Glass nib dip pens grabbed my attention over the last year in a way they hadn’t before. This increased interest was in part due to their booming popularity in the Japanese market and the release of some wild new products such as the Too ribbon pen. Although many of the Japanese specialty products aren’t widely available, there are still some interesting glass pens available in the US market. After adding a few of these pens to my collection, they’ve become a tool I use on a regular basis and they have even surprised me in some unexpected ways!
One of my favorite uses of dip nib pens is dunking them into the most outrageous inks in my collection without any fear that they might harm my pen like I may worry about a fountain pen. I also don’t have to commit to a specific ink for any length of time. If I don’t like the ink or I feel like changing colors mid-sentence, I can simply clean off the pen, put the ink away, grab a different one and keep writing. For this review I decided to grab a sheening ink, a shimmering ink, an ink with black particle material, a neon ink, and a shading ink to attempt to show how different properties of ink may show up with the use of different glass dip pens.
One of the things that has surprised me about glass nib dip pens is the variety of pens available and how the differences from pen to pen are similar in some ways to customizing the writing experience of a traditional fountain pen. For example, not only can the size of the overall pen vary drastically- the size of the glass nib itself can also vary greatly pen to pen. The overall shape of the glass nib pen plays a dramatic role in the weight of the overall pen and also how the pen feels in your hand. Specifically, the amount of glass at the end of the pen versus the front of the pen changes the way that the pen feels in the hand when you’re writing. The closest comparison I can make with traditional fountain pens is the way metal sections add weight to a pen. Many glass nib pens have a wider section or decoration near the front of the pen that weights the pen more towards the front of the pen.
I got my first glass dip pen at a stationery shop on a vacation five or six years ago. I don’t remember now exactly where I got it or even the town I bought it in. However, for a long time this was the only glass dip pen that I owned. This particular pen has a very small nib and also very small grooves in the nib of the pen. The smaller nib is great for some use cases like dipping the pen into tiny sample bottles. However, the tiny grooves of the nib make this glass pen more difficult to clean than the other models that I now own. So for a long time, I thought that all glass nipped pens were very difficult to clean- it was a pain to get the ink out of the grooves of the nib of the pen. I think this is one of the overall misconceptions about glass nib pens. While some are a little more difficult to clean the ink out of the grooves or the glass, some are exceptionally easy to clean and it varies greatly depending on the pen.
The size of the grooves of the pen specifically impact how much ink the nib can hold, and also what type of ink properties it will demonstrate. It doesn’t show very well in the photo below, but this glass nib pen wasn’t able to hold any of the black particles that are present in the Tono & Lims ink Bee. All the other glass pens put some black particles down on the page, but the “glass nib pen” from the mystery vacation stationery store made the ink look like a bright yellow without a single black particle. The same can be true for some shimmering inks with this particular glass pen.
The second glass dip pen that I acquired was a gift from my parents when they traveled to France. The same style of pen from J.Herbin is also available from many retailers including Goldspot. Compared to my first glass nib pen, this pen has a significantly larger nib which makes it easier to clean but also more difficult to dip into small sample vials and some ink bottles that have smaller openings.
Overall for the price point, I feel like this glass nib pen is a very good starter pen to get a feel for what glass nib pens are all about. With drier inks, this pen can sometimes be a little inconsistent and you can get some “skipping,” or thinner lines- but for most inks it produces a wet medium to broad line and provides a decent representation of most ink properties.
Over the last year as I started hearing more about glass pens and I started following some of the Japanese glass makers, I also started looking around at what was available to the US market. One of the first makers that I came across was FirespiderGlass. What first struck me about these specific pens were the intricate glass details. One of the things that he is most known for is his jellyfish pens which appear to have a jellyfish floating inside of the end of each glass pen. Outside of the jellyfish pens he also does some other pens with different designs including galaxy themed pens and cane striped pens. I watched his site for about six months before I finally decided to purchase two of the pens. What you’ll notice about the pens on his site is that because each one is handmade and unique, over time different pens of different shapes and sizes and designs will be posted and available.
The first pen I got from FireSpiderGlass is one of the jellyfish pens. This glass pen is one of my favorite overall designs and is beautiful to look at and use. The details at the end of the pen with the jellyfish and near the grip of the pen are intricate and truly amazing work. This glass pen is one of my larger pens, so if I’m using a glass pen for a multi-hour writing marathon this may not be my first pen of choice, but otherwise it is just so fun to use. Also notice that the grooves on the nib of this pen have an interesting shape and design. I thought this may make the pen more difficult to clean, however it has been just as easy to clean as my J.Herbin glass pen.
The second pen that I got from FireSpiderGlass has become, by far, my favorite glass nib pen. The pen is one of his rainbow cane pens and is a little smaller and more straight shaped than the other pens in my collection. The nib also has very wide, straight grooves that make this pen the easiest of my glass pens to clean. Cleaning the ink off of this specific pen is literally no different than cleaning ink off a smooth glass surface. I typically dip it in the water a single time wipe it off carefully with a cloth and I’m good to go for the next ink. There is also a slight tapered shape in the section of the pen that makes the pen extremely comfortable to hold. Just like fountain pens, glass pens are an extremely personal purchase, and it’s all about finding the pen that speaks to you and feels right in your own hand with your own handwriting.
These two pens from FireSpiderGlass really changed my opinion of glass nib dip pens overall. The glass work specifically in the nib section of the pens make these two pens extremely consistent writers and drastically changes the feel of the pen on the page. This is where the skill of the glass maker not only impacts the overall look of the pen but also the use of the pen and the feel of the pen as you use it. I didn’t necessarily expect there to be a difference in writing, but the pens from FireSpiderGlass produce a consistent smooth line with just a bit of feedback and are really a joy to use. If you’re looking to upgrade your glass pen collection, I highly recommend watching his site over time to find one that really speaks to you.
The final glass dip pen that I added to my collection was a pen that either Jesi or Ana sent me over messaging from Shigure inks. What really intrigued me about this pen is that it could be purchased in different nib sizes. Although my other glass pens vary in line width a little from pen to pen, the width is not usually something that you can choose when you purchase the pen. I decided to purchase a broad nib pen and I’ve really enjoyed using it ever since it arrived. The broad nib puts down a ton of ink on the page allowing me to see properties of the ink that I may not get to see with my smaller glass pens. The line is also very consistent and feel on the page is extremely smooth- the pen just glides across the page. I also really enjoy that the pen is smaller and shorter overall making it more comfortable for longer writing sessions or longer swabbing sessions- especially with my smaller hands. There are several styles available in this brand, and I think for the price these are really great quality, and in the current US market one of your only opportunities to customize the size of the nib of a glass pen.
One of the things that you have to get used to with glass pens is controlling how much ink is in the nib and how much of that ink will go down onto the page. For some pens, if you dip the pen in the ink without allowing some of the ink to drip off or gently wiping some of the ink- the ink will pool on the page or leave extra drips or globs of ink on the page when you first start writing. My advice would be to really spend time learning the pen on scrap paper before you use it to write anything of importance. Each glass dip pen has its own sort of personality, and with practice you learn how it’s typically going to write. I usually have an extra piece of paper out when I’m using glass pens so that I can write a couple of characters with each new ink before I write on my actual page or ink swab. This allows me to see what the writing will look like with that particular ink and get any extra ink off the pen before I start writing on the page.
Overall glass nib pens are a really interesting choice specifically for testing a large amount of inks very quickly. I also think the practice of using the pens has a very different feel than inking up a fountain pen. Obviously, glass pens are very fragile and don’t travel well the same way that my fountain pens do. But there’s just something kind of relaxing or meditative about sitting down with glass pens and inks at my desk and writing or drawing or swabbing inks. I’m excited to see how this specific part of the market will continue to evolve, and if the US market will continue to expand or if some of the Japanese specialty glass pens will become more widely available. I would definitely love to get my hands on one of the ribbon pens at some point in the future!
FireSpiderGlass Dip Pens– $70-175
Kenny’s Labo Glass Dip Pens $20-$65
DISCLAIMER: All products included in this review were purchased with my own funds. Please see the About page for more details.