Saturday, July 18, 2015

Product Review: The Under-rated Pilot Posting Nib

7/4/15 Sketched from photo with Pilot posting nib
and Platinum Carbon ink on
Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
Ever since I discovered the flexy, ultra-fine line of the Zebra Comic G dip nib that I loved using in my pen and ink class, I’ve wondered if a fountain pen equivalent exists. My favorite Sailor fude nibs turned upside-down will produce a fairly fine line – fine enough for most of the sketching I do – but not fine enough for the kind of hatching I was trying to reproduce when copying masters. I’d given up on finding a Frankenpen body for the Zebra G – all my attempts were dismal failures – but I still wanted a way to take that nib out of the house without the muss and fuss of dipping into a bottle of ink. Furthermore, the Zebra Comic G is scratchy enough to annoy me. Although I tolerate it, I prefer a smoother nib.
7/3/15 ink, watercolor (Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with posting nib)

The solution came serendipitously when I wasn’t even searching. At a meeting of the Seattle Pen Club, a member happened to show me his Pilot pen with a “posting” nib (identified as PO on Pilot’s product numbers). Before seeing it, I had heard that the PO nib was designed to be used on very thin, rough or poor-quality paper – the kind that would make most fountain pens feather and bleed to high heaven. Apparently you could work newspaper crossword puzzles with this nib! Since I avoid writing or sketching on paper like that, I didn’t pay any attention to the posting nib – and also didn’t give much thought to what kind of nib was needed to write on such paper. The answer, it turns out, is a very fine nib that’s also very smooth (which keeps poor-quality paper from getting scratched and snagged, exacerbating the feathering potential). Fountain pens with extremely fine nibs are easy to find. But an extremely fine nib that’s truly smooth? That’s a rare treat!

You can see from my line-stroke comparisons that the Pilot posting nib is quite a bit finer than my Sailor fude turned upside-down. It’s as fine as the Zebra Comic G nib – but is much smoother to use. Of course, the posting nib has very little flex compared to the G – the left-most vertical and bottom horizontal lines in the samples were made while flexing – but my need for flexing is minor compared to my desire for a fine, smooth line that I can get without dipping into a bottle.

If I apply very little pressure to the posting nib, it feels almost like a soft graphite pencil. In my sketches, I love the way I could draw fine fur hairs on the koalas (above) and the downy head feathers on the baby robin (below).

From the front, the posting nib looks like any other nib. Its distinctive characteristic can be seen only in profile: It curves slightly toward the paper. I’m guessing that curve somehow affects the nib’s smooth performance (although its claw-like appearance led me to expect the opposite!).

Posting nib - front view
Posting nib - side view
Contrary to what it was designed for, I’ve been using the posting nib to sketch only on high-quality Stillman & Birn sketchbook papers and my usual 140-pound Canson XL watercolor paper. It occurred to me, though, that if the nib is intended for use with cheap, thin paper (newsprint, for heaven’s sake!), it should do well with Moleskine, Field Notes and other notebook papers that get panned continually for being “fountain pen unfriendly” – papers that cause fountain pens to feather, bleed and otherwise misbehave. Although I don’t intend to sketch in Moleskine notebooks, I decided to be thorough and test that paper anyway. The pen line on the sketch itself showed no signs of feathering and would have been acceptable. But the reverse side of the page was the deal-breaker: Every time my pen point paused briefly while sketching, a dot of ink bled through. My writing at the top of the page, however, shows little bleeding.
Reverse side of Moleskine notebook page

As for the posting nib’s body, it’s a black Pilot Custom Heritage 912 – the identical body to the one I got with a Falcon (FA) nib during my Epic Search. I would have preferred to have gotten a different body for it (or at least a different color) so that I could tell the two pens apart, but the posting nib is difficult to find with any other of Pilot’s gazillions of fountain pen styles. But that’s a minor quibble; the Custom Heritage 912 is a very comfortable pen body for both sketching and writing.

So I have nothing but good things to say about the Pilot posting nib. The only question in my mind is, Why is it so under-rated by the general fountain pen community? Or perhaps not so much under-rated but under-discussed? I read a lot of forum and Facebook threads by disappointed fountain pen users complaining about the scratchiness of their fine or extra-fine nibs; I see a lot of requests for recommendations on “very fine but also very smooth” nibs. Various recommendations get tossed into the ring, but I rarely (ever?) see mention of Pilot’s posting nib. It gets my top vote for “very fine but also very smooth.”

The Pilot Custom Heritage 912 body is identical to the one with a Falcon nib.
I can’t see using the posting nib exclusively for sketching; it offers no expressive character in terms of line-width variation, which my Sailor fude pens have taught me I can’t live without. But as I learned toward the end of my Epic Search, the ideal, perfect grail can be a combination of pens, each doing what it does best. The Pilot Custom Heritage 912 with posting nib gets a permanent slot in my sketch bag, right next to my beloved Sailor fude.

6/28/15 Sketched from photo with Pilot posting nib and Platinum
Carbon ink plus watercolor on Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook


  1. You didn't say where you got your PO nib. Did you buy it in a 912 or put it in your FA 912?

    For what it's worth, my Platinum Carbon pen is nearly as fine as a Zebra G and it does work fine in the light-paper FN. You can also get the Pilot Penmanship for about $8 and it's definitely as fine as the Zebra G. Whether you find it scratchy or not is a personal thing, which is why so many complain about fine nibs. Virtually all of them can be made smooth with just a bit of burnishing. A REALLY nice implementation of the extra-fine nib, though is the Platinum UEF nib, which can be had in a 3776 body. That's a mighty sweet pen and its gold nib can even provide at bit of line width variation.

    For myself, I found the Penmanship was wonderful for really small drawings but once I got to 5x8, the lines looked anemic. I really think you can go "too thin."

    1. Oh, you're right -- I forgot to say where I got it from: Global Rakuten (vendor: Bunkidou):
      I've heard that the Platinum 3776 with UEF is a terrific pen, too. Don't tempt me -- I might have to spring for one of those, too. ;-) Actually, I think I'm going to be good with the Pilot PO -- although it isn't pleasantly springy like the Falcon, it satisfies my fine-line hatching needs while also being good on bad paper (well, except for Moleskine bad paper ;-) ).

  2. I do not understand the term "posting nib". I've heard of posting as in putting the cap on the top of the pen body but not as referred to a nib. I guess I could ask Mr. Google.

    1. Apparently it's called a "posting" nib because it was designed to be used on cheap, thin, low-quality paper that used to be popular for air letters -- the kind that folded up without an envelope. Typically, fountain pens couldn't be used on such crappy paper, but the posting nib is fine and smooth enough not to feather on such paper.

  3. I really love the combination of line and wash on this sketch. So expressive, using each in just the right proportion.

  4. I recently bought one of these pens too. I don't draw, but I do like to shove as much of my cramped handwriting onto the page as possible. I've tried dip pens with their ultra-fine tips, but the scratchiness was too much for me. This pen is perfect.

    1. Glad you are enjoying it! It's really great for both writing and drawing.


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