How to Hold a Fountain Pen

Unlike disposable ballpoint pens, it takes a little more practice to master the fountain pen. You can’t expect to simply pick up a pen and immediately find its sweet spot. If anything, an incorrect grip could smear the ink, rip the page, and produce an ugly, scratchy font. Therefore, take time to practice your grip and learn the proper way to hold a fountain pen.

To properly hold a fountain pen, start by gripping the barrel with just your index finger and thumb. Then, rest the back end of the barrel against your purlicue. The nib should face downward at a 35 to 50-degree angle, giving some space between your hand and the page. As you write, be careful to avoid smearing ink by dragging your hand against the paper.

If you’ve recently purchased or received a fountain pen as a gift, you’re probably wondering how to use it. This guide will carefully explain everything you need to know to properly hold your new pen and produce beautiful handwriting.

Table of Contents

Breaking Bad Habits

Most children are taught to hold pens and pencils using three fingers—between their thumb, index, and middle fingers. Unfortunately, this well-engrained habit can lead to some nasty-looking handwriting as you start practicing with your fountain pen. Instead, you should only use two fingers—your thumb and index.

To properly hold and write with a fountain pen, follow these steps:

  1. Grasp the Pen – The first step to holding a fountain pen is to grip the barrel of the pen with your index finger and thumb. You want to hold it close to the nib, but not so close that your fingers are in the way when you start writing.
  2. Relax the Pen Onto Your Hand – Next, rest the back end of the barrel against your purlicue—the webbing between your thumb and index finger.
  3. Prepare to Write – The nib of the pen should point downward at a 35 to 50-degree angle, with the backplate of the nib facing slightly upward.
  4. Angle Your Wrist – Tilting your wrist so that the pen points upward at a slight angle will help you write with the proper amount of pressure.
  5. Start Writing – As you start to write, be careful to avoid dragging your hand across the paper. Instead, keep your hand relatively still and let the pen do the work.

Although it may feel awkward at first, you’ll quickly find that your handwriting improves as you master the proper grip. Take time to practice and remember to relax. The tenser your hand, the more spidery your handwriting will look.

The Spencerian Approach

The Spencerian method was developed in the mid-19th century by Platt Rogers Spencer and quickly became the standard form of business writing in the United States from roughly 1850 to 1925. It fell out of favor with the advent of the typewriter but has seen a resurgence in recent years as more people have become interested in calligraphy and hand-lettering.

This writing style is an excellent entry-point for fountain pen enthusiasts who are struggling to master neat handwriting. Although the initial grip is fairly standard, the Spencerian method requires you to carefully apply varying amounts of pressure to produce different lines. For a thinner line, apply less pressure; for a thicker line, apply more pressure.

While it sounds simple, it takes time to master. Nevertheless, with some practice and dedication, you’ll soon find it less awkward to hold your fountain pen and you’ll be able to produce neat text without trouble.

Can Left-Handed Writers Hold Fountain Pens?

The simple answer is yes—of course, left-handed writers can hold fountain pens. However, it’s important to note that some left-handed writers may find it more difficult to find a comfortable grip. This is because of the way fountain pen manufacturers design their nibs.

Standard fountain pen nibs were not designed for left-handed writers. Their shape and cut were designed to be pulled across the page, creating a smooth line. Left-handed writers, though, push their writing utensils across the page, creating an uneven, scratchy line. This is only made worse by the increased likelihood that a left-handed person will smear ink as they write.

If you’re a left-handed writer, we recommend that you experiment with different grips until you find one that feels comfortable. You may also want to look for pens that have a special lefty nib. These pens are typically labeled as “left-handed” or “lefty” pens and can be found at most office supply stores. Below is an example of one:

Pelikan Pelikano Up Fountain Pen, Left-Handed, Medium Nib, Champagne, 1 Pen (802765)
  • High quality metal fountain pen made of anodized aluminum and a stainless steel clip

Additionally, you can adjust how you write by underwriting (writing with your hand below the line) or hook writing (writing with your hand positioned in a hook above the page). These techniques will help you avoid smudges although may require additional practice to master.

How to Reduce Feedback

If you’ve ever written with a fountain pen, you’ve probably noticed that the nib makes a scratching noise as it moves across the paper. This is known as feedback and is caused by the nib catching on the paper’s surface. Although it’s not a big deal, it can be annoying—especially if you’re trying to write quietly.

To reduce feedback, try using a lighter touch while you write. The less pressure you apply, the less friction the nib will produce against the surface of the paper. Alternatively, you can switch to a nib made from a different material. Some nibs are designed to produce more feedback than others. Finer nibs generally produce more feedback, while wider nibs produce smoother lines.

Final Thoughts

Although it takes some practice, anyone can learn to hold a fountain pen. The key is to relax and take your time. Remember to use just your index finger and thumb to grip the barrel of the pen and to rest the back end of the barrel against your purlicue.

Point the nib downward at a 35 to 50-degree angle and take care to avoid smearing ink across the page. If you are left-handed, you may have to develop your own technique but, with some dedication, you’ll be writing like a proper calligrapher.

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