Do Fountain Pens Smear?

Do fountain pens smear? The brief answer is that many fountain pens will tend to smear, based on many factors that we discuss below. In the second half of this article, we will also discuss ways to control or stop your pen from smearing the paper you write on.

First, let’s discuss why fountain pens tend to smear, more so than (say) ballpoint pens.

The Design makes Fountain Pens Prone to Smearing

Fountain pens typically use water-based ink, which makes it easy for the ink to flow out smoothly through small capillaries (channels) in the nib of the pen while letting in air. If the opening is too large, though, the ink will escape in greater quantities and tend to smear.

A ballpoint pen, on the other hand, uses oil-based ink that escapes through the tiny ballpoint and will typically smudge less.

Besides the technology of the nib and the type of ink used, there is also the matter of the paper that is being written on. The thinner and more porous the paper, the more the tendency for smears to appear before the ink dries.

Writing Style Matters as Well

Besides the combination of the type of pen, ink, and paper being used, smearing can also happen due to writing style. For example, there is some truth to the notion that southpaw writers tend to suffer more smudges.

The science is simple. The more angled you hold your pen to the paper, the more the chances for extra ink to come out at the point of contact. Three basic styles of writing can be examined in this regard:

  • A “sidewriter” will typically hold the pen at a pronounced angle to the paper, which means there is a very good chance of smudging.
  • An “overwriter” tends to employ what some call a hook-handed style, where they tend to form the words from the top side and almost look like they are writing upside down. They will also be prone to smearing.
  • “Underwriters”, on the other hand, hold their pens straight and perpendicular to the surface of the paper, with the minimum possible chance of the ink splaying. Not surprisingly, they have the least problem with smudging.

How to Control the Smearing

Given the source of the problem, there are a few solutions.

A good rule of thumb would be to use wetter inks in pens with finer nibs, and drier inks in pens with free-flowing nibs. Additionally, use absorbent paper.

Let’s look at some options.

Choose the Right Pen

There are a number of pens that use the right combination of nibs (fine to medium) and ink to stop the bleeding, literally. High-end pens like Mont Blanc and Waterman can cost $500 or more, but there are more affordable ones, such as the Dryden Design Fountain Pen with Medium Nib:

Dryden Designs Fountain Pen - Medium Nib 0.5mm | Includes 24 Ink Cartridges - 12 Black 12 Blue and Ink Refill Converter | Calligraphy Pen, Smooth Look -Deep Blue.
  • Writes Like A Dream - Designed to be well balanced, you do not have to press down hard to begin to write. Ink flows...

Another family of pens with fine nibs include the Pilot Metropolitan line of pens, such as the one below:

Use the Right Ink

While normal fountain pen ink is water-based, one can find ink that is either waterproof or water-resistant. Using these would reduce smears since their composition is such that they don’t overflow. Some examples include:

  • Carbon or Particle Inks – these inks have suspended micro fine particles that hold the inks together. Check out Sailor Pigmented Ink or Platinum Carbon Ink in this regard.
  • Iron-Gall Ink – containing tannic acid and iron salts, the modern versions are less corrosive than their predecessors, and are used in some premium brands such as Mont Blanc Ink. Other examples include Rohrer and Klingner Bottled Ink, Platinum Dye Ink and Lamy Ink.
  • Bulletproof Inks, such as Noodlers Ink is not only waterproof, but they also resist UV light and chemicals such as bleach.  
  • Some other common, water resistant inks include Platinum Pigmented Ink and the Namiki/Pilot Standard Ink.
Noodler's Black Waterproof Fountain Pen Ink - Bulletproof,3 ounce
  • 100% made in the USA from cap to glass to ink

One common tradeoff faced by users will be that the more particles or acidic suspensions there are in the ink, the less it will smudge. The first two groups above fall under that category.

However, they will tend to clog up the nib and (in the case of iron-gall inks) tend to corrode the pen. The bulletproof inks, by contrast, do not impact the pen but may smudge a little. Check out our article all about fountain pen ink.

Use Thicker, Absorbant Paper

Thick paper will tend to absorb the ink faster and smear less – however, if ink is coming out in copious amounts, it’s hard to stop smudges. Check out our article about choosing the best paper for your fountain pen.

Examples of good, absorbent paper can be found in the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks:

LEUCHTTURM1917 - Notebook Hardcover Master Classic A4+ - 235 Numbered Pages for Writing and Journaling (Black, Dotted)
  • INKPROOF PAPER: Master A4+ notebooks have 100 gsm paper, which is significantly heavier than our smaller...

The Last Word

The article above should have provided the nuanced answer to the question: “Do Fountain Pens Smear?” They do, but in varying degrees, and the smudging can be contained through choosing the right type of pen, ink, and paper.

Search around for the pens that appeal to you and keep your writing crisp and clean.

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