Fude nibs, sometimes called bent nibs, are made to mimic brushes — “fude” (筆) means brush — by allowing for considerable line width variation.
Writing with the bent tip of the fude nib at different angles produces lines of different widths because the amount of contact surface the nib has with the paper changes.
Technically, you can angle a traditional nib differently and produce a similar, if very reduced, effect, but since they weren’t made to be used that way, they tend to skip a lot when angled differently than intended. Typical nibs prefer to be used at a consistent angle.
Only a few established fountain pen brands offer stock fude nibs, notably Sailor, but they’re widely available among Chinese Amazon sellers.
I picked up the Duke Ruby fude nib pen from among those options. As I’ve said before, this is a great way to sample new categories of tools, but I’m constantly frustrated by the confusing inconsistencies these Amazon-only companies demonstrate, which make them feel shadier and less legitimate than they (maybe?) are. Is the brand Duke, as in the name? Lanxivi, as in the listing? Or Jinhao, a more widely known brand that also shows up in searches for “Lanxivi”? Who knows.
The Duke Ruby is fancy-looking piece. It’s solid metal and the cap, covered in designs and with a metal clip and plastic jewel in the finial, is noticeably heavier than the pen body. This makes the pen feel top heavy if the cap is posted.
Despite looking nice and having a substantial weight, the Duke Ruby begins to feel less fancy when you unscrew the body and free the piston-filler converter. The threading on the body is squeaky, and the converter is basic and tiny. According to its product listing, the Duke Ruby can also take Jinhao cartridges.
The Duke Ruby fude nib has a ~1.5 mm bent section, allowing for lines of about that thickness at maximum. This is about the width of many stub nibs.
Angling the pen up gets you gradually thinner lines. Holding the pen straight up produces lines the typical width of a (Japanese) medium nib. You can get a little bit finer than that, but you’d be angling the pen at an obtuse angle away from you, which is pretty awkward in use.
Switching between different stroke widths is relatively easy and intuitive. You’re just angling the nib slightly this way and that. It’s very convenient!
As with stub and broad nibs, broad strokes with a fude nib can get significant ink “shading” effects — where there’s more dye deposited on the tail end of a stroke, leading to a darker color — depending on the ink you use. The effect is still there with thin strokes, but it’s less obvious.
I always find that ink shading adds a lot of character to drawings, and this, in combination with the mix of thin and thick lines, makes for fun sketches.
Unsurprisingly, it’s also nice for Chinese and Japanese writing, since shading helps indicate stroke direction, which can be helpful in the absence of tapering brush strokes.
The fude nib isn’t the smoothest, but the scratchiness is mild at worse and depends a bit on what angle you’re using it at. The broader strokes tend to be the smoother than the thinner ones.
I had some ink flow issues with the Duke Ruby initially, but it seemed to even out and become more reliable with regular use. As with most fountain pens, if you don’t use the pen for a while (even if the pen is cleaned out and empty), it may take a while to start back up.
Sometimes I need to twist the converter a little to force ink into the feed to start it back up after a break, but after that, ink flow is good. It’s not too wet, not too dry, and pretty consistent. Skipping isn’t much of an issue, even with thinner lines.
The good ink flow allows the Duke Ruby fude nib to perform decently on cold press watercolor paper.
Since the contact point of the nib with the paper is flat, it doesn’t caught in the paper fibers, making it a fun tool for expressive drawings colored with watercolor — just make sure the ink you’re using is both water resistant and fountain pen friendly. (Do not put India ink or other pigment inks in your fountain pen!)
The fude nib does a decent job at mimicking some properties of a brush.
You can’t really transition from thick and thin in a single stroke like you can with a brush — though you can get a small bit of taper by lifting the nib off the page — but being able to switch naturally and easily between thick and thin strokes can be really useful both in writing and drawing.
For writing, you can use extra broad strokes for emphasis before switching back to something medium or fine. For drawing and sketching, line variation gives a lot options for character and can assist with texture and depth. And I always think ink shading effects are a lot of fun.
The small amount of ink the converter can hold is annoying, but getting the range of lines you can out of the fude nib (and a fancy-looking pen to boot) for $19 is pretty good.
I realised after the fact that Sailor’s Fude de Mannen pen is actually a cheaper entry point to test out fude nibs as a category, though it comes default with cartridges instead of a converter and is considerably less fancy-looking.
Honestly though, a bamboo pen body sounds more comfortable. Heavy pens make my hand tired!