John Neal Booksellers recently contacted me and asked was I interested in trying out the “new and improved” Gillott 303 nib. Since I love Gillott’s 404 but have had little success in the past with their 303, I jumped at the chance.
I found that Gillott has definitely improved their 303 nib. Just to make sure, I went back and tested several of Gillott’s old 303s, again with no success. However, the new 303 was well behaved in my hand with a wide variety of inks and papers.
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I was tickled with the 303’s exceptionally fine upstrokes and juicy fat downstrokes easily performed with the lightest touch. In fact, this is a nib that thrives under a light hand. I tend to be a bit heavy handed (most beginners are) so that is something to consider if you are interested in trying this nib for yourself.
In fact, this is not a nib I would recommend for beginners or for those who are mainly interested in modern calligraphy or are accustomed to a brush pen. It is an extremely fine nib so it’s a bit prone to snagging, and as you can see in my photos, it is quick to display any lack of control.
Also, the 303 holds very little ink while its extra flexible nib disperses it quickly. This is a nib that needs to be dipped often, and it sometimes needs a little coaxing to get started. These things can be frustrating, especially in the hand of a beginner!
After a bit of experimentation, I gave the 303 a whirl with a bit of Copperplate lettering. All of a sudden, the nib had found its calling. My clumsy Copperplate suddenly look better than it ever has before.
The Gillott 404 and the 303 are both recommended by Eleanor Winters in her book, Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy. I agree with Eleanor that the 404 is a better choice for beginners. The 404 is a larger nib that needs less control and can easily handle larger lettering, but the 303 is more flexible and softer in hand. (You can read my review of the 404 here.)
Back to the subject of ink… Gillott’s 303 wasn’t too finicky about what ink I used with it. This nib did well extremely well with my standard go-to ink, Higgins Eternal, and even handled denser inks like Sumi ink well, but my favorite ink with this nib was Tom Norton’s walnut ink.
Walnut ink is thin and doesn’t cling well, so I could barely pen a letter or two before having to redip, but I love the depth that this nib displayed with this delicate ink.
Though the Gillott 303 was fine with smooth papers, this not a nib for toothy paper. In fact, the smoother, the better. The nib skated across Rhodia and Strathmore Marker paper, did well with Strathmore’s 400 Series Mixed Media, worked okay on Clairefontaine, but barely handled Arches hot pressed.
In conclusion, I recommend the new Gillott 303 nib for a light, experienced hand on smooth papers, especially when penning fineline scripts like Copperplate or Spencerian.
For those just getting started with dip pens or those interested in modern calligraphy, I still highly recommend the Zebra G or Tachikawa G nib.
So did Gillott's 303 nib supersede my love of their 404? Nibs are so affordable, I would recommend trying both to see what you prefer. Just make sure you get the “new and improved” 303 nib instead of the older, pickier version. See my Resource page for recommended suppliers.