About overfeeds

An overfeed is a device that sticks out over a dip pen nib and provides additional useful functions to your drawing or writing. Overfeeds are especially useful with flexible dip pen nibs, because their functions extend the benefit of flex.

Note: This article is a companion of the article Using Overfeeds.

Overfeeds are considered old-fashioned devices, although one or two modern manufacturers of ink pens for drawing provide them with their nibs.

An overfeed gets its name from the fact that it sits over the nib and feeds ink to the dip pen nib. The underfeed is the standard feed below the nib found on most fountain pens. The underfeed is fed ink directly from the reservoir in the pen. The overfeed is fed ink indirectly as ink migrates into the space between the nib and the overfeed.

Overfeeds were more popular when flexible dip nibs were a popular writing and drawing device. Overfeeds are designed exclusively for flexible dip pen nibs, and let you draw with a wider variation in your line width. A well-handled flexible nib can turn a 2D drawing into a 3D experience by subtly changing the line width.

That's what you want when you draw with a flexible the nib: variation in your line width, from thin to thick and back again. The value of an overfeed can be determined by the ratio of your thin to thick lines. A flexible dip pen nib that normally draws what's called a “hairline” can, when flexed, increase the width of the drawn line four or five fold. That is a 5:1 ratio. The same dip pen nib with a well-matched overfeed can double the ratio. For example, the Manga G dip pen nib with our overfeed can provide a line variation of almost 10:1, as shown below.

Line variation

That's the hairline on the right and a much wider line on the left enabled by the overfeed.

It’s important to note that you can run into several problems when working with flexible dip pen nibs. Overfeeds provide solutions to those problems.

The first problem occurs when the nib flexes backward. The flow of ink from the underfeed to the nib stops, and so does your drawing or writing. A well-designed overfeed keeps feeding ink to the nib after it has bent backward so you can continue drawing or writing. The overfeed never loses contact with the nib because it bends backward with the nib.

The second problem occurs as the two tines of the flexing dip pen nib spread outwards. Capillary action encourages ink to flow down the ink channel in the nib, and surface tension works to keep the ink flowing in a continuous line that doesn't break. As a dip pen nib flexes and the tynes separate, both forces are soon overcome by the separation, and the ink line breaks. Again, the overfeed if well designed solves the problem. The tip of the overfeed slips in between the two tynes and bridges the gap between them. This provides a bridge for the flow of ink and enables you to continue drawing while the dip pen nib flexes upwards and outwards.

Once you draw with an overfeed and master the subtleties, it is difficult to go back. Shop some of our overfeeds here.