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A dip pen is a pen with a manufactured nib but no proper internal ink supply. Dip pens were first produced in the early nineteenth century and were sold as an alternative to the quill pen. These days they are far less popular, thanks to the more convenient fountain and ballpoint pen styles, but they are not entirely obsolete; they are still used by many illustrators and professional manga and comic artists.

Dip pens can be filled in two ways. Traditionally, they were dipped into a bottle of ink or an inkwell, hence the name. After dipping, a pen can be used to write somewhere between a sentence and a couple of paragraphs before needing refilling. The difference in capacity is caused by differing nib styles — some nibs have a small reservoir built into the nib, which allows more ink to be stored, while others (mostly produced by the Mitchell pen company) have slip on reservoirs.

Many professional illustrators, however, do not dip their dip pens. Rather, they use special ink droppers or syringes, which can give more control. When dipping there is a tendency for the first few lines drawn to be too thick and prone to blotching; droppers significantly reduce the chances of this happening.

The first dip pens had steel nibs. Some modern dip pens still use steel, whilst others use brass or an alloy based around rubidium. Some nibs have soft gold tips — writing with these nibs is much easier, but they lack the sharpness of a steel or brass nib.

So why use a dip pen, when fountain pens are so much more convenient? The main reason is flexibility:

  • Dip pen nibs are often interchangeable. A selection of high quality italic dip pen nibs in a range of widths, for example, costs about the same as a Starbucks venti americano. Dip pen nibs are also easily available in roundhand, poster and scroll styles. Getting the same range from a fountain pen would require custom ground nibs and would end up costing about the same as a Starbucks franchise.

  • Dip pens can be used with India ink and similar speciality inks that would ruin a fountain pen's delicate internals. There is a significant chance that sooner or later India ink will dry too quickly and ruin a dip pen nib too, but nibs are easily replaceable.

  • Dip pens can easily be cleaned, so regularly switching colours is not a problem.

Aside from the professionally-used dip pens, there are also fancy appearance-oriented dip pens. Often these are made from glass or ceramics, and their major aim is to look pretty. Actually writing with one of these pens is something best kept for special occasions.

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