Parchment Craft Mapping Pens and Nibs – A Guide

Introduction

A mapping pen is like an old fashioned dipping pen, it consists of a handle and a very fine metal nib that slots into the handle.  Traditionally parchment crafters use a mapping pen and white ink or coloured ink for tracing. If you are wondering whether to have a go at using a mapping pen and ink or are having trouble using them hopefully this will help you.

Buying a mapping pen for parchment craft:

When buying a mapping pen look for a very fine nib, some of the brands that these are available from are: Pergamano, Conte, Joseph Gillott, PCA and other manufacturers. A lot of people find mapping pens difficult to use but it is definitely worth practising to get the fine tracing lines required for some patterns. When you first receive your pen you will find that the nib  is stored upside down in the handle, this is done to protect the nib, pull it out very carefully and place right side up in the handle. If you usually store the nib in your pen upside down, make sure it is absolutely dry as it could rust.

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How to use & hold the mapping pen:

Mapping pens are used for tracing, the aim is to get a really fine line. To do this you need to practise holding the pen almost upright and gliding across the parchment, I find the easiest way to do this is to brace my hand, put the side of your hand on the table and curl your little finger so that your hand is now steady and hold the pen in the usual way and move it in a small arc to practise a curve. If you then use this method to trace and turn the parchment to get the best angle.  If you press down it will result in a thicker line, also pressing too heavily can result in fibres from the parchment paper clogging up the nib. Check your nib, if you have used it too heavily you may find that the end has been bent or damaged, if this has happened get a new nib. If the nib is simply clogged up just rinse it and wipe it on a damp sponge.

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Here are some examples of the look of a mapping pen and ink.  Around the edge of the wild rose on the left, you can see a thin white line traced using a mapping pen and white Tinta ink, the leaves have been traced using a mapping pen and sepia Tinta ink. The blue flowers on the right have been traced with blue Tinta ink and the Butterfly is traced with a brown Pigma Micron Pen.

Before you use a new nib:

There are several ideas to try, it is sometimes recommended that new nibs should be dipped in boiling water, or soak them in alcohol or hot soapy water, another way to condition new nibs is to soak them in bicarbonate of soda and boiling water or even passing a nib through a match flame very quickly to burn off the coating (do be careful if you try this one). I have not needed to do any of these things but they are useful to know if you are having problems.

To prepare the Ink:

If you haven’t used your bottle of ink for a while it might need mixing, you should be able to hear a ball bearing rattling around in white ink, pastel and metallics. They need a good shake to mix them up, however the resulting bubbles on top of the ink when you dip your pen may cause a blot on the parchment. Coloured inks just need a gentle roll in the hand to mix.

How to fill a pen:

• White Tinta Ink, coloured inks
Just wipe the nib on a damp sponge front and back, before dipping. Do this every time you refill the pen.
Dip the pen into the ink up to the hole or eye in the nib, if you have overfilled the nib the ink will not run, it may even blot.

• Metallic Tinta Ink
Use a plastic stirrer (the sort you get from motorway service stations) to get to the bottom of the ink bottle stir it around and drip a very small amount of the ink onto the nib. Always clean your nib before refilling it with more ink.

Nib maintenance:

Normal use means that we touch nibs all the time to wash, store, replace them into their holders. The natural oils from your hand will get on the nib. Use wet wipes to remove these oils.

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Troubleshooting:

Ink won’t run freely from the nib

– if it is a new nib try the conditioning ideas,
– are you putting too much ink on the nib when you dip?
– are you pressing too hard on the nib?
– is the ink old and thickened (thin it down with a drop of water)
– metallic ink may run better on an old, well used nib

Blots on the parchment

– air bubbles in the ink
– too much ink on the nib

Pen won’t glide

– brace your hand so that you can use the mapping pen without pressing it into the parchment
– the nib may be blocked up, wash and dry it
– the ink may be too thick

Nib falls out of pen holder

– try to ease the nib out at the base so that it fits better
– try another pen

If you are really not getting on with the mapping pen you have bought, try a different brand, some are better than others. I use a Conte mapping pen or Joseph Gillott, they are both very good.

Tracing can also be done with a sharp white pencil, mechanical pencil with white lead or a fine tip pen, such as a gel pen or micron pen but mapping pen and ink is the traditional method. It depends what effect you want in the end.

Further Reading

If you would like to read more about using a mapping pen and tracing with different inks, try these books:

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Excellent instructions, tips and information about using mapping pens and inks can be found in “Best of the Best, A Classic Collection Volume 1” by Kannikar Sukseree and Parchment Craft the Techniques Volume 1 by Pergamano.

Please leave any comments, questions or tips you have about using mapping pens.

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