Sunday, July 08, 2012

Brush and Nib Care

With all the inking I've done lately, my nibs and brushes've gotten pretty dirty.  While my nearest and dearest can attest that I'm no neat freak, dirty tools can get in the way of making good art.  Before Advanced Inking Techniques, I was sadly a bit hapharzard in my brush care, not knowing the necessary process to preserve my expensive tools.  I assumed that I was just a jinx with brushes, and swore off using them, assuming that my heavy handed inking was too much stress on the bristles.  Thankfully, I was completely wrong, and  fortunately for me, brush and pen care are fairly simple affairs, requiring only a few household objects. 

Nib Care

Nibs arrive coated in a protective oil that prevents rusting while they're in the package.  Unfortunately for you, they also will reject ink while covered in this oil.  There's a simple fix for this- you simply burn off the oil.

From left to right: a fresh brass nib with oil, two to the right have been held over a lighter to burn off oil.  The color change is not indicative of the quality of oil removal, silver hued nibs won't change color, and these were chosen for affect.

The nib should be held about an inch away from the flame, just close enough for the flame to lick the nib but not touch the holder.

This picture, it is the most awesome.  And by that, I mean AWFUL.  However!  I am clearly demonstrating how to properly burn off oil from a nib, using a firelighter, which I recommend over a regular cigarette lighter, as it gives you more room to maneuver.

All it takes is a few seconds over a lighter to burn off this oil, and you're ready to start inking.


After a long day of inking, your nib may be fairly gunked up with dried ink residue.  Washing it off in water may not be enough to free your nib of the stubborn ink, so a quick bath in rubbing alcohol may be in order.



I let my nibs soak for a little while, and then removed them from their drunken bath in order to give them a gentle scrubbing.  While coffee filters are recommended (the fibers won't become trapped in between the prongs of the nib), I only have paper towels.

Still a little dirty after their gentle scrubbing.  I use a lot of tank style nibs, which have a reservoir on the back to store ink, so you don't have to dip as often.  Unfortunately, they're harder to clean, and may require repeated soakings.

Gentle agitation can help loosen dried ink particles, so swoosh your cup often, and don't let your nibs sit too long at one time.


Brush Care

Brushes can require a little extra TLC, be it cheap watercolor brushes or expensive inking brushes.  The love you lavish on your expensive brushes can be shared with your inexpensive brushes to extend their lives.

Regular cleaning can work wonders for gunked up brushes.  Although many cartoonists recommend brush soap, I find that using a bar shampoo (like in my Akashiya Brush Tip restoration post) can really work wonders on your brush without stripping natural hair brushes of their essential oils.  To loosen stubborn ink deposits, work the shampoo deep into the belly of the brush, and let the brush soak in warm water.


When soaking your brushes, be careful not to just let your brushes rest in the water.  Water will get in between the metal ferrule and the wooden handle, and cause warping, and ruin the brush.  You can jerry-rig a tape holder to keep your brushes at just the right depth in the cup you're using.  This technique can also be used to straighten a bent brush (shown in the picture) letting gravity do all the work.

With inking brushes, you should take great care to make sure the tip doesn't get damaged.  After inking (or cleaning) roll the brush between your finger tips in one direction to restore the original point.  Letting your brush dry splayed out will ruin the bristles.

When drying, you can tape your brushes to a counter top brush end down to protect the bristles.

These brushes'll need some extra work (there's still ink up in the ferrule).  Gunked up brushes may require repeated washes.

After your brush is clean, you'll want to restore it's tip,  You can do this every time you dip it in water or ink by simply rolling it across a piece of scrap paper.  Before storage, make sure you roll the tip to preserve that nice tip.