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Bitter Sweet Spots

Posted by Dirck on 28 September, 2010

Yesterday’s pen was, as indicated, one of my wife’s.  She has what one might call a collection of that sort of thing, but it’s realy more in the line of an assortment.  It pleases her to have several pens on the go at any given time, and this particular shape of pen is one she enjoys.  The fact that they’re also dead cheap and (until lately, at least) quite functional helps a lot as well.  A thing about my wife, though, which I don’t quite understand and frequently run up against– she prefers doing things the hard way.

All of her pens are italic points.

“So what?” says the passing reader.  Well, the thing about italic points is that they have a remarkably small sweet spot.  The same rhetorical person will call out, “What’s that?” and I will oblige with explanation.

Fountain pens work by capillary action.  The ink climbs down the point from the reservoir in an increasingly small channel, and is held at the tip by surface tension.  Touch the surface of the ink to paper (or a shirt, or anything marginally absorbent) and that surface attaches to it, and the ink marches out.  Here’s an illustration from my site to make the concept clear:

The “sweet spot” is the part of the tip which provides best flow, allowing the smoothest writing as the ink provides lubrication between tip and writing surface.  The size and shape of this spot is a matter of real art for those who shape the nib, and you mustn’t think of this (entirely) as the point of contact between the tip of the pen and the paper.  It is rather an envelope of function.  Consider a pen as operating in the same attitudes as an aircraft,  which I can illustrate by litfing some graphics from a Wikipedia page




Yaw is really neither here nor there for a pen, but pitch and roll are the defining factors of the sweet spot.  A small sweet spot means the pen greatly prefers a specific angle of pitch and almost no roll whatever, while a big sweet spot means vast variations in both are tolerable.  In very general terms, a rounder tip has a bigger sweet spot than a flatter one.

An italic point, the “calligraphy” pen, is entirely flat.  It will take a lot of pitch, but any roll at all separates the ink and the paper, and the thing stops writing.  This is the vexation of many a new calligrapher, of course.

My wife feels that the broader line makes her writing look neater, and I suppose the need to attend carefully to the roll of the pen will help with letter formation.  Still, this is her preferred tool for writing, and compared to writing with… well, a writing point, it’s a lot of effort for the amount of reward.  More astonishing is the degree of ambidexterity with these unforgiving pens which she developed while nursing our son.  As I said, she doesn’t mind doing things the hard way.

I decided to use another similar pen today, although this is a slightly more accomodating point, a cursive-italic point.  I used to be a fair calligrapher, and it occurs that I shouldn’t let those muscles go entirely to pot.  The broad, flat points also have this to recommend them: neater or not, the writing certainly looks fancy.

Today’s pen, hoping to avoid clear-air turbulence:  Pilot 78G
Today’s ink, wishing for a smooth flight:  Mont Blanc Racing Green

One Response to “Bitter Sweet Spots”

  1. […] for your own, the points are generally less tolerant of roll than most other pens (a small “sweet spot“), and the later points are not particularly good as quality control started to slip in the […]

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