I have been known to deplore SEO-friendly headlines for their lack of style, but I get this search query so often I feel I am performing a public service.
Before anything else, read Antonios’ Short Guide to Flex. It is still the friendliest explanation of flexible nibs I know. A thread he started on the Fountain Pen Network, “What makes a flex nib good?” has people chiming in on nib cross-sections and curvature and such. Save that for when you’ve actually handled a flex nib, because it’s difficult to visualize otherwise.
Many interested in finding flexible nibs don’t know where to start, or have already looked online and don’t know how much to set aside, or how to assess from for-sale posts if a nib will be what they imagine it to be. I’ve been there. Expect to be mildly disappointed just as often as pleasantly surprised. There’s no reassurance that the results I get or a seller gets from using one pen will be the same as yours. We will write differently, hold the pen differently, apply different levels of pressure on downstrokes. If you don’t like the pen you bought, you can always resell it, or donate it to someone who will like it more than you.
If you’ve yet to try a flexible nib, and don’t want to spend unnecessarily, experiment with steel nibs in a holder. Jetpens carries Zebra G steel nibs, which, like Tachikawa and Nikko G nibs, are slit at the shoulder to allow the working end of the nib to “give” when pressure is applied. This means yes, they are flexible. You can get 10 nibs for USD 12. Add a holder for USD 6, then find ink somewhere. You can also try buying individual steel nibs from John Neal Bookseller. Dip pen nibs don’t have any kind of tipping, the way fountain pen nibs have iridium, so they can snag on paper, especially during upstrokes.
Dip pens need dipping. Dipping can be tedious. Enter the Ackerman Pump Pen, a plastic-bodied pen with a removable feed and section that allows you to use dip pen nibs in a fountain pen setup. (Charles has been hard at work, I see. Now there are versions for Osmiroid removable nibs, brush tips, even double-ended.) The standard pen is USD 12, the others are USD 20.
You can get a good bargain on eBay if you’re patient, like peering at 100×100 blurred pictures at odd hours, and use a sniping application. Look out for vintage Waterman eyedroppers, Swan by Mabie Todd, early Moore and Wahl. Japanese wartime pens have Shiro (steel) nibs, which are usually flexy, but have a higher risk of not springing back after being flexed. Sometimes you can snag an Eversharp Skyline with a flexible nib. Many second and third-tier pens have flexible Warranted 14k nibs. If the nib has long tines and sloping shoulders, it is likely to be flexible. In the image below, all the nibs have good flex and ink flow.
The nib on the left is deliberately designed to be stiff and precise. The one on the right has more give.
Yes, you can find a vintage flex nib pen under USD 100. Try writetime.co.uk, or post a want-to-buy (WTB) ad on the Green Board or the Fountain Pen Network. If you have more spare cash than buying confidence, consider a well-known, reputable (and usually more expensive) seller. There’s vintagepens.com, vintagewriting.com, vintagepen.net and many more.
And then there’s the custom option. I see Mr. Mottishaw’s turnaround time for nib modification is now at 8 months. If you buy a new pen from him and request that the nib be made flexible, the pen does not go into the queue. See here. Richard Binder crafts specialty nibs of all flavors, including flexible. I’m sure there are other experts, but these two remain the most well-known.
I do not recommend the Pilot 742 or 743 FA (falcon) nib in its current incarnation, as it is not a satisfactory flex nib experience. There is simply not enough ink flow to the nib. I also do not recommend an unmodified Namiki/Pilot Falcon/Pilot Falcon Elabo as the nib is barely flexible, and semi-flexible at best. Nakaya’s elastic nibs are soft and springy like a finely-pointed metal brush, not flexible. A flexible nib from Nakaya is semi-flexible by my standards, unless perhaps it is modified by Mr. Mottishaw, in which case most likely it will be full flex.
Danitrio pens are available with flexible nibs, upon order from Kevin Cheng, aka winedoc on the pen boards. The picture below shows a Mikado (long sold off) with a fine flexible nib, and the Ninja pen with an extra extra fine (EEF) flexible nib. These are close to vintage nibs. The rest of the pen can be spendy due to the art and materials that go into its making.
We’ll do stubs, italics, obliques and flexible stubs in another post.