Are Fountain Pens and Calligraphy Pens the Same?

Fountain pens are exploding in popularity. What was once a law school graduation present, or a business promotion gift, is now becoming more popular each year.

One thing that a fountain pen is known for is calligraphy, however, is it the right pen to use, or is there a separate, calligraphy pen?

A calligraphy pen is a fountain pen but a fountain pen is not necessarily a calligraphy pen. It’s like how a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square.

Think of calligraphy pens as specialized fountain pens. Despite general similarities in the aesthetics of the nib, there are vastly different characteristics between the two fountain pens. That doesn’t mean that calligraphy pens can’t take notes or a fountain pen can’t be used for calligraphy. 

Differences between Calligraphy and Fountain Pens

There are a number of features that separate the two fountain pens and place them well inside their own categories. However, both pens are capable of everyday writing, such as taking notes in a notebook, just like a sketch artist may take notes with the same pencil that they sketch with. 

Ink Differences

When it comes down to the elegant forming of calligraphic letters versus a standard, though elegant writing style, the calligraphy pen requires inks with a higher viscosity than fountain pens do. 

Viscosity is the thickness of the ink and those who have a decent amount of experience writing with fountain pens will tell you that sometimes, the ink has to be watered down to increase the efficacy of flow from the fountain pen to paper. 

With a calligraphy pen, you wouldn’t want to water the ink down as the higher viscosity is much better. Calligraphy pen ink has oil in it to increase the viscosity, even though it is still considered to be water-based ink. 

The increased viscosity helps the ink stay in the pen just a little bit longer so that the calligrapher has better control over the dimensions and weights of the ink as its being applied to paper. It’s a careful balance of both skill and premium stationery.

One added benefit of calligraphy inks is the level of variety. Sure, there are plenty of colors to choose from for standard fountain pens, however, the vast majority of the choices are green, red, blue, black, and the occasional purple. 

With calligraphy inks, the variety is substantially expanded. That includes inks with additional elements to it, such as reflective materials within the ink, like glitter.

Nib Differences

Unless you purchase a disposable fountain pen, like this one. Fountain pen nibs aren’t designed to be disposed of.

PILOT Varsity Disposable Fountain Pens, Black Ink (90010x3)
  • Now with a new modern design.
  • The fashionable, no-maintenance fountain pen that's convenient and easy to use.
  • Advanced liquid ink feed system and genuine stainless steel nib guarantee smooth writing.

That’s not the case with calligraphy pens as the nibs are designed to dispose of as easily as a ball of used tissue. Each one has a purpose and once its purpose is served, in the garbage it goes. 

That means that fountain pen nibs are manufactured with much higher quality materials. You will often find that mid-range and entry-level pens are designed with stainless steel nibs, sometimes plated in gold.

More premium fountain pens have nibs that are made almost entirely of gold, often of much higher than 10k and 14k quality. Even more expensive fountain pen nibs are made out of rhodium, which is one of the most precious metals on the planet.

Calligraphy pens have some different design choices manufactured into them as well, such as being trimmed for particular angles. Fountain pen nibs fall under a few broad umbrellas, such as fine, medium, and broad nibs, depending on your writing style. 

Since calligraphy nibs are designed of different materials that serve an entirely different purpose, they are generally more flexible and far cheaper than fountain pen nibs. 

Fountain pen nibs are technically disposable as well since you can upgrade them any time that you wish and most of them will unscrew and come right off. 

But it is not a common practice and, under normal circumstances, would only be done in the event that it was damaged or you wanted to change from a fine point to a broad point.

Aesthetic Differences

Though the nibs—at a distance—may bear a similar design, they are definitely different both in terms of functionality and materials. However, the body of the pens is often dramatically different.

A traditional fountain pen (especially capped) will often look no different than a nice-looking pen. A calligraphy pen will usually have a much more narrow body, oftentimes ergonomically curved to fit your palm and fingers better. 

Since calligraphy pens require a precise angle and a specific way of writing, their pens are designed both ergonomically and sizeably differently. 

Most of the time, a calligraphy pen cannot hold much ink, so the interior designs are vastly different, like the inside of an empty cave versus the inside of the International Space Station. 

How Are These Pens the Same?

Mostly, calligraphy pens and fountain pens require what is called “capillary action” to encourage proper ink flow and to write in a certain style that is best for these types of pens. Their writing styles are similar enough that both pens could be used to do what the other does. 

Both pens require premium paper and you should always aim for a paper that is both designed for fountain pens and that has a GSM between 80 and 120. Thicker paper is better for both pens but you shouldn’t sacrifice the quality of the paper for thickness alone. 

Both pens share the same history and that history boils down to the original use of the quill pens that started out with a clipped feather quill, eventually evolving to the first rudimentary nibs, and finally arriving at the nibs we have today. 

Final Thoughts

In terms of aesthetics, purpose, and mechanics, the fountain pen and the calligraphy pen couldn’t be more different. However, the similarities are enough to understand that both of these pens evolved from a common ancestor.  Both pens have their specific uses, though they can be used interchangeably. But if you want to do calligraphy, you should use a calligraphy pen and if you want to practice better handwriting, go with a fountain pen.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.