’re not rusting, they’re washed, you need to oil them when you store them away for a while so that they don’t disintegrate over time. This is not an easy tool.
Vishal: But that’s what makes it good, I think.
Samir: I believe metal dip pens were around since the Roman times but they were made out of copper alloys and were considered an elite tool back then. So metal dip pens as a mass thing didn’t happen until the 1800s and then they kind of took over from quills and fountain pens came soon after, so they didn’t have a very long life as far as the being the main writing instrument.
Minjal: There is a bit of resurgence at least in the lettering community now.
Vishal: And the comics community has basically had them as a de facto.
Samir: I think illustrators have never completely stopped using them because there’s just a certain range of effect you can get once you know how to use it, which you can’t get with the easy to use pens.
Vishal: It’s very much like musicians where you hear of musicians saying, oh you know I learned so much when I switched back to acoustic instruments or I learned so much when I went to electric instruments. There are people who spend years on markers and then switch to dip pens and then it’s a revelation. I know I felt some of that so I know that it’s not all in their heads.
There’s also groups of people like me who skipped the dip pen entirely and went to brushes and brushes are a very lively way of doing the same kind of things. We’ll cover those as well in the future because acrylic brushes and using brush for illustration is a wonderful lively line. I think we have gotten enough life out of these dip pens in all our experiments here in our test drives. Anything else?
Samir: It’s just definitely a instrument that all of us want to use more of. It’s a it’s a huge challenge to use one but the results are just worth it.
Vishal: And I think one other thing that is worth it is subscribing to the the Inky Memo YouTube channel, maybe liking this video, following us on social media at the links that are on screen and in the description. As Samir said before please subscribe to the Inky Memo newsletter, where we put out well-researched and well-thought through story about the history of tools, anecdotes, stationery and fun. And we hope you had fun with us. We will be back next week with more tests of fun tools and interesting tools and historical tools. Until then I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: Stab away!
Get the Dip Pens, Inks & Speedball Textbook
1. Speedball Calligraphy Pen Set – 1 Penholder w/ 4 Nibs, 2 Pen Tips – https://amzn.to/3ypDlEV
2. Speedball Sketching Pen Set – 2 Penholders w/ 6 Pen Tips – https://amzn.to/3niinBt
3. The Speedball Textbook, 25th Edition – https://amzn.to/3u4Ji7x
4. Ecoline Liquid Watercolour Mixing Set 10 x 30 ml – https://amzn.to/3Nn7wRd
5. Sumi Ink – https://amzn.to/3u4uwxD