Getting to Know Sailor Nibs

Getting to Know Sailor Nibs

As I'm sure you can imagine, working at a pen store can be very dangerous. There's always the possibility you'll spill ink all over yourself, suffer a severe paper cut, get stabbed in the hand with a needlepoint nib, or, worst of all, try a pen that you can't resist. I have a lot of willpower and tight purse strings, so the last one doesn't happen to me as often as you'd think, but writing this blog article proved too much for me, and I am now the proud owner of my very first Sailor

I didn't set out intending to buy a pen. My goal was to try all 16 standard Sailor nibs and write a nice, concise comparison to help you understand the differences and make your choice easier if you want to select a Sailor. I think I did a pretty good job at that, but I didn't expect the consequences. Getting to know Sailor nibs meant I also fell in love with a Sailor nib. But more on that later. Let's start with the facts.


Sailor Fountain Pen Models

[Pictured:  Professional Gear Slim Mini in Gris Fer, Cosmic Blue Quasar Pro Gear Slim, Winter Sky Pro Gear Standard, Wicked Witch of the West 1911S, White/Gold 1911L, 1911 King of Pens in Black/Silver, and Professional Gear King of Pens in Fire.] 

Sailor fountain pens come in a myriad of beautiful color choices.  Many have a two-tone cap and body, contrasting end finials, subtle shimmer, opalescence, or translucent elements. They also come with various trim colors and nib colors (yellow gold, silver colored rhodium plated, rose gold plated, black ion plated) and sometimes the nibs are two-tone.  I picked out some fairly conservative examples above, just to illustrate the different sizes. When you look at the photo, compare the three different size nibs, as well as the seven different size/shape combinations in the pen bodies.

1) Professional Gear Slim Mini:  small flat ended pocket pen with a 14K nib. This is a fairly unusual model that isn't released as often, but we have a few different colors in stock right now. They are very cute and compact when capped, and are meant to be used posted. When posted with the cap on the back on the pen, the Mini is almost the same size as a regular Pro Gear Slim, and is very comfortable to write with.

Because it's shorter than a normal Pro Gear, the Mini only comes with cartridges, but it can use a special Sailor mini converter that is sold separately. All the other pens come with converters and can use proprietary Sailor cartridges.

2) Professional Gear Slim: small flat ended pen with 14K nib.

3) Professional Gear Standard (also just known as a Professional Gear): slightly longer and thicker flat-ended pen with 21K nib. 

4) 1911S (1911 Standard): mid-size torpedo-shaped pen with 14K nib. Confusingly, the "S" in 1911S stands for "standard," not "slim."  "Standard" is the smaller sized 1911, but the medium sized Professional Gear. This pen uses the same nib as the Pro Gear Slim and Slim Mini.

5) 1911L (1911 Large):  full-size torpedo shaped pen with 21K nib.  The size is comparable to the Professional Gear Standard, but it's a slightly longer pen because of the shape. They both use the same nib.

6) 1911 King of Pens: largest size torpedo shaped pen with extra large 21K nib. King of Pens are also referred to as KOP.

7) Professional Gear King of Pens: largest size flat ended pen, with extra large 21K nib. Slightly shorter than the 1911 King of Pens, but uses the same nib.

Pen Name Grip Diameter
Length - Capped
Length - Posted
Pro Gear Slim Mini 9.8 mm
10.9 cm
13.6 cm
14K, small
Pro Gear Slim
9.8 mm
12.4 cm
14.3 cm
14K, small
Pro Gear Standard
10.9 mm
12.8 cm 14.9 cm 21K, medium
1911S 10.5 mm 13.5 cm 14.8 cm 14K, small
1911L  11.3 mm 14.0 cm 15.3 cm 21K, medium
1911 KOP
12.4 mm
15.3 cm
16.62 cm
21K, large
Pro Gear KOP
12.5 mm
14.17 cm
16.08 cm

21K, large


People with smaller hands tend to prefer smaller pens, but not always!  The feel of the nib may affect your decision more than the size of the pen's body. Choosing your favorite Sailor model is very personal, and it's also nice to have different size pens and different nibs for different situations.  When I experimented with the pens, I found myself liking various different models and nibs that I wouldn't have been able to predict without trying them.

All the nibs on the Professional Gear and 1911 models are gold (either 14K or 21K), but some are plated with a different metal on top, just for aesthetic reasons.  The nib color doesn't affect performance.  What does affect how the nib writes is the softness of the gold and the size of the nib. I will discuss the different nib possibilities in the next section.

Whatever the nib color or size, all include the Sailor anchor logo, a border, the karat rating, and the nib size (such as fine, medium, etc.) written on the size. Older models also include the number 1911 on the nib, but Sailor has modernized their design and eliminated that element. (1911 is the year the company was founded.) Sometimes the nib size is preceded by an "H-."  The "H" stands for hard, but the nibs marked "H" aren't any different than the ones that aren't. Sailor used to have soft nibs as well, but they aren't selling those in the US anymore because Sailor is known for their feedback and Sailor fans prefer a stiffer nib. The pens that include the "H" information are just older models.


Sailor Nib Materials and Proportions

As shown in my photo above, you have three different physical nib proportion possibilities:

  • 14K gold (smallest)
  • 21K gold (medium)
  • 21K gold King of Pen size (large)

The 14K gold nib comes with the smaller pens:  the Professional Gear Slim Mini, Professional Gear Slim, and 1911S. The exposed length of this nib is 19.2mm, which is similar to a #5 size nib on a pen such as a TWSBI Diamond 580, or about the same size as a Pilot Custom 74's nib.

The medium sized 21K gold nib comes with the mid-sized Sailor pens, like the Professional Gear Standard, Professional Gear Realo (a piston-filled Pro Gear with slightly different body proportions), and the 1911L.  The exposed length for this nib is 21mm, which is similar to a #6 nib on a pen like a TWSBI Vac 700R, or slightly smaller than a Pilot Custom 823's nib. This nib is a little softer than the 14K nib, so it feels less stiff and puts down somewhat more ink.

The largest nib comes on the King of Pens 1911 and King of Pens Professional Gear.  This nib is also 21K but is even softer and juicer because of its large size. The exposed length is 25.5mm. 

This nib is a bit smaller than a Pelikan M1000 nib, and is extremely similar in size to the Montblanc 149 nib.  Here's a photo comparing a Parker Duofold Centennial, the Pelikan M1000 Souverän, a Sailor Professional Gear King of Pens, and a Montblanc Meisterstuck 149. All have very large, beautiful nibs!

Limited Edition Sailor pens may have various different sized nibs and the descriptions of these pens will usually compare them to one of the well known nibs. 


How Do You Feel About Feedback?

When you choose a Sailor fountain pen, a large part of the appeal is the nib. Sailor makes all of their gold nibs in-house, something that is true for only a few other fountain pen companies.  They are famous for the quality and consistency of their nibs, and also for the distinctive feel of these nibs.  The feel of a Sailor nib isn't for everyone, though.  When you write with a Sailor, you will experience what is called "feedback," which describes both the feel and the sound of your nib moving over the paper.  Feedback is similar to the sensation you get when you write with a sharp pencil. Some companies choose to highly polish the tipping material at the end of their nibs for a smooth and glassy feel on the paper, while Sailor manufactures their nibs' tipping with more texture to provide feedback.

Some people really love feedback, because it provides you with more feedback--i.e., you feel more in touch with the paper and more aware of how your nib is moving over the page. It's kind of like how you are more in touch with the road when you drive a sports car than when you drive a luxury sedan designed to isolate you from the noise and texture of the road and give you a quiet and cushiony ride. The Sailor nib's tactile and auditory information can help you write or draw more precisely, or can just be enjoyable to you as a sensation. 

Feedback is different than being scratchy, but it is something many people have strong feelings about, either positive or negative. If you want to feel your pen gliding silently over the page, a Sailor may not be the pen for you.  I have mixed feelings about feedback, which is part of the reason I never owned a Sailor pen until now.  Before I started writing this article, I didn't think I liked it, but, the more I wrote with the 16 Sailor nibs, the more it grew on me, and the nib I ended up falling in love with is one that I never would have predicted! 

In general, the 14K nibs are stiffer than their 21K counterparts, so they give you a greater feeling of feedback. Sailor's stiffer 14K nibs will give you less bounce and not much line variation because the tines don't spread very much when you add pressure. You also get less variation in ink flow, and the nibs put down less ink than their 21K counterparts.  They give you a consistent feeling and a consistent look to your writing.

The 21K nibs, on the other hand, are more responsive to pressure, and the tines open more as you write with the pen.  They feel more springy and you will see more shading in your writing because the ink flow will vary more.  You will also see more sheen, and, if you use a shimmer ink, the shimmer particles will flow through more.  So, your writing will feel and look a little more dynamic.

The King of Pens 21K nibs are like the regular 21K nibs on steroids. Their large size allows for the most bounciness, the most ink flow, and the most dramatic shading, sheen, and shimmer.

You will see how the size and stiffness of the nibs factors into the experience when I compare the 16 different nib choices.


Sailor's Sixteen Nib Sizes

In addition to the physical dimensions of the nibs, which are linked to which pen model you choose, you will also have a lot of nib size options with a Sailor. The term "nib size" describes the shape of the tip of the nib that controls the kind of line the nib produces.  It has nothing to do with the overall physical size of the nib.  Not all pens come with every nib size option, but the potential Sailor nibs sizes are:  Extra Fine (EF), Fine (F), Medium Fine (MF), Medium (M), Broad (B), Music (MS), and Zoom (Z). In the US, the majestic King of Pens models are only available in Medium and Broad. Since there are seven smaller 14K nib choices, seven medium 21K nib choices, and two large 21K nib choices, that makes sixteen possibilities!  I tried all sixteen, and, as I got to know the different nibs, I developed some preferences. 

[I selected this collection of pens from our store display case because they represent every nib size.  They are:  1) Professional Gear Slim Black/Gold (EF), 2) Professional Gear Slim  White/Silver (F), 3) Professional Gear Slim Mini Rencontre Bleu Ciel (MF), 4) Professional Gear II Slim Black with Silver Trim (B) (sorry, I messed up the Broad and Medium order--I was tired when I took the photo!), 5) Professional Gear Slim Seasonal Festival Kiku (M), 6) 1911S Royal Tangerine (MS), 7) Professional Gear Slim Go USA (Z), 8) 1911L Stormy Sea (EF), 9) Professional Gear Cocktail Cantina Mexican Screwdriver (F), 10) 1911L Kagero Green (Pen Boutique Exclusive) (MF), 11) Professional Gear Cocktail Cantina Lavender Margarita (M), 12) Professional Gear Standard Bora Bora Waters (Pen Boutique Exclusive) (B), 13) Professional Gear Realo Maroon/Gold (MS), 14) 1911L Pirate's Life (Z), 15) 1911 King of Pens Wicked Witch of the West (M), and 16) Professional Gear King of Pens Fire (B).]

As I experimented with the nibs, I learned a lot, and was pretty surprised by a few things!  For some of the nibs, I preferred the feel of the bouncier 21K nibs. In other cases, I liked the 14K nibs better because they gave me more control, or were less wet.  The smaller pens with the 14K nibs are also considerably less expensive, so there's that to consider, too.


Trying All the Nibs

Here's my "serious" comparison of all the nibs, in my Oasis notebook.  After my initial controlled trial, I played around with them more expressively.

If you look carefully, you will notice that the 21K version of each nib size consistently produced a thicker line than the 14K version of the same nib, because the 21K nibs put down more ink. The 14K nibs wrote similar to "one size down" in 21K--i.e., the 14K M was more similar to the 21K MF.  In general, the 21K nibs felt noticeably smoother and less stiff, but as the nib sizes increased, I started to prefer the 14K versions because some of the 21K nibs put down more ink than I wanted.  Check out my more detailed freeform exploration on Tomoe River paper!

Extra fine and fine:

Medium fine, medium, and broad:

Music nib:

Zoom nib:

King of Pens medium and broad:

The Whole Picture:

My Conclusions

It was very hard for me to pick a favorite nib, but I did have a few that stood out to me as most enjoyable for me personally.

1) I was very surprised to find that I really love the 21K extra fine nib on the 1911L I brought home.  The pen feels perfect in my hand, the sheen is very pretty with the Sailor Ink Studio 735 ink I chose, and I love how precisely I can write. Even though there is more feedback than I am used to with my other pens, I started to enjoy it. It makes me feel in control, and doesn't feel scratchy. I also like the amount of bounce on the 21K nib.

2) I think the medium fine 21K is a really great nib, too. I like how it shows off my ink color a lot more, but is still pretty precise for writing neatly or drawing with control. The ink looks very beautiful with this nib.

3) Medium feels very nice with the 14K nib and makes my ink look even more beautiful. A lot of the prettier pens are only available as Professional Gear Slims with fine, medium-fine, or medium nibs, so I am pleased that I like the 14K medium nib. I like how my writing looks with this nib.

4) I like the 14K nib better than the 21K for broad!  It has a very fun look and feel and isn't over the top like some broads can feel.

5) I also like the 14K music nib!  Sailor's music nib is a lovely stub that's fun and easy to use and gives my writing a very interesting look. It's not practical for everyday use, but who cares? This nib shows off the ink the best, especially that incredible sheen!

6) For a really fun and different experience, I might also choose the 14K Zoom nib.  I love how much sheen it shows, and the interesting feel:  lots of feedback, almost chalky.  The letters look a little rounded.  It is not super wet feeling or out of control. It actually feels much drier than some of the other nibs.  I don't know if I'd do all the weird angles, but I like the option!

It's wonderful to have different nib sizes for different moods or for different uses.  An extra fine is perfect for writing in a Hobonichi planner or drawing fine details, while a medium or broad might be more fun for letters or journaling.  A music nib is great if you want your writing to look very distinctive, and I found it more forgiving than most stubs when it comes to the angle you use when you hold you pen.  The Zoom nib is just cool and fun to experiment with.  King of Pen nibs are perfect for signatures, and they are most comfortable if you have big hands and like to write fairly large.


So, Which Pen Did I Buy?

I mentioned at the beginning that I ended up falling hard for one of the pens that I brought home to write this article. So, which one?  It was one I never would have expected until it happened.  I thought Sailor nibs were too feedback-y for me, but the one I couldn't bear to return to the store was the extra fine 21K nib on the Stormy Sea 1911L! 

What didn't help was that I'd been admiring the Stormy Sea 1911 in our display case for almost a year, and it was actually one of my picks for my ten favorite pens from 2022, in my blog series last November. That's not what made me buy it, though. I could have bought Stormy Sea back in November if I was that into it, but the nib didn't speak to me at the time, so I held off.  This time, it was all I could think about.  My particular pen may be exceptional... I don't know. But this nib is incredibly smooth, incredibly precise, and just feels perfect for me.  There's feedback, but it's not over the top. It's just enough.  Even though the lines are extremely thin, they show the Sailor Ink Studio 735's sheen beautifully.  This pen's writing looks amazing on Tomoe River paper, on Write paper, on Mnemosyne, and on the crummy printer paper we use in the store for our limited editions checklist. I just love it every time I pick it up and put nib to paper.

The clincher was when I checked inventory and saw that my pen was the last Stormy Sea 1911L left in stock.  I knew it was meant to be, and that if I let this pen slip by, I'd regret it. So, I brought the pen back to the store the next day, and asked Lauren to ring me up. I suppose it's taken me long enough! 

I took a break a few nights ago and used my new pen to draw this. It didn't disappoint.  It's more precise than any of my other nibs, even my extra fine Taccia and extra fine Pilot. I ended up getting too caught up in adding more layers of water and ink with my paintbrush because I was listening to music and chilling out, so the art panel got a little oversaturated, but that's okay. This was just for fun and I didn't really care how it turned out.  I topped it off with a final layer of shimmer ink to salvage it, then went over the lines one more time with my new Sailor.  I just made it up as I went along, but it was enjoyable and I like it. I guess I should try to relax more often.

[Here's my quick Instagram video about about this pen that I made while writing the blog today.]

It feels pretty special to finally have my first Sailor, and I appreciate its beauty and the unique feel more and more each time I use it. Just because I started out as a Pilot fan, that doesn't mean I can't love and appreciate Sailors, too!

How do you feel about Sailor nibs?  Which one is your favorite?  Or are you still waiting to try your first Sailor? Let me know in the comments, and I'll see you when I get back from the DC Pen Show!

-Laura P.

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